In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with the CEO of Justice Informed, Xavier Ramey, about how the Bible informs his role as a social impact consultant as they explore the following questions:
- What does Xavier Ramey do as a business consultant?
- How does Xavier see his work at Justice Informed fitting into the Gospel?
- How does the Gospel intersect with systems of power?
- How do societies change?
- What is meant by an “inescapable network of mutuality”?
- What is the responsibility of the individual?
- Does persuasion play a part in Xavier’s work as a consultant?
- Why is it important for white folks to live in proximity to people who don’t look like them?
- Is capitalism the problem or are people the problem?
- What are some practical things you can do to prioritize fighting for justice?
- What three steps must people in power who have money take to stop injustice?
- What is “issue switching”?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Xavier Ramey you can share.
- “It is impossible in my mind, and through my experience, to assume that individual absolution will ever lead to societal change.” @XavierRamey
- “I’m not looking to persuade Caesar, my job here is not to challenge Pilate, my job here is not to persuade the people. I am seeking to model what I believe to be the righteous way of building a company, of leading a team, of speaking life and light and contending with my own demons before I insist other people cage theirs.” @XavierRamey
- “Jesus did not contend with Caesar, Caesar was simply a symptom of the system that we insisted on.”@XavierRamey
- [Police officers] are a symptom of what we require when we don’t know how to keep peace we insist on delegating the responsibility of safety to officers rather than taking on that responsibility ourselves in a shared and equitable and abundant community that we can construct.”@XavierRamey
- “Everyone is signing up for their own version of the cross, the safest thing that they can do to accumulate as much as they can so that they can give a little bit back and hope that they’re not Cain but instead that they are Abel and… that their sacrifice will be blessed.” @XavierRamey
- “How you make your dollar creates the poverty.” @XavierRamey
- “Stop saying we’re overwhelmed, stop saying it’s too hard… The reality is we’re simply unpracticed. We practice racism, we practice sexism, we practice ignoring the calls of the poor, we practice justifying harm, we practice these things and so we’re good at it.” @XavierRamey
Mentioned in This Episode
- Book: The Fire Next Time
- Website: Justice Informed
- Website: Xavier Ramey
- Patreon: The Bible for Normal People
Powered by RedCircleRead the transcript
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the internet. Serious talk about the sacred book. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty Intro Music]
Jared: Welcome everyone to this episode of the Bible for Normal People. Today we have a hard-hitting topic. But, before we do that, just a reminder that we have a course, a one hour, online course coming up March 26th at 8:30pm Eastern time- 9:30pm. And it’s going to be called, “How to Read the Bible Like Adults.” And we don’t mean to denigrate how people read the Bible in any way we just want to talk about what are some ways that we found that are more mature ways of approaching this text. So it you haven’t already, it’s pay-what-you-want, so nobody’s going to be turned down. It you want to register for that you can go to thebiblefornormalpeople.com/howtoreadthebible and it will take you to an Eventbrite page where you can register and get tickets for that. Its again, online, it’s through Zoom, you’ll get instructions once you register. Pay what you want so we hope you can join us March 26th at 8:30pm EST. Now back to our topic for today. I say it’s hard-hitting because it’s about diversity, social justice, and the gospel. How do those all play together? And we’ve talked about this some but we can keep peeling back the layers of that onion and I’m excited about the person we have who’s qualified, uniquely qualified, to talk about these layers and how we can pull them back. His name is Xavier Ramey. He leads an organization called Justice Informed, which is a social impact consulting firm. So its grounded in his faith but it’s a lot about social impact, inclusion, community engagement with organizations. So we’ll see, in particular one thing that’s really helpful is, you know a lot of this is when we talk about the Bible, we talk about right and wrong and it’s about individuals, and how our actions are impacting others but there’s something that I think is important we talk about, and that’s systems. And how do systems form in communities and how do those systems privilege or give opportunity or benefit some and maybe put others at a disadvantage. And how do we talk about that it ways that don’t alienate and isolate but also really dig into the reality of a lot of people face with these systems in place. So let’s get to this conversation with Xavier Ramey on diversity, social justice, and the gospel.
Xavier: The hypocrisy of it all. Right, the demand to go to countries that are all brown people and then not understand your responsibilities toward justice and equity at home as where now along racial lines you have an entire swath of people saying “make America great,” and they all look the same! They all want the same America, it’s like, 92% of African Americans did not vote for the man who thinks that we should be a country that none of the people who look like me want to live in again.
Jared: Well welcome, Xavier, to this episode of the podcast.
Xavier: Thank you so much for having me.
Pete: Yeah, it’s great to have you.
Jared: So, we have a lot to talk about, we want to jump in. But, before we do, maybe give people a little spiritual biography, just a little bit of your background and how you got into the things that you’re into now.
The things that I’m into now.
Pete: In a tweet, tweet length, yeah.
