In the language of people who work with communities and families confronting issues, we call this focusing on technical fixes instead of facing adaptive challenges.
In my observation, it's the moment we realize Uncle John is an alcoholic at Thanksgiving after he drinks far too much - again - and ruins Thanksgiving - again - but instead of facing the issues of addiction, the way a family behaves around alcoholism, and working to heal those wounds, we redo the dining room because new furniture and a paint color will fix everything.
Churches love technical fixes. We grasp for new and exciting programs that will help us grow in numbers, increase our financial stewardship, or build whatever programs we think will return us to the halcyon days of glory instead of asking the hard questions of why our numbers have decreased or other deeply probing questions.
When I work with churches on these issues, I remind them adaptive challenges, the big questions, are almost never ones we can verbalize immediately. We have to be led into them by the Holy Spirit because asking them and discovering the truths about ourselves they hold is almost always scary and painful because we will have to change.
We discover, perhaps, we aren't growing as a church because the demographics around our church have changed, and to welcome our new neighbors means we must confront our own prejudices about "those" people and how they worship. We discover being in a family system of addiction means everyone has played a role in enabling.
These discoveries are never easy, and healing them is never pain-free. They are the truth Jesus speaks about when he invites us to know ourselves.
Watching the uproar over the current President and the NFL has again reminded me how easy we slip into technical fixes instead of confronting huge issues that are challenging.
Some information first. Colin Kaepernick began kneeling at the playing of the National Anthem to call awareness to the issue of police violence against people of color. He did so during President Obama's tenure. He has and continues to work at the community level to help issues of police and community relations, doing so with his own money. And he is currently unemployed, likely because of his protest.
When people, almost exclusively white, began criticizing Kaepernick for his actions, we (since I'm white) ignored the essence of his protest - that throughout history, disproportionately larger numbers of men of color have encounters with the police, despite federal crime statistics that do not support the false belief that people of color commit more crimes. Police departments themselves are responding to this issue, working on inherent bias training with officers, among other things.
Kaepernick was called a son of a bitch for exercising his Constitutional right to kneel, and players and owners in the NFL responded. Again, the responses on Sunday almost overshadowed the original issue of protest. Kaepernick himself never knelt in protest to the current administration.
The technical responses (and any pertinent factual information often ignored to justify technical responses) to this action have included, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
- The owners have a right to fire NFL players for not doing their jobs. (Yes, but NFL players are not required to stand for the National Anthem, for which teams were not on the field for until the mid-21st century. Nor is presence for pre-game activities part of "doing their jobs." A cursory reading of the players' agreements from their union will clarify this.)
- Kneeling is disrespectful to soliders, even though many soldiers have noted otherwise AND the National Anthem is not solely for the military. It is our National Anthem, for every citizen of this country. Respect for soldiers is a serious issue - with thousands living with severe medical issues without the resources they need for health and healing, many enlisted living at or close to poverty level, and soldiers involved in endless foreign conflicts. That we often glorify their role without supporting them as humans is another deep issue we Americans need to face, but that's another post.
- "Millionaire players" should be grateful for a job. (This is the 21st century version of "don't be an uppity Black man" in my opinion, and in many others. This article is very much worth a read for more on this.)
- People should protest on their own time and choose a less-offensive/less-violent/less-troubling way. Again, we humans are almost never comfortable with any sort of protest because we are being faced with truths we'd rather ignore.
- Athletes should play the game and stay out of politics.
And I'm sure you've read others as you've scanned social media.
But notice what's missing - any response to the original reason Kaepernick took a knee - that we have a significant problem with racism and racial oppression in this country. Kaepernick focused this systemic issue of racism on police brutality, but he is speaking to an ever-present challenge in our country.
Racism and its first cousin, economic oppression and its evil fruits that we are still ingesting.
That my friends, is the sinister presence of a technical fix in action. They sound semi-reasonable and are lively places of discussion, but this focus will neither help us move forward or even respond to the original wound. Even if any of the reasons for criticism were valid (which most of them aren't), responding to them and fixing them would still leave us with the deeply infected wound in the body of this country - that we have lived, for hundreds of years, with the random construct of race as THE dividing factor.
Racism impacts our economic policies. It pervades our schools, neighborhoods, prisons, and churches. Our political structure supports racism (and other prejudices) because it was formed in a time where only white male property holders made the decisions. We, like the children and grand-children of alcoholics, carry the wounds of their behaviors and choices of racism in our very bones.
But we also are capable of healing from this wound. We have found our way forward with voting rights and awarenesses that were inconceivable 50 years ago. Our military, once deeply segregated, has changed. Marriage is no longer legally defined through race. We as a country are capable of facing the challenge of equality and justice we ourselves have put into the words of our sacred documents.
And more importantly, WE AS CHRISTIANS are called to this very work. We promise to God to love equally. Even if our country demanded prejudice as a public policy, Christians are called first to God, and God demands love, mercy, and justice. Period. So if you are kneeling to Almighty God, God reminds you of your allegiance to love for all, of God's expectation you will serve all and work for justice to roll down like waters, and expects nothing less of us.
While the National Anthem does indeed represent those who have served in our military, it also represents all the citizens of this country. It sings of freedom to those who marched in Selma. It remembers the sacrifice of four little girls in Birmingham. Its music is not reserved for those who marched to war overseas to fight for freedom; it also plays for those who march for justice and equality on this soil, who did so without guns but with conviction that we can be the America we hope to be, a shining city on a hill.
The challenge before us, especially as people of faith, is not to allow the easy arguments to become the focus, but continually to direct our attention and energy to finding reconciliation in the sins of racism. When we are deeply troubled by an action, instead of grabbing for the fruit of the tree of excuses and blame that the deceiver holds before us, what if we instead explored our responses in the presence of God?
Do our responses dodge responsibility of love, or do they challenge us to love more? Are we speaking of those we label as enemy in the way we would want to be treated if we held a position that came from deep within us (that whole love our neighbors and our enemies as ourselves does not have an exception clause). What if we were willing to explore the deep source of our own discomfort when prejudice and hate are brought to our attention?
What if we knelt before God in humility as we allow God to show us how we have fallen short in love and grace in our relationships with people of color in this country and courageously worked to create a kingdom of heaven of equality here and now?