The master’s tools

A Meditation on RCL Lent 2C
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.

 The Archbishop of Canterbury is not losing any sleep after hearing that the U.S. House of Bishops announced that it is “aggrieved and distressed” at his decision to exclude the same-gender spouses of bishops from the 2020 Lambeth Conference.  Expressions of aggrievement and distress are “the master’s tools.” They will never dismantle the Master’s house. They are no threat. They change nothing.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is a threat to two masters’ houses – Herod and “Jerusalem.” Why? He knows how to do more than issue press releases and polite statements of aggrievement and distress.  He healed people who had no claim to privilege: old women, lepers, the paralyzed, the possessed, foreigners.

We should aspire to be such a threat to the master’s house.



Quotation: Audre Lorde. From Comments at “The Personal and the Political” Panel,  Second Sex Conference, October 29, 1979.

The photo “Audre Lorde” by K. Kendall is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Perfect Answers


Lent 1C

I found myself thinking about the TV gameshow “Jeopardy” this week, after hearing that Alex Trebeck has stage IV pancreatic cancer. That is a tough diagnosis to receive. He has a difficult journey ahead of him.

I started watching Jeopardy with my grandmother and when the host of the show was Art Fleming. I had favorite categories, like “Explorers,” because I was in 5th grade and we were reading about the explorers so I knew who they were.  I did ok with the Bible category, but my grandmother usually did better.

Whatever the category, it always felt good to get the right answers.  On Jeopardy, there was only one right answer and they always showed what the right answer was.

The devil in today’s gospel does not say what he thinks of Jesus’ answers.  We always presume that if Jesus said it, it must be the right and most perfect answer. But one can imagine different answers, and in the story there is no ringing bell or flashing light or voice from the heavens saying “yes, that’s right!”  Instead, after each of Jesus’ responses, the devil just moves on to another temptation, until he gives up.

It’s possible that what is important about Jesus’ answers is not that they are “correct” in the Jeopardy sense that they are the “the one and only” correct answers. It’s possible that they are “right” because they were the right answers for him. They were the answers that focused him on what mattered to him, on what he valued, on the things he believed because he knew them to be true from his own experience. They were right for him because they were what he needed to resist his temptations.

Something else might work for us. Maybe something from a Bible category; maybe not.  Whatever our answers are, they need to be about what matters to us, what we value, what we believe because we know it to be true in our own experience.

Creeds are about beliefs in a way. The Nicene Creed is a centuries-old, well-beloved summary of key Christian concepts. But that is not the kind of belief that we need when we are in the wilderness.  Knowing whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father or from the Father and the Son will not work to keep me in touch with my better self when I am hearing my devil and facing my temptations. When that happens, I need, we need the answers that are about what matters to us, what we value and what we believe because we know it to be true in our own experience.

Maybe something from the second reading, something pithier like, “Jesus is Lord.”  Or something from the first reading, a story that talks about where we came from and how we got here and where we think we’re going: “My ancestor was a wandering Aramean…”  Maybe a line from the psalms or a verse from a hymn or something someone we loved or admired always used to say. Whatever it is, what will make it the right answer for us is that it will be about what matters to us, what we value, and what we believe because we have lived the truth of it.

The journey of Lent is just beginning. Along the way there will be wilderness and in that wilderness, there will be temptations which can’t be avoided. They will require a response from us. We need to know what it is we value, what matters to us, what we believe because we know because we have lived it.  If our response comes from that, it will absolutely be the perfect answer.

Who knows what might come of that.


An Ash Wednesday meditation

Isaiah 58:1-12; Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10; Mtt. 6:1-6, 16-21

Sometimes we hear someone say, “this won’t hurt,” and we don’t believe it. There is going to be a budget cut, but “it won’t hurt.” Hold this yoga stretch – “it won’t hurt.” Or the doctor says we need an injection, but no worries, “it won’t hurt,” —  and we just can’t believe that so we brace ourselves, hold our breath, look the other way and wait for it to be over.

We may feel that way about Lent. We know what Lent is. There is going to be a lot of talk about sin; our sin. It is going to hurt, so we brace ourselves, hold our breath, look the other way and wait for it to be over.

It’s true that there during Lent there is a lot of talk about sin,  but Lent is mostly about our relationship with God. We do talk about sin. We should. It exists.. There is sin in our world. There is sin in us. Whether in the world or in us, sin can wreak havoc in our relationships with one another. But it does not have the power to injure our relationship with God. God took away its power to do that with forgiveness. A forgiveness given not because we made amends or restitution but simply because God chooses to be in relationship with us always – no matter what.