Xavier: Well, my name’s Xavier Ramey, I’m a native of the city of Chicago in the great state of Illinois. I am the CEO of a social impact consulting firm called Justice Informs that seeks to catalyze institutional spaces, communities, and geographies around relational specificity and creating an invitation to deeper understanding of how we all, not only relate to each other personally, but the effects of our personal relationships on the systemic realities of our world. My spiritual biography starts within the African Methodist Episcopal Church where I grew up. My grandmother was a minister in the AME church called Saint Stephens in Chicago. And I grew up, typical kind of pastors kid, meaning that I was in church every Sunday for all three services, I was laying under the pews when I was a little kid falling asleep, and then I was expected to join the choir when I was a young adult. Then I was expected to take on other leadership roles as I got older and eventually I just left all that stuff and I left the church for several years and was re-confronted with God when I took on a role as the head of fundraising for a nonprofit back in my old neighborhood, North Lawndale, in Chicago after I had gotten my economics degree at DePaul University and, it’s a long story. I’m not going to give you the whole thing of it, but, an encounter with a man who came to the door and then subsequently listening to really good counsel and really awesome people who chose to see what I couldn’t see in myself, it reconnected me with relationship with God. That actually created a demand for my life on a greater insistence on asking, what I think are better questions that eventually led me to where I am today in realizing that much of the challenges of our world are related to a fundamental breakdown in how we see each other, and in that space how we see the face of God and how we expect to receive and engage one another in this space of harm that has been, and opportunities that can come should we chose to truly understand and see each other, and ourselves. So, I channel that work into Justice Informed, which is a consulting firm. Which, that might sound weird, I’ll get into that later if ya’ll have some questions about how does, how does the Gospel story fit into a consulting firm’s model.
Pete: That’s a really good question.
I, look, I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure it out myself, and so I’d be happy to share that. But I gleefully and joyfully lead Justice Informed now in a way that I think is important, given that we’re in this great transition moment, this great social transition, political transitional moment in American history. And as an African American, I’m particularly interested in shifting how we look at this country and who it’s for and what it’s about and using my firm as a catalyst for that. Seems like one of the best blessing I could have right now in my life.
Jared: So, before we jump into how what you do interacts with the Gospel, maybe, can you break down some of the words you used? You used a lot of big words when you kind of talked about what Justice Informed is about. So just break it down so that people, every day people can understand exactly kind of what it is you do.
Pete: Now he means just me.
Jared: Yeah. I just wanted to protect Pete’s ego.
Pete: I know. That’s, he just means me. Just stop, stop it Jared. Okay.
Pete: Okay Xavier, talk to me. Explain to me what you’re doing.
So, I’m a consultant, which means I give advice. I give advice that comes in the form of strategies. The strategies are based upon my understanding and expertise in certain domains as it relates to institutional culture, management operations, community engagement and impact, and public policy. Pool all that together, what does it mean that I do day to day? My work with companies, I work with nonprofits, I work with foundations, I work with universities, primarily around the cultural challenges that they have. So, in layman’s terms, people might call that like, diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Some people might call it corporate social responsibility, some folks might call it public policy, so how laws affects communities or businesses or people. Some may call it philanthropy. The company engages across those areas: social responsibility, DEI, community engagement and philanthropy, to shift how institutions affect the people that are either working there or the people that are stakeholders in that institution’s success or failure; meaning, the folks who live around that company.
Pete: So, how institutions affect people, that sounds like a very important idea because I think I’ve been affected by institutions and that seems like that’s part of our social network that would happen all the time anyway, right?
Xavier: Absolutely. I mean, looking at even myself, right? I’m an African American who’s worked at a lot of really big, fancy places. I’ve got a degree in economics. I was the only one in my class to graduate out of the honors. As an African American, in America, in Chicago, I have certain lens on life. That lens is colored by the institutions, the communities, the government that I exist in and I exist around. As an African American, my experience has been colored by my, the color of my skin and there are many people like me. I am also a cisgender heterosexual male. For those folks who don’t know what that means, that means that I am what, I am the gender I was assigned at birth. I am attracted primarily to women, and I am also a man. And that creates an experience in this world, because that puts me in a dominant category. All of that, we’ve had the, I’ll say the privilege of accessible ignorance and a tolerable level of ignorance, given that ignorance I feel, ignorance, perpetuated ignorance is a form of violence. And I know everyone may not agree with that or understand that, but I challenge you to let that sentiment and that term wash over you a bit. Now that we’re at the point that people who look like me, who sound like me, who come from where I came from, the Nazareth of Chicago; we have the right to speak and we are creating new definitions and we are creating new paradigms and new strategies, but we’re also doing it with a level of insistence that comes with the backing of things like the Civil Rights Act of ’64, the Community Rights Act, the Community Investment Act of ’77, the Equal Pay Act for Women. These types of statutory opportunities have now, that we’re a generation removed, my generation as an older millennial, we are rising up and insisting that the social order changes with the political order. The challenge that we’re in right now, why I said America’s in this transition moment, is because this is the first generation of white people in American history that have to listen to black people, and they’re not taking it too well. This is the first generation of men, cisgender heterosexual men in American history, that have to listen to LGBTQIA persons or their company budget suffered, their revenue suffered, their talent pools remained homogenous. They have to listen to people that no other generation of Americans has ever, literally, had to listen to. And so, they’re being pressed on the notion of proximity. They’re being pressed on the reality of relationships, and they’re being pressed on what they would consider it “normal” to be. I see it as my job to bridge that divide and to accelerate the pace of change in America to make it one, this country one, and our corporations, our nonprofits, and our philanthropic organizations ones, that people like me actually feel comfortable working in, living around, growing, starting, or stopping.
Pete: Mmm. You said before, just before Xavier, I think you said that perpetuating ignorance is a form of violence? And you said let that sit there for a while. Well, I’ve let it sit for a minute and I want you to explain it to me. It sounds, I mean, I think I get it, but flesh that out for us. What do you mean by that?
