Friday, July 31, 2009

Fantastic Film

I watched a fantastic film last night, which will definitely be shown at church sometime, called Prom in Mississippi. It is a documentary about the first integrated prom at a small high school in Charleston, Mississippi. This first prom with both blacks and whites in attendance did not take place in 1968, 78 or even 1988, but instead 2008.

Until the year 2008 they held two proms: one for whites and one for blacks. If you wondered what the fuss about Gates was all about this is part of it. Morgan Freeman, who lives in Charleston, offered to pay for the event if they would integrate it.

The film makers do a fantastic job of trying to tell the story, including the fact that many parents were so upset they organized a white's only prom. It is currently showing on HBO, and will be out on video in January. If you get a chance, it is a must see.


The other big controversial sporting news, besides for the recent steroid revelations, is where Michael Vick will end up. Most teams have come out and said they will not take him on because of the public relations nightmare that would surround him. Which leads me to ask questions about doing time and forgiveness.

What is the purpose of prison? If it is to rehabilitate people who have made wrong decisions in order to make them productive members of society, we do a terrible job. The problem is I know this is not how those running the prisons think about it. Nor is it how most politicians think about it because they want to be "tough on crime," whatever that means.

The second reason for prisons is simply as retribution. You did something wrong and so we are going to make you pay for it. So, if that is the purpose, why do we continue to make people "pay" after they are out of prison and already done their time? What more do they need to do to be clean?

What is happening with Vick is that people consider the despicableness of his crime, and it was despicable, to still be with him even after he is out of jail. What more do people want? What was the purpose of him being in jail if that wasn't enough? Why do we want to continue to make him pay? The NFL is filled with people who have committed or participated in worse crimes, including those involving the deaths of other humans. What Vick did was absolutely disgusting and he should be punished. But, how is he worse for this than someone who is involved in a shooting which maims or kills a person? Is killing a dog worse than killing a human, or is the difference simply that no one is going to put together a protest about it like the animal rights groups will and so therefore it's okay for them to play?

There are lots of issues with the prison system, how they are set up, who runs them (privatization is an issue that we should be up in arms about), but most importantly what their purpose is. Prisons have not changed in any dramatic way for hundreds of years even though we've certainly made advances in our understanding about human behavior since then, so why isn't that reflected in buildings? Why are we still bent on retributive justice rather than restorative justice? Even those who advocate for victims rights for the most part are not talking about restorative issues but instead retributive.

This is an issue that we need to take on because if we don't it is only going to get worse and we already have rates of incarceration that rival those of the worst dictatorships.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

asking the wrong questions....

The New York Times is reporting that both Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz tested positive for steroids in 2003 under the same "anonymous" test that also caught A-Rod. Some people will be shocked by this news, but that's because they are asking the wrong question. We should not be asking who did steroids during this period, but who did not use steroids? Jose Canseco estimated that at least 85% of all players were using them, and since he's been right about most things so far, as much as I hate to, I trust him on this as well.

The biggest misconception, however, is that this was somehow limited in time to a "generation." The people who have studied this in detail, and that does not include George Mitchell whose report looks more and more ridiculous every day, date the beginning of the steroid era to 1984. Peter Gammons says he thinks 1986 is a better year, and I'm fine with that, but this is not just something that appeared in 1998. Let's also not forget that what Mark McGwire took in 1998, at least what we know of, was not only legal in baseball it was legal in the US and could be bought at GNC, and I believe it's national spokesman was Larry Walker of the Colorado Rockies. Also, since those who tested positive in the minor leagues for banned substances were split 50-50 hitters and pitchers, we should ask who got the biggest benefit?

This was not a new problem that suddenly exploded onto the scene, it had been developing and increasing for a long time. And long before the public knew about it those inside baseball knew about it and did nothing. Why would they, everyone was making money? The commissioner could have implemented testing and punishment anytime he wanted to in the minor leagues, where there is not a players union, but he didn't do so until 2001 and even then the punishment was only 15 games.

To think that "cheating" in baseball is anything new is ridiculous as well. The Hall of Fame is filled with guys who cheated by scuffing the ball or using spit balls long after they were illegal, among lots of other things. I even heard Peter Gammons once say that Ted Williams, without argument the greatest hitter of all time, used a corked bat the last year he played in order to increase his bat speed. How many more home runs did Mickey Mantle hit because he was taking greenies then he would have hit without them? (and by the way, Roger Marris was also using them in 1961 when he hit 61, so how "pure" is that record? And I love the M&M boys).