So we begin Lent today / tonight with readings that are a little bit about sin, but mostly about God’s forgiveness. The Psalmist says

  •  that God puts our sins far away from us,  as far as the east is from the west ;
  •  that the extent of God’s forgiveness is unimaginable, as high as the heavens are above the earth; and
  • that God’s mercy is everlasting.  It was there yesterday, it is here today, it will be there tomorrow.  How long will God’s mercy last?  The psalmist says, “forever.”

That was the message of the prophets. That was the message of the psalms. And it is Paul’s message: that God came to us in Christ so that we could see and hear God’s forgiveness in the flesh.

There is a lot of talk in Lent about sin, but “sin” is not what Lent is about. Lent is about our coming to trust God’s forgiveness, and the difference, the change that it makes possible in our life.

If our faith is that God forgives us because we have made amends, or paid restitution, then our lives will not be much changed. We will avoid God, and maybe one another, until we can figure out how to make things right; how to undo the wrong; how to repay the debt. We could be waiting a long time.

But if we can hear that God forgives not because we are perfect or very clever, but simply because God wants to be in relationship with us, then our lives can begin to change. We start being shaped by grace: forgiven-ness, freedom. We can move, even though a mistake might be made. We can stop hiding, even if we’re not perfectly put together. We can see new possibilities, next steps, and maybe even take them. Who knows what might come of that?

Lent invites us to become a people shaped by grace. We will still talk about sin. We will admit that we see it in our lives and in our world. But we will talk about it because we no longer need to look away from it; we are no longer afraid to see it; we are no longer afraid to contend with it.

Shaped by grace,

We will not need to look away from the cry of the poor. We will be able to turn towards it, and give alms from our own hearts and with our own hands.  Who knows what might come of that.

We will not be immobilized by our fear of not having enough. We will be able to fast and be reminded of who and what truly sustains us.  Who knows what might come of that.

We will not need to look away from God, hiding our doubts, fears, angers…  We will be able to open our hearts to the One from whom no secrets are hid and pray honestly, from the heart.  Who knows what might come of that.

Sometimes we are afraid that Lent is going to hurt because we know it is all going to be about our sins and a debt we could never begin to repay. But in Christ, God calls us to be shaped by the grace of God’s forgiveness – not without sin, (wouldn’t that be nice), but absolutely without the paralyzing fear of sin’s power over us.

For us, ashes are only a little bit about sin and death. At the dawn of creation, it was ashes into which a loving God breathed life. God’s loving Spirit is with us still, and God’s mercy is everlasting.

Who knows what might come of that.

Bearing the silence

At the March for Our Lives, Emma Gonzalez spoke for about two minutes, mostly naming the students and teachers who were shot and killed in her Florida high school on February 14. Then she went silent. Four minutes later she spoke again: “Since the time I came out here it has been six minutes and 20 seconds…” —  the length of time the gunman shot his weapon that day.


Emma’s silence was unbearable for the crowd. They tried to end it with chants of “never again” or “we’re with you Emma.”  To no avail.

The earliest Easter narrative is about  silence, beginning with the horror of the Good Friday’s violence and continuing to an empty tomb. Like the crowd in Washington, we cannot bear the silence. We try to end it with a fairy tale suitable for the youngest of children complete with flowers, bunnies and colorful eggs. To no avail. The Good Friday violence continues to be suffered by so many around the world.

Like Emma’s silence,  the liturgical silences we begin Palm Sunday and Good Friday enable us to receive and hear the testimony of the victims of violence in its many forms. Their testimony, their cries, are not easy to listen to.  The silence in which they emerge is not easy to bear. But unless we learn to bear those silences, it is unlikely we will find the courage to change anything.

This is not to say that we should not, on an Easter Sunday, be glad, make noise and sing songs. But if we do, let it not be because “the strife is o’er.” Let it be because we are willing to bear the silence and receive its testimonies. Let it be because we know the strife is not over, and because we are resolved to do what it takes to bring the victory of real change.


If it walks like a duck…

Trump says he is not a racist. His words and actions tell a different story: the story of a man unashamed of his own racist anger and hatred.

See this: “Donald Trump’s Racism: The Definitive List,” NYT Opinion, 1/18/2018.


His devotees rarely wear pointy white hoods anymore,

and they are happy to follow him.


They just don’t believe him when he says he is not a racist or white supremacist.

Neither should we.