Xavier: So, the very notion of equity versus like, diversity, right? Diversity is the ability to just be seen, to be counted. You know, Pete, but the challenge is people are often seen but not counted, and even if they’re counted, they may not have the agency or power to speak. And so, they’re these lines of power that exist in our world, in our institutions, in our churches, everywhere. And there’s different accessibility to each point. When I say perpetuated ignorance, what I mean is that people have been able to act as if that doesn’t exist. They’ve been able to act as if it is the responsibility of people who have been oppressed to appreciate whatever next little thing that they get that mitigates a bit of their oppression. So, for example, you can imagine that in 1866, the year after the end of slavery. Slavery was abolished in ’65. The next year there was probably a cacophony of white Americans who were like, “isn’t this better? You should appreciate this.” To an African American like Frederick Douglas who would say, “I want to be president”. They would immediately say, “you should appreciate what you have. Isn’t this so much more?” When the reality is, all they’re saying is we have the right to continue being violent in ways that you can’t yet fight against.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Xavier: I see that as a form of demanding that an ignorance exists at levels of power, where James Baldwin said, “ignorance allied with power is the greatest threat that justice can ever have.”
Pete: Mmm. It’s sort of like, what people say, “after all we’ve done for you.”
Xavier: Yeah, I mean even that statement, “after all we’ve done for you,” immediately reasserts the hierarchy.
Xavier: We did something for you, meaning that on the other side of it, we were doing something to you, which gets back to the challenge of acknowledgement in restoration and rehabilitation of relationships where one would say “you should appreciate what you, what I gave you,” which means that I insist on still being above you and parroting down resources. I don’t seek to level the playing field, I seek for you to recognize the validity of me being incrementally nicer to you; which doesn’t mean you’re relating to that person as a human, you’re actually relating to them through a hierarchy that you may still be organizing power to uphold.
Jared: So, this is, I want to bring the Bible, maybe the Gospel a little bit into this, because when I hear that, so I just give a little context for my question, is, you know, I would have grown up in a tradition where it was very much about the individual. That, basically, most of our problems could be solved if individuals just asked Jesus into their heart and were nicer to each other. And you’ve used words like systems of power, and I feel like for a lot of people in my community growing up, that would have been really abstract and really hard to understand. They can understand asking Jesus into my heart and that changing my life, and if we all did that it would change everything; but when you start talking about this, these institutions and systems, it starts getting abstract. So, can you maybe talk about how the Gospel intersects with this idea of system.
Xavier: Yeah. First, I’m going to pull out a, one of my favorite scriptures that speaks about, it essentially says, do not forsake the blessing of your assembly. And deep down, what that’s saying is that there are certain things that can only happen in community. There are certain epiphanies that can only happen in community. The requirement of testimony, right? Testimony meaning that I am now verbally expressing a thing that I could not create in life that God created for me that I will now say to the masses so that they know he is there for them as well. And so, if they are sitting in shame about what is going through in their lives, they can now know that they are not alone and that there’s a way further by, again, reinvesting and reinforcing the validity and the importance of relying upon your faith in God. The reality of assembly, as juxtaposed with the demand for individual action that you may be speaking about, right? If you would just believe in Jesus, it would all get better. The reality is, you know, I see that being cut with Jesus saying, well what you did for the least of these you’ve done for me. And then, secondarily, looking and saying the poor will always be with you. Going back to Adam and saying, you know, the curses that you will toil, meaning that we’re talking about things that happen in time. Not only that, but if sin truly cloaks the world, then the poor are always being with us, they’re only with us because of us and how we are, which goes back to, well then, if there’s poverty and there’s a difference in the hierarchy of power, that power moves through economies and economics. Again, that economics and those economies move through community. And so, at the end of the day, it is impossible in my mind, and through my experience, to assume that individual absolution will ever lead to societal change. Individual absolution or individual power and agency only means that you will have a better understanding of your cross to bear. But just because you bear your cross, if God actually gave you that cross, because a lot of people just hang themselves up there and expect us to respect the cross they’ve made –
Pete: [Chuckles] Yeah.
Xavier: I hate my job! That’s my cross.
Pete: Yeah, yeah.
Xavier: That’s not a cross! You’ve got a sucky job?
Xavier: Like, relegated responsibility years ago? Like, that’s on you bro!
Pete: Yeah. [Laughter]
Xavier: But the reality is that, Dr. King said this beautiful thing. He said, “we cannot negate that we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.” An inescapable network of mutuality. Inescapable. The reality is we are all connected. That’s why when I go back to Justice Informed, and I always think, I founded the company and when I was thinking about how do I found this in a way that it is light and life? Well then, it has to be an invitation because Christ moved his actions, his every action was simply an invitation through modeling what life was like if you truly believed; how hard it would be, and how beautiful it would be. But secondarily, he focused on being relationally specific. And so, to say that if everybody would just be Peter, Paul, Simon, etc. then the world would be better. The reality is even together, those people didn’t always believe, because the moment Jesus was gone, they all went back to what they were doing.
Xavier: And so, we have to commit together. Even if just for Peter to be together with Paul enough to say, “Hey, Peter, don’t go back fishing. Just because that’s what you were doing before you met Christ. Remember what you said you believed in.” And in community, we can now be accountable to one another.
You flip that over to racial challenges; the reality is that we live in a country where people don’t want to be accountable to other people that they have never historically had to consider. And so, the challenge there is also for the church, that when you focus on this individualist gospel, when the reality of even the, the great chapter right after the Gospels, right, Acts, was all about the church coming together.
