Category Archives: Justice

If Hollywood Were Sentient, We’d Call It Harvey Weinstein

We tend to think of Hollywood as a place were supposedly liberal or progressive ideas and attitudes happily roost, and from which new mores emanate across the fruited plains like crashing waves.  These mores seep into the ground on each coast, but run off the hard, dry acreage of the great American middle.

You’ll allow me some poetic license, but you’ve the heard the story.

Here’s the thing, though.

If Hollywood were sentient, it would be Harvey Weinstein.  Hollywood is one of the few American institutions that has been allowed to routinely and for-profit objectify women under the guise of art and progress, all while paying lip-service to equality and fairness.

Our civic and religious institutions have trended over the past 100 years toward gender equality.  They’re not there yet in anything resembling absolute terms, but they are empirically progressing.  At the same time, Hollywood produces more and more material using the female body to tantalize, a process that necessarily objectifies women and encourages a disposable view of them.

I’m not saying we need Victorian convictions about decency.  Those are actually also part of the problem.  But it occurred to me in reading about the allegations surrounding James Franco that most sex scenes or instances of female nudity in film probably exist because the directors, writers, producers or whomever else are creeps.  How many of those scenes are necessary to the plot and integrity of their respective projects?  I’m willing to grant that some are.  But, in light of everything we’re learning about powerful people in Hollywood, my gut says the balance are someone’s exercise in wish fulfillment.

It’s ironic that calls for decency  typically come from the American middle, and are chaffed at because of those origins.  And because, like the Victorians, the American middle is, perhaps, a little too hung up.  But Hollywood is hung up even more so.  I think that’s obvious now.

What “Chopped” Tells Us About Healthcare

As a food trucker and a pastor, I know this to be true.

The healthcare system (or lack of one) is bankrupting people all over the country. It’s bankrupting both the working poor and the working middle-class who have become the working poor.

The ACA (Obamacare) helped some people and hurt others. That’s something I also know from experience as a pastor and a food trucker.

The ACA has had a punitive effect on many families. The Republican attempts to replace it so far only seem to punish other sets of people.

Medicare For All seems like a good next step. By 2020, all Democrats running for President will embrace it, and a good portion of the Republican field will offer their own versions of it.

I pray for all who can’t wait that long.

Black. Lives. Matter.

It doesn’t matter that Dr. Tisha Brooks and I share a hometown, or that she, her husband, my wife, and I all graduated from the same college.

What matters is that what she’s saying here.

The Stockley case is egregious.  If you’re not a person of color and have had a hard time understanding that Black Lives Matter is not a terrorist or militant operation, and that saying “Black Lives Matter” does not mean saying “Only Black Lives Matter,” I’d be happy to talk with you.  You’ll get my perspective as a Christian who also happens to be white.

What Tisha is saying here is vital for such a time as this.


Message from Tisha
Repost from Instagram @phdgirl24
This morning the “not guilty” verdict from the Stokley trial was released here in St. Louis and I got into an unexpected and heated debate with my landlord, who argued that the answer to problems like these is voting and Jesus, but not in his words “being in the streets.” I couldn’t disagree more for 3 reasons: 1) I’m currently writing a paper about activism as spiritual practice; 2) many of the people in my community are voters, Jesus-followers and are protesting in the streets as we speak; and 3) the Jesus I follow was always in the streets (or in the homes) of people who were marginalized, powerless, outcast and alienated from society. To the dismay of those in power, Jesus hung out with, listened to, and stood alongside of the poor, the sick and exiled, prisoners, prostitutes, and “the least of these.” In fact, it was this refusal to align himself with those in power that led to his crucifixion.
We are followers of Jesus because he was radical. We are followers of Jesus because he was a revolutionary. We are followers of Jesus because he has always been clear about where he stands. And though we are not allowed to hang this #blacklivesmatters sign in our window or post it in the front yard, because we do not own the property we stay in, we want to make it clear where we stand. We stand with Jesus, in the streets, in full support of those who are committed to being his hands and feet in this very broken and unjust world.
Activism = Jesus in the Streets.
#stl #stlouis #justice #jesusinthestreets #activism #protest #spiritualactivism#blacklivesmatter #professorslife #blackprofessor #speaktruthtopower#civildisobedience #faithandjustice #wherewestand #visioncarriers

On the Hot Dog Vendor in Berkeley

As a food trucker, I deal with the permitting process all the time. Some municipalities make it easy. Some make it very hard. Some charge reasonable fees. Some charge outlandish and unjust ones.

I don’t like that this gentleman was shut down, but I understand the need for regulation. That said, street vendors are routinely and illegally denied their 14th Amendment rights by municipal codes and fee structures that favor some food operators over others. That’s bad enough. The officer’s appeal to “law and order” seems, given the context and current state of political discourse, like something of a dog-whistle for something else.

Even if I’m wrong about that, I’m right about this: There’s no way the office should be going into this man’s wallet and taking his money as “evidence.” There’s no way to know if any of that cash was from that day’s vending, period. Probable cause? No way to know how much, if any, of that cash had anything to do with “illegal” vending.

Watch the video and judge for yourself.

Robert W. Lee IV

A few thoughts on Robert W. Lee IV, because I’m a Christian, I’m a UCC pastor, I oppose White Supremacy, I don’t believe BLM is a terrorist group, and, on a lighter note, I remember when MTV mattered.