…[T]hese statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross…


Mitch Landrieu’s speech is the best thing I have read about the Confederate statutes to date. It was given in May when the last of four confederate monuments in New Orleans was removed. (The City Council had approved the removals in 2015.) The last statute was of Robert E. Lee.  The complete text of Landrieu’s speech follows, as reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune. It is worth reading.

Thank you for coming.

The soul of our beloved city is deeply rooted in a history that has evolved over thousands of years; rooted in a diverse people who have been here together every step of the way—for both good and for ill. It is a history that holds in its heart the stories of Native Americans—the Choctaw, Houma Nation, the Chitimacha. Of Hernando de Soto, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, the Acadians, the Islenos, the enslaved people from Senegambia, Free People of Colorix, the Haitians, the Germans, both the empires of France and Spain. The Italians, the Irish, the Cubans, the south and central Americans, the Vietnamese, and so many more.

You see, New Orleans is truly a city of many nations, a melting pot, a bubbling cauldron of many cultures. There is no other place quite like it in the world that so eloquently exemplifies the uniquely American motto: e pluribus unum: out of many we are one. But there are also other truths about our city that we must confront. New Orleans was America’s largest slave market, a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were bought, sold, and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor, of misery, of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined “separate but equal”; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well, what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth.

And it immediately begs the questions, why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission. There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.

For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth. As President George W. Bush said at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” So today I want to speak about why we chose to remove these four monuments to the Lost Cause of the Confederacy, but also how and why this process can move us towards healing and understanding of each other. So, let’s start with the facts.

The historic record is clear: The Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This “cult” had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity. First erected over 166 years after the founding of our city and 19 years after the end of the Civil War, the monuments that we took down were meant to rebrand the history of our city and the ideals of a defeated Confederacy. It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America. They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots. These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for.

After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to d a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city. Should you have further doubt about the true goals of the Confederacy, in the very weeks before the war broke out, the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, made it clear that the Confederate cause was about maintaining slavery and white supremacy. He said in his now famous “corner-stone speech” that the Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Now, with these shocking words still ringing in your ears, I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us, and make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago. We can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and a more perfect union.

Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to contextualize and remember all our history. He recalled a piece of stone, a slave auction block engraved with a marker commemorating a single moment in 1830 when Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay stood and spoke from it. President Obama said, “Consider what this artifact tells us about history. … On a stone where day after day for years, men and women … bound and bought and sold and bid like cattle on a stone worn down by the tragedy of over a thousand bare feet. For a long time the only thing we considered important, the singular thing we once chose to commemorate as history with a plaque, were the unmemorable speeches of two powerful men.”

A piece of stone—one stone. Both stories were history. One story told. One story forgotten or maybe even purposefully ignored. As clear as it is for me today … for a long time, even though I grew up in one of New Orleans’ most diverse neighborhoods, even with my family’s long proud history of fighting for civil rights … I must have passed by those monuments a million times without giving them a second thought. So I am not judging anybody, I am not judging people. We all take our own journey on race.

I just hope people listen like I did when my dear friend Wynton Marsalis helped me see the truth. He asked me to think about all the people who have left New Orleans because of our exclusionary attitudes. Another friend asked me to consider these four monuments from the perspective of an African American mother or father trying to explain to their fifth-grade daughter who Robert E. Lee is and why he stands atop of our beautiful city. Can you do it? Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her? Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story? Do these monuments help her see a future with limitless potential? Have you ever thought that if her potential is limited, yours and mine are too? We all know the answer to these very simple questions. When you look into this child’s eyes is the moment when the searing truth comes into focus for us. This is the moment when we know what is right and what we must do. We can’t walk away from this truth.

And I knew that taking down the monuments was going to be tough, but you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing and this is what that looks like. So relocating these Confederate monuments is not about taking something away from someone else. This is not about politics. This is not about blame or retaliation. This is not a naive quest to solve all our problems at once.

This is, however, about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong. Otherwise, we will continue to pay a price with discord, with division and, yes, with violence.

To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future. History cannot be changed.  It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.

And in the second decade of the 21st century, asking African Americans—or anyone else—to drive by property that they own; occupied by reverential statues of men who fought to destroy the country and deny that person’s humanity seems perverse and absurd. Centuries-old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place. Here is the essential truth: We are better together than we are apart.