Yes, every individual person is a church, but the reality is the church is also an assembly of people, and there are systemic realities that happened because people are b.s.-ing and people are violent, and people are insisting that people who have never had power, who have been marginalized for generations, live under the veil of some terrible relationship called “appreciate what little things I give to you,” versus step into the fullness of an accountable, valid, resourceful, abundant relationship that is rooted in acknowledgement of harm. That is rooted in the sharing of resources, that is rooted in changing time by changing ourselves in our time. And people are stepping away from that, and I think that we could put strategies and ideas and words to create narratives, where people don’t look at this as loss. They don’t think I need to do this one thing at work, do this other thing at church; they realize that what I do at work influences what I have at church, and what I have at church influences how I think about work. But I do all of that in this network of, this inescapable network of mutuality of people who are near me and people who are not; people who look like me and people who don’t.
Pete: So, the gospel, to maybe to state the obvious, the gospel must work on the level of that inescapable network of mutuality. It’s not just individual thing, and of course, that means critiquing the systems, and people in power typically aren’t good at doing that. So, you have to address, you have to address power somehow too, which I think is a very difficult thing to do. So, how, maybe, walk us through that dynamic of, there are people in power who like things the way they are, in church or wherever, and might not want to listen. How do you persuade them? I mean, you mentioned before that there are precedents in our American legal system to take action, and sometimes I imagine you have to fight, and other times be very diplomatic; and you consult one way here and one way elsewhere. But, flesh that out a little bit for us.
Xavier: Well, this is where it does matter – the understanding of the power of the individual does come in, because I didn’t say all that I said just now to negate the power of the individual. I was saying it to create the understanding of the juxtaposition between the power of the individual versus the power of the assembly, though both are respectively important. I’m not, you know, through my work, through my life, again, looking at Christ’s example, I’m not looking to persuade Caesar. My job here is not to challenge Pilate. My job here is not to persuade the people. I am seeking to model what I believe to be the righteous way of building a company, of leading a team, of speaking life and light and contending with my own demons before I insist other people cage theirs. And that is the responsibility of the individual, however, if I see myself to be called into leadership as I have, then I need to remember what it said in the book of James – not many of you should be teachers, for you should be held to a stricter standard – which means that I will have different challenges because leaders go before the people. Not in terms of their position in life and hierarchy, but in terms of what you have to endure, because taking on the matters of the cross, as my pastor says it, right? It is taking responsibility for the multitude. Jesus did not contend with Caesar; Caesar was simply a symptom of the system that we insisted on.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Xavier: The police officers who walked Jesus to the cross and then stabbed him when he was down, they are a symptom of what we require. When we don’t know how to keep peace, we insist in delegating the responsibility of safety to officers rather than taking on that responsibility ourselves in a shared and equitable and abundant community that we can construct. And so, I’m not trying to persuade any corporate CEO, though I know I have the ear of a lot of corporate CEO’s. I’m not trying to persuade nonprofit teams or Executive Directors or philanthropic CEO’s, I’m not trying to persuade them. I’m trying to build a company, build an institution that looks like something better than the racism they’ve committed to. That looks like something better than the agnostic relationships they’ve committed to. That looks like something better than being wary of anti-harassment policies or litigation from women who feel like they’ve been or have actually been harassed. Build a company that is a petri dish and a playground for ideas in the midst of all the chaos that we’ve insisted on, and I believe that’s the point of a company. I don’t, you know, when people ask me what is profit, I got into this argument with these folks who were insistent on trying to figure out how do we reclaim capitalism and how do we make it more conscious, and I’m like, bro, you’re starting with the wrong question.
Xavier: Reality is that if you think that profit is simply the returns, you know, your revenue minus your cost, then you’re off. The reality is that the very definitions of business don’t require social cost to be put into the formula for businesses financial solvency. You can start a real estate firm and buy and sell all types of companies, or sorry, properties, but the reality is, is that building a company in America that buys and sells stolen land, which is what it is. All of this land is stolen land, where there’s not been acknowledgement and restitution to indigenous populations or people. You can do all of that and never have to deal with the cost to our government for affordable housing. You can do all of that, and denigrate the validity of the lives of people who are poor because you call it an “up and coming neighborhood,” which essentially means there are less poor people there, or there are less people that look a certain way. You can still do all of that and have a profit. The question is, what good is that to the rest of us?
And for me, I center an anchor, unlike many companies I’ve found, I anchor my decision making on how it affects the poor, the marginalized, the people who are not white. People who are black and brown, indigenous populations, immigrant, I mean, all of my companies’ money is with a bank right now that when talking to the bank owner, he told me flat out, 80% of our mortgages and our portfolio go to undocumented persons. I said, praise God, hallelujah. My company grows, your bank grows. That’s what I want to be with. I want to be with people who bring in the refugees. I want to be with people who are giving out loans to little, tiny, you know, mom and pop shops and that little eloteras on the corner who is selling those little bowls of corn with mayonnaise and hot chilis. You know, I may need five hundred bucks just to start that little shop. They don’t need $50,000 like a company like mine would need, but no bank like JP Morgan Chase is going to give a $500 loan, but this little bank will, and that’s community. But that’s a level of conscientiousness that’s actually creating challenges for me, with like, my accountant. Because he’s like, why are you spending, they can’t even, it doesn’t connect to Quick Books, the bank doesn’t have the sophistication. Like, c’mon Xavier, how far are you going to go with this crap?
Xavier: And that’s the work for our time. That’s the work for our time. At some point, we’ve got to take on that work.