Let's just deal with the era for what it was. There is no way Hall of Fame voters are ever going to know who did or who didn't so just vote on them like normal. Because, after all, did steroids really help Big Papi become a better hitter in the ninth inning with the game on the line? I don't think so. People who love baseball usually know the history of the game as well, and so we'll talk about these 20+ years for what they were, they will be asterisked, and then let's move on because until you can prove to me someone wasn't using I'm tired of hearing about it. And for those who think this is ridiculous, let me ask you if you still watch the NFL and are talking about steroid use there or do you just not care?

One final question: Do Red Sox fans have the temerity and sanctimoniousness to still taunt A-Rod when he returns while applauding Ortiz?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Different Day...

Well it's been five days since my last post and seemingly not much has changed. Mark Buehrle followed up his perfect game by starting out last night throwing five perfect innings setting a new record. (No pitcher has ever thrown two perfect games in a career, and back-to-back no-hitters has only been done once. ) And what people are still talking about is Henry Louise Gates. The police released the 911 tape in which the person who called it in never says the suspects are black. That changes my initial post some although she was asked to call them by another person, and we don't know what she was thinking.

The release of the tape does however make the police situation look even worse since what was written in the report was that the caller said there were two black males as suspects. When did that information appear? Second, the caller said there was luggage on the porch and it was possible they lived there and were having trouble getting in. Did the responding officers ever get told this information?

On Bill Maher's show he did say this situation shows how much we have advanced as a society because it wasn't that long ago that a black man would never have had the audacity to behave like a rich white man and demand the officer's name and badge number. A guest, who is running for congress in California, said the police officers biggest mistake was in doing this to a person who has a direct line to the President's office. If this was another person there would never be any apologies because the police department wouldn't be embarrassed enough to even think about it, and depending on the situation they might also still be in jail.

I do not think that the police officer or the women who spotted the events are racist. But the problem is all of us are inundated all the time with things which portray blacks, blacks males in particular, in a negative light. We are getting better, but let us not pretend that we, black and white, don't have a long way to go. I feel sorry for everyone who is involved in this situation, because it is no longer about them or this incident. It has become a metaphor for greater things happening in society, and in that they are all victims. But maybe this incident will bring everyone in the country to a different place.

Let us remember Paul's words from Galatians "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Let that be our goal.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Congratulations go out to Mark Buehrle on throwing the 18th perfect game in Major League Baseball history. A special tip of the cap goes to DeWayne Wise for his phenomenal catch robbing Gabe Kapler of a home run in the 9th to preserve it. You can watch the catch here.

One of the things that makes baseball great is the simple fact that at any game you have the opportunity to see something you have never seen before. That might also be said of the other sports but with baseball it's actually true. I've seem a lot of games and have seen perfect games go into the sxith and seventh innings respectively, but they have been lost. I have never seen a no-hitter. The best was a two hitter thrown by Curt Schilling when he was with Arizona. It happens to be the best game I've ever seen (Kevin Brown threw a 4 hitter) and it was also the game where I proposed to Linda. I've seen two grand slams in the same inning, but never seen them hit by the same person (only been done once). I've seen an unassisted double play, but never an unassisted triple play (only done 15 times). I've never seen someone hit for the cycle. I've never seen someone hit homeruns from both sides of the plate. The list could go on and on, which is why every game is exciting because you never know what's going to happen or what you might see and one of the reasons why baseball is the greatest sport being played.

Post Racial America

Apparently being chastised by the President is not sitting well with police departments. But let's clear up two things. The first is that being told you did something "stupidly" does not mean that you are stupid. There is a big difference between the two, and I would have to agree with the President that the police acted stupidly in this case. The second issue is that there is no way any police department in this country can say that they are above reproach on this issue. I value the work they do and thank them for putting their life on the line everyday, but they are still open to being criticized.