First, my criticism of Lee (and MTV), which has nothing to do with anything he said after his first few words.

“My name is Robert Lee IV, I’m a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statue was at the center of violence in Charlottesville…”

Robert W. Lee IV is Robert E. Lee’s fourth-great-nephew.  I believe the wording of this introduction was meant to make W. Lee seem like direct descendent of E. Lee.  I don’t know why MTV or W. Lee chose that wording or wanted that framing.  And maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe that’s just how I’m hearing/reading it. Being a fourth-great-nephew and bearing the name Robert Lee and speaking out against supremacy is no less compelling to me than being a direct descendent, but I feel like the statement started from a less than clear place, which is a shame.  Also, saying that the statue itself was the center of violence makes it sound like most of the so-called Alt Right protestors were really there because of the statue.  As evidenced by their own propaganda, we know this to not be the case.

Lee continued:

“We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin.”


“Today, I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on. We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the Women’s March in January, and, especially, Heather Heyer, who died fighting for her beliefs in Charlottesville.”

If you’d asked me in 1996 if I ever thought I’d see a pastor talking about God’s call on the VMAs, I would have laughed in your face.  Lee is absolutely right here: we must answer God’s call to confront racism and supremacy head-on.  The same is true for any injustice.

I have seen absolutely nothing to make me believe that Black Lives Matter is what its most vocal detractors say it is.  I’d welcome a one-on-one discussion with anyone concerned that BLM somehow promotes black supremacy or is engaged in terroristic activities.  Yes, I believe all lives matter.  So does BLM.  If you know me personally and want to talk about this, please, let’s.

If there was any area of Lee’s statement that I could understand people reasonably taking umbrage at, it would be with regards to the Women’s March, and for reasons you might understand even if you don’t embrace them.  Observers who felt that the March was primarily concerned with abortion, or that it largely ignored the concerns (and input) of women of color, might take issue with Lee’s reference to it as a model for confronting racism and supremacy.

Lee and his Winston-Salem church have received tremendous backlash for the appearance. He’s since resigned and issued this statement, which begins:

“I’m writing this statement to make sure that people are able to read in my own words what has happened to me over the last three weeks so that the events of my leaving Bethany United Church of Christ might be understood from my perspective.”

“It began when MTV invited me to speak out at the Video Music Awards in Los Angeles as a descendent of Robert E. Lee who is committed to speaking out against white supremacy and the hatred that had permeated our country.   The event was in the immediate aftermath of the gathering of White Supremacist in Charlottesville who were rallying around a statue of my ancestor Robert E. Lee. I strongly support the removal of these monuments to the Confederacy and feel it is my duty as a descendent to speak out against White Supremacy.”

Let’s be clear: Lee is right about his duty, not just as a member of the Lee family, but as a Christian and a child of God.  He also strikes me as a young, 24-year-old pastor seemingly blindsided by the reaction from within and without his congregation. I have no idea whether he talked to his church about his statement before he made it.  I hope he did. If he didn’t, he should have. We don’t know what did or didn’t go on behind the scenes.  Whether or not it would have made a difference isn’t the point.

My assumption, and it is only an assumption, is that the faction at Lee’s church taking issue with his statement were more upset with his lifting up of BLM than with the fact that the Women’s March had less overtly in common with combating white supremacy and racism.  I may also be grossly underestimating how much of the negative response is from people who don’t want the statues to come down.  And lest anyone think there’s no such thing as a liberal or progressive that opposes abortion, I know many people like Melissa Linebaugh.  The seeming near-zero-tolerance policy among many progressives for people who oppose abortion is likely part of the backlash.  While the Women’s March wasn’t “a march for abortion,” as such, it’s not hard to see why many people have that sort of view of it.  It’s part of Lee’s pastoral job to understand that, and to be in conversation with his church before he goes on national television.  And maybe he did and maybe he was.  Again, at this point, we don’t know.

I haven’t seen a statement from the church.  I’ve looked.  Its Facebook page is down.  Its website isn’t very current.  This piece from the Chicago Tribune has a few more details, and some important elaborations from Lee:  “‘The uncomfortable media attention and differing views with me by some of the congregation — and I want to make it very clear that it was not all of the congregation — made it clear that I was no longer welcome there,’ he said, adding that he’s also received positive messages.”

If Lee left the church because most of its members can’t abide the idea that he supports bringing the statues down, or because they’re so convinced that BLM is covertly in favor of black supremacy that they can’t see themselves to conversation and resolution, they should be called to task.  We don’t (and likely won’t) know the specifics of their broken relationship, nor how long it’s been broken.  That’s partly to Lee’s credit.

Because there’s much we don’t and won’t know, let’s say what we do know:

Racism is evil. Racial supremacy is evil. America is divided in ways we don’t even understand and are perhaps much further from understanding than we’ve been given to think.  Robert W. Lee is right to use his family name to fight racism and supremacy.  All people are right to fight racism and supremacy.  Even agreeing on that, we won’t always agree on the best ways forward. All ways forward require forbearance, listening to each other, respecting each other, and upholding each other’s dignity and worth.  In times like these, those basic precepts seem sadly radical.  We have more work to do than we know, and more than we have the strength for.  Build us up, Holy Spirit. Build us up.