[Producer group endorsement]
Jared: Can you say more about this idea, you’ve mentioned a few times, of proximity, because I think that’s important and I think of the work of, like, even Peter Block and community building and the work he’s done with Walter Brueggemann in tying it to some biblical notions, but maybe say that, because that’s a word I think a lot of people wouldn’t connect to what we’re talking about here.
Xavier: Yeah, I was actually thinking about this because of a challenge I’ve got right now with one of our clients. You know, they’re trying to understand, how do they, they’re a consulting firm as well, and if you know anything about most consulting firms, especially the big ones, it’s mostly a bunch of white guys. And the challenge with that is, again, consulting is this, the selling of ideas, meaning that when a consultant gives an idea, that becomes the narrative that people live in. And so, if we only have one type of person who is able to create an idea, that means we’re living in the narratives that only white men create for the world. That fundamentally is a challenge, because if you look at sociological terms, most white people don’t integrate. And the moment that their neighborhoods become racially integrated; they usually leave within ten years. And I’m not saying that as like, a racial statement, I’m saying that as a sociological truth. You can look at the data, you can look it up, it’s called sprawl. It’s very easy to understand when you look at the numbers. So, proximity is when you reverse that, and you bring people back in. A lot of people don’t understand what you get with proximity.
Here’s what’s awesome about proximity. You get the little things. Think about the difference between babysitting versus having the children yourself. Right? I mean, you’re babysitting, you show up, a couple hours a day, maybe twice, two, three times a week, right? You understand the child through the lens of the transactional process you’ve instigated and instituted. When you’re the parent, you’re there for all the little things. You’re there to know a being intimately. You’re there for the beautiful things, the horrible things, and what happens when you’re that approximate? You learn the most about yourself. Because it’s one of the, proximity actually allows for us to understand God even better because we’re forced to contend with the limits of our humanity. We’re forced to deal with our selfishness as it bubbles up in the fact of another person’s need. But it wouldn’t be there if we just showed up, you know, every Saturday for two hours for the soup kitchen in the black neighborhood. That’s not real proximity. Proximity would mean, how would we move into a neighborhood and not become a gentrifier. How would we step into an ecosystem of relationships and histories and language and culture and not be an extractive presence? That’s the only way to be proximate and just. Because one can be proximate and unjust, look what the pilgrims did.
Xavier: Look at what people continue to do. That’s why gentrification exists. It is the reality of our modern-day proximity that lacks justice.
Xavier: People who have labor market opportunities that other people who don’t look like them don’t have, then see the land that those poor people live in, and live on as a market opportunity because those other folks are priced out of the opportunities where the other privileged people come from.
Jared: This, you know, this reminds me a little bit of the work of Emmanuel Levinas, the philosopher who sort of has this ethics of the face. You know, face to face, the face of the other sort of, is the face of God. And that sort of, commands us to this ethical responsibility that, and it is a very physical proximate thing, that it was, it was very grounded in physical relationship with one another and looking into the face of the other.
Xavier: Yeah, you know, I think the challenge with proximity is that you’ve got to think it’s your job, you know? I, a couple years ago, I had this big push, it was just on my mind and heart for years and it still is, the challenge around how people insist on transactional relationships and I’ll say, social impact absolution by just being charitable or philanthropic, right? People who literally give back in neighborhoods they vote against. Like, the hypocrisy of it all. Right, the demand to go to countries that are all brown people, right, to go down to Venezuela, to go down to Sri Lanka, all black people, go over to Ethiopia and to Kenya and then not understand your responsibilities toward justice and equity at home as you sit in a country where now along racial lines you have an entire swath of people saying “make America great,” and they all look the same! They all want the same America, it’s like, 92% of African Americans did not vote for the man who thinks that we should be a country that none of the people who look like me want to live in again.
Jared: So, let me, let me translate this. Because again, you used some big words there, so I’m going to break it down into my, how I would translate what you just said, which is our churches are set up in such a way, like I’m thinking of mission trips or charitable giving or all these things are set up in such a way that we can assuage our self of our guilt or our obligation to be like Jesus by babysitting rather than learning to have children of our own, to use your analogy before. So that if I can go on the mission trip, that absolves me of my responsibilities and so I don’t have to confront all the ways that I’m actually complicit in a system for my own comfort here. And so, we find these ways to be, you know, I think of the philosopher Žižek who talks about the rise of how we build our charity into our consumerism. So that now, the way I give is to round up my dollar at Starbucks to the local charity. And so, is that the kind of thing, like, it’s almost like these small micro giving is a way that we can sort of absolve ourselves to the greater responsibility at home.
Xavier: Yeah, I mean, there’s a big difference between charity and philanthropy. Charity fundamentally, I’m saying this in the biblical sense. Philanthropy was created by us. Philanthropy is the systemic response to economic injustice that we crated to absolve people who I would rather call pirates to make them into people that we can look up to and put on the front of some building as a name. Charity is understanding that, again, the poor will always be with you and they don’t deserve that. That they’re poor for a reason. It’s looking at the widow who gave the mite, and not simply stopping at the face that she had faith but realizing that the mite was demanded of her. She only had a mite because of the rest of us. And understanding your responsibility to shift that needle just a little bit, and it doesn’t simply mean giving back and reorganizing how you think about the beyond the ten percent tithe you may give to your church, but it means understanding that how you make your dollar creates the poverty.