Even if Gates was acting belligerently, the courts have repeatedly ruled that police officers must be willing to take the abuse directed at them more than can be expected of a regular person and not act on it because of the position they hold. If, as Gates contends, the officer refused to give his name and badge number then he leaves even more to be desired in proper conduct for a police officer. Let's not forget that Gates had already proven that he was not breaking into the house because it was his house (actually it's Harvard house which should have sent off all sorts of bells in the officer's head that this might be an important person, but apparently it didn't). If I was to prove to a police officer who believes that I'm breaking into a house that it is my house and he didn't immediately say "Sorry. Have a nice day." and walk away I might be belligerent too. Of course the likelihood of that happening to me as a white man is limited.

We live in a society in which white privilege is the norm. I can do things without ever being seen as questionable because I am a white male. That comes with extreme amounts of privilege and advantage in this society. It is little wonder that the black community is so up in arms about this because this serves as another reminder to them that they are not safe from harassment regardless of position, class or wealth. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is one of the best, brightest and most respect academics in this country, who also happens to be black. But, for many people in this country they will never see the first part because they cannot see past the second part. I do not believe that the police officer or the neighbor are overtly racist, but I do believe they have inherent racism that is part of them, because it's part of our culture and society and is even a part of me. The simple fact is we live in a society in which the black man is a person to be feared. Is it better than it's been in the past, most certainly. The fact that we have a President who also happens to be black is a sign of vast improvement but it does not mean the fight is won.

Black's are still stopped by police at a much higher rate than are whites, and much more likely to be charged with a crime, prosecuted and imprisoned than are whites as well. The last town I lived in had a similar brush with infamy as what is happening now in Cambridge, when they pulled over and arrested a man matching the description for someone who had committed a crime in Boston. The description, "a black male in his twenties." As it turned out, the black male they arrested was a member of the Boston Celtics who happened to live in the town. His real crime? He was a black man, driving a nice car through a lilly white community.

When I preached on this issue at our sister church in Dorchester last spring, the remarks made to the congregation after I was done was a reminder to the community that if you are pulled over, to do everything the police ask of you and not to antagonize them. That statement would never be made from the pulpit here because it doesn't need to be, and that seems to be what Gates biggest crime was. He got uppity. It is also what has some in the black community upset. Of all people, they claim, Gates should know what to do, but he assumed because of his position that he was equal to others. He forgot where he was and where he lived. This just serves as another sign to many in the black community, rightly or wrongly, that they are not equals in this society. That even when they reach the pinnacle of social and cultural respectability that to many people they are still nothing more than just a black.

Being white has its privileges and the sooner we recognize that and all it entails the sooner we will begin to truly work on being a post racial country, but until that happens, race still matters.

Friday, July 10, 2009

At The Theater

Went to see the Blueman Group on Wednesday. While I enjoyed the show, I couldn't help but wonder, when avant-garde/experimental theater becomes commercially successful is it still avant-garde?

What also struck me was the Charles Playhouse where they perform in Boston. I don't know a lot about the history of the building except that it was originally built as a Universalist church then was also used as a synagogue. Did those congregations move onto other buildings, or did they fade away? I don't know the answer to that question. But I am struck when a former church is having 300 people packed into it 9 times a week paying anywhere from $50-100 for the privilege while many churches can't get even 50 people once a week without charging a thing. What does that say about what we are doing? I am not making the claim that we should begin seeing ourselves solely as entertainment, but I do think that we sometimes forget that worship is also a performance and we don't spend enough time in analyzing that simple fact for what it would mean to attract people to church.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

returning from vacation

Back from a week away for Annual Conference, and then two weeks of vacation (that wasn't really a vacation) and now back to work and boy is it busy here especially with pastoral care. The love that has been shown by this congregation to Paul and his family is simple amazing and overwhelming. Although we shouldn't really be surprised since we've seen the same done for others over and over again. Lots of congregations talk about the feeling of family and of being there in a time of crisis, but this congregation backs up those words with action. I have been reading a book on why men don't attend church, which I'll write on more later, and one of the author's claims is that church has become more focused on building community and relationships rather than building "real" things like buildings and so men aren't interested. While I would agree that men and women, as a broad generalization, look for and wants different things out of relationships and community, I think he is wrong that men don't want or need community, and these are the types of situations where that community can truly shine and we can truly be Christ to each other. Linda and I have felt this as well following her surgery, which is why I didn't really have a vacation. Our prayers continue to be with Paul, Linda, Liam, Adam and their family, as well as all in our community who are currently struggling with many different issues. Thank you to all for all that you do and for being Christ to each other and to the world.