Indivisibility is our essence. Isn’t this the gift that the people of New Orleans have given to the world? We radiate beauty and grace in our food, in our music, in our architecture, in our joy of life, in our celebration of death; in everything that we do. We gave the world this funky thing called jazz, the most uniquely American art form that is developed across the ages from different cultures. Think about second lines, think about Mardi Gras, think about muffaletta, think about the Saints, gumbo, red beans and rice. By God, just think.

All we hold dear is created by throwing everything in the pot; creating, producing something better; everything a product of our historic diversity. We are proof that out of many we are one—and better for it! Out of many we are one—and we really do love it! And yet, we still seem to find so many excuses for not doing the right thing. Again, remember President Bush’s words. “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.”

We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other, how much we need each other. We justify our silence and inaction by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial. We still find a way to say, “Wait, not so fast.” But like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Wait has almost always meant never.” We can’t wait any longer. We need to change. And we need to change now.

No more waiting. This is not just about statues, this is about our attitudes and behavior as well. If we take these statues down and don’t change to become a more open and inclusive society this would have all been in vain. While some have driven by these monuments every day and either revered their beauty or failed to see them at all, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans see them very clearly. Many are painfully aware of the long shadows their presence casts; not only literally but figuratively. And they clearly receive the message that the Confederacy and the cult of the lost cause intended to deliver.

Earlier this week, as the cult of the lost cause statue of P.G.T Beauregard came down, world renowned musician Terence Blanchard stood watch, his wife Robin and their two beautiful daughters at their side. Terence went to a high school on the edge of City Park named after one of America’s greatest heroes and patriots, John F. Kennedy. But to get there he had to pass by this monument to a man who fought to deny him his humanity.

He said, “I’ve never looked at them as a source of pride … it’s always made me feel as if they were put there by people who don’t respect us. This is something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. It’s a sign that the world is changing.” Yes, Terence, it is. And it is long overdue. Now is the time to send a new message to the next generation of New Orleanians who can follow in Terence and Robin’s remarkable footsteps.

A message about the future, about the next 300 years and beyond: Let us not miss this opportunity, New Orleans, and let us help the rest of the country do the same. Because now is the time for choosing. Now is the time to actually make this the City we always should have been, had we gotten it right in the first place.

We should stop for a moment and ask ourselves: At this point in our history—after Katrina, after Rita, after Ike, after Gustav, after the national recession, after the BP oil catastrophe and after the tornado—if presented with the opportunity to build monuments that told our story or to curate these particular spaces, would these monuments be what we want the world to see? Is this really our story?

We have not erased history; we are becoming part of the city’s history by righting the wrong image these monuments represent and crafting a better, more complete future for all our children and for future generations. And unlike when these Confederate monuments were first erected as symbols of white supremacy, we now have a chance to create not only new symbols, but to do it together, as one people. In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals. We have to reaffirm our commitment to a future where each citizen is guaranteed the uniquely American gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

That is what really makes America great and today it is more important than ever to hold fast to these values and together say a self-evident truth that out of many we are one. That is why today we reclaim these spaces for the United States of America. Because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all, not some. We all are part of one nation, all pledging allegiance to one flag, the flag of the United States of America. And New Orleanians are in …  all of the way. It is in this union and in this truth that real patriotism is rooted and flourishes. Instead of revering a 4-year brief historical aberration that was called the Confederacy, we can celebrate all 300 years of our rich, diverse history as a place named New Orleans, and set the tone for the next 300 years.

After decades of public debate, of anger, of anxiety, of anticipation, of humiliation and of frustration. After public hearings and approvals from three separate community led commissions. After two robust public hearings and a 6–1 vote by the duly elected New Orleans City Council. After review by 13 different federal and state judges. The full weight of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government has been brought to bear and the monuments, in accordance with the law, have been removed. So now is the time to come together and heal and focus on our larger task. Not only building new symbols, but making this city a beautiful manifestation of what is possible and what we as a people can become.

Let us remember what the once exiled, imprisoned, and now universally loved Nelson Mandela and what he said after the fall of apartheid. “If the pain has often been unbearable and the revelations shocking to all of us, it is because they indeed bring us the beginnings of a common understanding of what happened and a steady restoration of the nation’s humanity.”  So before we part let us again state the truth clearly.

The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered. As a community, we must recognize the significance of removing New Orleans’ Confederate monuments. It is our acknowledgment that now is the time to take stock of, and then move past, a painful part of our history.

Anything less would render generations of courageous struggle and soul-searching a truly lost cause. Anything less would fall short of the immortal words of our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, who with an open heart and clarity of purpose calls on us today to unite as one people when he said, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Thank you.