When I was starting Justice Informed, I spent some time thinking about how do I actually run a company justly. I came across a couple scriptures. One of them was pay your workers at the end of the day for their bread depends upon it. Meaning that I have to be timely in my transactions with people. With people who trust me, because I’m going in front of them to bring in business for the company. Not only that, it also said pay your laborers a fair wage because they may turn to sin. Which means that when I say, well, the minimum wage at Justice Informed is the living wage for the city wherever our contractors are at, and then we work up from there based off experience and ability. But if that’s the living wage, then that makes no sense in a market economy, because the market economy says you should only try to reduce costs, but I’m simply incorporating social costs which goes back to what I said earlier, businesses, because they don’t have to incorporate them, most businesses are not financially solvent. They’re extractive. Which goes back to then, what is justice and what is love and community?
To run a company in community means you have to love the laborer. It means you have to understand that you are a steward, not an owner. You have to understand that what is just requires something of you beyond what you have after you’re done paying yourself. Which means that you have to also reorganize what money means to you. Money, you know, profit, to me, money is not the reward for acting smartly. You can be smart and be the greatest pirate in the world, the majority of our major institutions that were built before the year 2000, for the most part, were built on the legacy and the insistence on white supremacy. And many people may not understand what that means, but that’s simply means that the norms, the world views, the cultures, the practices, and the presence of white people formed the foundation for how the company was built. That’s all that means. That doesn’t mean Nazis and swastikas, it doesn’t mean anti-Semitism, it doesn’t mean bring out the lynch mobs and the nooses. That isn’t what it means. It simply means that we centered a people who were already in the center, and that is how we created that thing. Supremacy of one type, one kind.
And given that, justice then, and righteousness, as right as justice is a form of righteousness, means that we have to uncouple out institutions, including our churches, from white supremacy. We also have to uncouple it from male supremacy and bring in the reality of the power that women have to lead the work force. It means that we have to decouple our understanding of how we only center ourselves when we think about gender, how we think about accessibility. For those people who are like the man who sat at the front of the church, right, laying on a mat for years, or the leper who Jesus would minister to, they would bring through the roof of the church who could not walk. How many people would say, yeah, I’m gonna tear off the top of the church so I can bring my friend in, ‘cause he needs to hear this?
Pete: Not too many.
Xavier: The reality is, naw, nah. I mean, in the face of what you’re asked, what will you do? In the face of what you feel God is asking, what would you do and the reality of where I get this insistence, and quite honestly, impatience, is that everybody acts like God’s not saying something different to more of us. There’s no way God’s calling everybody to be a volunteer and nobody is Martin Luther King again. There’s no way! Everybody is signing up for their own version of the cross, the safest thing that they can do to accumulate as much as they can so that they can give a little bit back and hope that they’re not Cain but instead that they’re Abel and their blessing and their sacrifice will be blessed.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Xavier: But the reality is, the way we’re making our money creates the realities Scripture foretold that the poor will always be with us, the widow will always have a mite, and it is no act of justice for us to uphold the widow and insist on her poverty.
Pete: Hmm. That leads me to a question, is capitalism a problem, or are people the problem, or are, it doesn’t matter what system we have in place, what economic system we have in place, something’s gonna go wrong.
Xavier: Yeah, I mean, something’s always gonna go wrong man.
Pete: Yeah, right. It’s gone wrong.
Xavier: I mean, it’s always gonna go wrong. We can build the next jubilant, beautiful system, but it’s still gonna go wrong eventually. The question is much like David, right, King David, he’s a man after God’s own heart because he kept trying. In the face of his shortcomings, he kept, he repented, he came right back to center and said I was messed up. Not only that, I will accept accountability. I’m not simply gonna say, “well Lord, I said sorry, so let’s call it at that.” He’s also not gonna say, “well, ya know, Bathsheba, I killed your husband there, sorry on that one.” That’s what a lot of men in power are trying to do. They’re demanding appreciation for the lowest form of relationship, or not even giving the lowest form of relationship, which is acknowledgement of harm done, and insisting that restitution come through the definition of those who inflicted the harm. But in the space of our capital economies and capitalism, capitalism is simply an expression of the vanity and the ambitions of our hearts in a systemic way. Capitalism, I think, is fundamentally problematic simply because coupled with our legal system and our judiciary, it tends to try to be identity agnostic. It acts as if, like, “well there’s no such thing as, ya know, racism in the markets, right? The market’s gonna do whatever is best for the markets. And if there is a little racism, the market, the invisible hand, which is probably white, well, we’ll simply get rid of it.”
Xavier: Like, naw, that doesn’t work. Even if it did work, it shouldn’t take two hundred years, or in the case of African Americans, four hundred. Even if it does work, it shouldn’t mean that women have to fight just for the right to vote, right? And the ability to vote has an effect on our economies, because in that case, women were not participating in our economy, meaning that white guys were getting a pass to start companies, and now they get to be names on the banks and on all the big buildings, and they had a cheat code. And we act as if they did some great and wonderful thing, but they did that great and wonderful thing upon a foundation that excluded competition in a market that said it was based on exactly that.
Jared: Mmm. So, what are, because I think with the news of everything, social ills, and social injustices, it can be easy to get kind of overwhelmed with what to do. What are some practical things, that, you know, people who are listening may say, I’m tracking. I’m tracking with everything you’re saying. Are there some things to prioritize in my life that would help this move forward?
Pete: You don’t say work in the soup kitchen, right?
Xavier: [Laughter] Naw.
Pete: Okay, good.
Xavier: No, still work in the soup kitchens! Like, you gotta still, like, people still need food. We can’t neglect that.
Pete: True, true.
