Not that Kind of Baptist

A Pastoral Statement on Violence and Racism

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Rev. James Lamkin and Rev. Daniel Headrick
Northside Drive Baptist Church
Atlanta, GA
June 1, 2020 

As clergy of Northside Drive Baptist Church (NDBC), we believe that every person is made in the image of God and worthy of fundamental dignity. Because of this, we take a clear stand against violence, and against the violence of racism. 

 As was said by several NDBC members in Sunday School this week, “White silence is a form of racism.”   We agree.  We confess.  We repent.  As one friend puts it, “Racism is not Covid-19.  It is Covid-1619.  This was the year that a slave ship carrying 30 African slaves slipped into a harbor of the Virginia Colony.”  If racism is like a pandemic, it is as ancient as humankind; and, certainly as old as the founding of America. Because it is frequently disguised, often times overt, but sometimes unintentional—continuing education about this insidious sin warrants life-long learning. 

 Some call it systemic racism.  Many impersonal forces compose this very personal wrong: cultural, relational, educational, judicial, political, religious, economic, and more.  So many, in fact, that privilege can blind us with layers of blinders; and spiritual blindness leads to idolatry. 

 We believe it is important to name names, such as, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.  By doing so we do not perpetuate the appearance of silence; rather, we take daily steps on the long journey toward justice.  Their tragic deaths are symptoms of on-going, bigger stories.   

 Sunday’s Pentecost text heralded God’s diverse hope.  The Holy Spirit’s fiery presence embraced and empowered all: women and men, slaves and free, young and old, daughters and sons.  Everybody. 

 As congregational clergy, we will pursue God’s wide hope for our world and faith community.  We will study and learn and seek conversation with partners of color; and will acknowledge our sense of privilege. 

 These are anxious days due to disease.  These are painful days as we see the violence racism does to the human race. These are holy days as we yearn to speak the truth in the presence of God. 

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Is This the Apocalypse? A Pastoral Perspective

    Apocalypse is a rare word.  It bides its time and sits quietly on vocabulary’s back pew.  However, when tornados destroy, pandemics overwhelm, and when breaking news leaves us broken…apocalypse is a word we reach for.    
          With Covid-19 spreading, we’ve wondered: Is this The Apocalypse?
          But, not so fast.  Take a deep breath.  Reach for a Bible dictionary (it’s the antique book beside your rotary phone). Look it up—right after Antichrist, just before Armageddon.  You’ll notice that apocalypse doesn’t mean devastation or damnation.  It means revealing.  Unveiling. Ken Sehested reminds of what the poet, Adrienne Maree Brown, said: “Things are not getting worse. They are getting uncovered.  We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.” 
        Oddly, an apocalypse may be Hope’s first step.  Like, “Now that we know the truth, let us begin again with new hope.”    
            Hope is in short supply. Loved ones have died.  Fragile family finances have tipped.  Rock stable businesses six weeks ago, now feel like shifting sand.  Even if fear isn’t coiled like a snake in the board room, anxiety is never far away.   
          However, if this is an apocalypse, let’s not waste it. Let’s ask, “What is being revealed to you?”  Make a list of those things. Here are some of mine.      
            First, everything is more connected than I realized.  Physicists already knew this.  “Pinch a particle over there, and another will say, ‘Ouch,’ over here!”  The cosmos is not something we are in; it is something that we are part of.  Economy is connected to ecology, and the food chain has weak links.   
              I knew that.  But I know it more now.  MLK was right, “We are bound in a single garment of destiny.”  How we treat folk on the far side of the globe has a butterfly effect that flaps all the way to Buford Highway.  
            Second, “essential” is different than what I thought.  Maybe I’m deaf, but I’m not hearing a cry for, “More Preachers!”  Rather, “We need the Publix check-out clerk to show-up for work, and the shelf-stocker at Kroger.”  Thank God they have done so…every day.  Essential folk help piece our small lives together.
            Third, we are more vulnerable than I knew.  We can’t buy our way out of a global pandemic. The human immune system is good, but humans are late comers to creation’s story. Viruses aren’t smart, but they are adaptive. 
            Fourth,  what if Mother Nature is making us stand in “time out?”  With her long finger, she points and snarls, “You will stand in that corner by yourself until you learn to behave.”  That might be a long time.
We just ran over the 50-year-old speed bump of Earth Day.  We’ve made strides since 1970; but, we’ve also backslidden.  Ask the Amazon rainforest, aka the lungs of Planet Earth.  Ask the rivers, aka the arteries of this small blue marble.  Remarkable, isn’t it, that since humanity sheltered in place, Mt. Everest “peeked” into view for the first time in decades?  An ozone hole has healed.   
            Fifth, if human hubris partially got us into this; then humility might be required to get us out.  What did Rabbi Abraham Heshel say? “When I was young, I admired clever people.  Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”  If humanity and the Earth were in therapy, what would the therapist say? “Sounds like dominion isn’t working for you. Try kindness.”
            Perhaps we’ll try therapy and kindness this summer…as a church…for God’s sake.  The rearview mirror might reveal “the meaning of this pandemic.”  It may not be the apocalypse; but it can be an apocalypse…but only if we learn from what is revealed.    

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The Things We Cannot Change

         Humans have a love/hate relationship with change. If change gives us more sense of control, we like it. If not, we don’t.
        The impact of the coronavirus is like the crash of a meteorite the size of Texas. We are still at the front end of the changes that its tidal wave will bring.
        On this rainy Thursday morning, I am thinking about the queasy notion of change; and I look at the book near my elbow: Five Things We Cannot Change by David Richo. It reminds me of what I already know, but tend to forget.
       As you might guess from the title, Richo riffs on Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous 1951 prayer. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…. This is the starting line of the recovery movement.
        Niebuhr was a pastor and a theologian. He battled religious liberals over naïve views of sin and optimism; and he argued with religious conservatives over shallow assumptions on scripture and "true religion."
        The Serenity Prayer compresses his life-themes and kneads them into the tense muscles of our souls.  The simple prayer’s deep tissue massage makes our bodies say, “Ah.” 
       The deepest healing comes when we start to name thingsthe things we cannot change. Richo lists five:  1) We cannot change—that everything changes and ends. 2) We cannot change that things do not always go according to plan. 3) We can’t change that life is not always fair. 4) Pain is a part of life. 5) And, people are not loving and loyal all the time.
        “Well duh,” I say. “I know that!”  But I forget every time I try to change anyone else.  I know well sin’s trajectory: choosing actions which alienate, followed by obsessive resentment, then stuck in the mud spinning my wheels. But, there is an antidote: confession, followed by forgiveness, soaked in compassion. Rinse, repeat. It is a prescription as old as the hills.
         Who knows what changes and challenges are beyond the pandemic’s horizon? Desperation lingers and we feel socked in by our own doldrums. But we also take reasonable action based on credible, medical, public health advice.
       Also, I suggest a daily dose of the Serenity Prayer. It is already FDA approved.

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