Xavier: But just know that the soup kitchen is a symptom of the expression of our vanity and demand for accumulation personally. But in terms of what we do about it, the first thing is to stop saying we’re overwhelmed. Stop saying it’s too hard, right? The reality is we’re simply unpracticed. We practice racism. We practice sexism. We practice ignoring the calls of the poor. We practice justifying harm. We practice these things, and so we’re good at it, and the reality is, is if in, why do we have to fight for justice, but we don’t have to fight for injustice?
Xavier: That’s part of the challenge, right? Like, we are practicing something. Bible says you rush to sin and then in another sense, one of the saints says, “I must make my body my slave,” meaning that his, he is not in control of his body and it is a daily bread, a daily sacrifice, a daily dying unto one’s self to do that. And so, when we think about what it actually takes, what it takes comes through one, proximate relationships, because I’m not going to prescribe what any one person should do for a community. I’m not gonna say there’s some best practices for engaging indigenous population or some best practices for engaging across the aisle politically, or some best practices for engaging people of color. All I’m gonna say is the first thing you’ve got to start doing is decentering yourself. Same thing when you’re trying to grow a relationship with Christ, you’ve got to stop growing a relationship with your crappy self.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Xavier: Which means you have to accept that you’re kind of crappy right now! And unpracticed. And people are like, I gotta pray every day?!?
Pete: You’re not crappy because, Lord I repent of my eating habits. More, I repent because of how complicit I have been in the injustice and the unrighteousness in perpetuating a system of not having to think about race or gender if you’re a white male. You know, it’s, what I’m hearing is that, yeah, I’m thinking of myself, about not being practiced. That might not be the first thing that comes into people’s minds. The big picture, the suffering of others, it might just be what you’re dealing with right now in your life, like, I have to stop being mean to my neighbor. Yeah, you probably should, but that’s like 101.
Xavier: But you also have to think about why, your neighbor is not your neighbor for no reason.
Yeah, Exactly right.
Xavier: Like, white people tend to trust and congregate around white people. Black people do the same thing, but those things happen for different reasons.
Xavier: And I’m talking specifically in large metropolis. I know that rural America is very different and small towns are very different, but I’m saying for the metropolises of our country, they are racially diverse and racially segregated. And so, in the space of that, what does that mean, right? To this notion of practice, I think it’s, so think about Zacchaeus. If you know the story of Zacchaeus –
Pete: Yeah, oh yeah.
Xavier: The man who’s up in the tree, and he’s like, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Come on, I need you Jesus!” Right?
Xavier: Jesus is like, man, that dude is really thirsty. Like, oh! Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after me, look at this guy, hungering and thirsting! Come on down Zacchaeus, right? So, he gets his price is right moment, he comes on down –
Xavier: And he gets to have Jesus over for dinner. I can only, you know, the Bible only say he spoke with him for a while. The outcome of Jesus talking with him was that Zacchaeus said, you know what? Now I understand what I’ve been doing. All Jesus was probably talking to him, saying was like, “hey dude. You’re kind of ignorant, and you’re violent and because you have power and money, you’re actually the greatest threat that justice can ever have.”
Pete: Uh huh.
Xavier: And so, at the end of the conversation, Zacchaeus decides on some practical steps. The first thing he agrees to is acknowledgement, the second thing is restitution. He says, look, I’ll give away four-fold what I’ve taken, not only that, I will change my practices. And so, many people want to stop at one of those three. They want to either stop at acknowledgement, they want to stop at restitution, or they want to not move to their practices. So, if a company is understanding that it is actually creating injustice, as it seeks to have a diverse inclusion strategy, it would have to look at the way in which it manufactures its goods. The way it looks at its supplier diversity. The way at which it looks at its proximity to other countries, the way it looks at its language through branding. It would have to look at those things to see how are we, and this is where it’s different, how are we centering the marginalized, not just our profits, not just our shareholders, not just the people who have readily available access to us through their power in economies, but the people who are the stakeholders and invisible to us.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Xavier: Which would require a level of proximity of their team. Their team would have to know how to go into those spaces, be more proximate, and not just through volunteering, through neighborliness because there are a lot of people who own companies that have employees who insist on not being neighbors. Again, I go back to racially diverse cities that are segregated.
Pete: Mm hmm, yeah.
Xavier: The workplace cannot be the most diverse place for us. This is all, again, community, proximity, right –
Xavier: Like, centering. It’s all the same thing, but the first thing you gotta start with is saying – I’m willing to simply consider, right? When I talking to my team around the greatest thing that you can ever do, what we can do as consultants is get someone to consider. That’s what Jesus was going after, right?
Pete: Mm hmm.
Xavier: Can I get you to consider something different?
Xavier: Which means I have to have a linguistic and a tactical approach to get you to confront your heart, not your mind, your heart. And if I can do that, now your mind is going to understand the strategies that are necessary to validate what your heart has now agreed to, i.e. Zacchaeus comes up on his own volition with what he must do, and Jesus blesses that because it came out of a heart that was reformed.
Pete: Yeah, he blesses him by saying “salvation has come to this house,” which is, you know, broadening the concept of that word for what most people probably carry with them as very individualistic, but the salvation has come to his house. It’s not, oh good, now when you die you won’t go to hell. It’s – you’re saved.
Pete: You’re part of the kingdom in a way, because you’re now, you’re committing yourself to change your practices and to not be a burden to others, but be a help to others. And that’s salvation, you know? And I think that idea of righteousness and justice, which are twin concepts in both testaments, you know, those things are really…
Gee, the prophets keep talking about this stuff, ya know? And, no, no, no. We selectively read our Bible, I guess. I know I do, but I feel bad about it. I want to change my practices.
Xavier: In terms of a practice, read your Bible and say, what does this have to do with how I understand people who are not like me?
Xavier: If I’m wealthy, how does, how does anything I read actually reorganize the harm that was there in the Bible’s time and is here in our time, right? How, if I read my Bible, and I’m…
I mean, I was in a conversation with an Air B&B host who was trying to explain to me why his friends in the Aryan Nation and in the Klan were such great guys. I wasn’t expecting that to be my Air B&B experience.
Xavier: But, it was! I didn’t look it up. It was in a big red state, I saw gun shops and tackle shops everywhere, and then my Air B&B host is upset because I was writing an article on Colin Kaepernick for this Christian magazine on why should Christian’s consider the reality and important of protest. And at the end of it, right, it was again, sitting down with a person who was curious but also ignorantly violent, or I will say violently ignorant. The ability to sit with someone, who, for him, he was justifying people who have historically and presently in many ways believe in the invalidity of my entire race of people.
Pete: Mm hmm. But they’re nice guys! To have a beer with…
Well, well, proximity, right?
Xavier: I was able to sit down for eight, it was probably six, seven hours.
Xavier: We ended at around four o’clock in the morning after flushing down almost an entire bottle of Bulleit Bourbon.
Xavier: At his counter in his little cottage with his wife sitting there, and the only thing that got through to him, the only thing that got through to him at the end of it was when I said, look, I don’t know that you understand whether black lives matter or not, and I know you don’t understand what I’m talking about around white privilege, because your grandparents came here as immigrants, they worked the land, they gave them nothing, yada, yada. I’ve heard that before. But the reality is you fundamentally do not have the ability to listen and to understand and consider the other. And it starts with, as I told him, your wife has been silent for two hours, and you did not even notice the silence that you demand from your own choices. And so, I know you can’t see me because I’m asking you to choose me, and you only love the things you chose, and you treat the things you chose by demanding silence.
Xavier: So how can I expect that you would understand how black lives can matter, when you don’t even know how to make those things matter that you chose for your life. I’m out dude, have a great night. Thanks for the bourbon, see ya in the morning.
Pete: Yeah, wow.
Xavier: But, BUT, that morning he was standing outside my cottage.
Pete: Yeah, and?
Xavier: He was like I didn’t sleep all night.
Pete: Okay, good.
Xavier: He was like, I didn’t sleep all night. My wife didn’t sleep all night. We were talking about what you said. And I had simply used a tactic that I use called issue switching, where, you know, knowing that people insist on deifying their choices. And so in order to get them to change and to consider other choices, you have to meet them in what they’ve chosen, right? It’s why when Jesus was with the woman at the well, he not only asked for water, which is the thing to come, but he also met her in her choices with the man back in the house.
Jared: Mm hmm.
Xavier: He didn’t talk about some lofty other stuff; this is his consulting model.
Xavier: And so, for me, I have to meet this man in his choice, and not invalidate it. I simply have to make it seen. I had to put light on it in order for there to be life on it.
Xavier: But that is only after he’s invited me in, like Zacchaeus. And so now I will invest in you, because the world would say, why would you ever talk to that man? But I’ve seen something in your heart, and I see something in my skills, and so now this is an opportunity. By the time I left that man, I gave him a book, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. Which if you haven’t read it, if you’re listening, please pick up The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Please, please, please put that on your reading list. It is a very simple book, very easy to understand. It’s a letter from a black man who has now passed on, but it was a letter to his nephew that he published. And now that guy, he sent me an email a little bit later. He started a book club and all this stuff around black authors in his area, and like, I don’t know, but the point is, you plant some seeds. You don’t know what’s gonna grow, but the reality is getting people to consider, getting people to be proximate. Understanding that we have a responsibility to engage by confronting people in their choices as much as we have to confront the choices we’ve made about people that are unseen in our lives.
Pete: Salvation came to that house too.
I don’t take any responsibility for that, that’s for that man and God.
Xavier: ‘Cause he’s, that man I talked to, he’s gotta do the same thing Zacchaeus said after his glorious day with Christ. He’s gotta die every day and focus on his daily bread, which is hard. He’s got to go to his friends and say – I’m doing this different thing.
Jared: Unfortunately, we’ve come to the end of our time here. And so, you’ve plugged James Baldwin, but what might else you promote here of your own work, and where can people find more about this conversation from you and the work you’re doing?
Xavier: Sure. People can find me, if you go onto Google and you just type in Xavier Ramey Chicago, you’ll find quite a bit of stuff. You can also go to https://www.xavierramey.com/, my company is https://www.justiceinformed.com/. You can also find me, I’m not on Twitter much, but I’m on Facebook quite a bit and I tend to friend people, so just https://www.facebook.com/xramey. I also run my mouth about corporate matters on Linked In, so if you’d like to check me out on LinkedIn. So if you’d like to check me out on LinkedIn, you can google Xavier, or LinkedIn search Xavier Ramey Chicago. I do a lot of rambling on Instagram, mostly through stories. My handle is @Professorecks. It’s the phonetic spelling of it all. But I just also want to say thank you all so much for having this show, and for having me on it. It’s been great. I feel like I’ve been talking a lot, but I think that’s the point of a podcast.
Pete: Oh yeah.
Pete: That’s why you’re here.
Xavier: I’m working a bit ‘cause I’m looking to launch mine next year, and I’m working on a book, right now actually, as I’m in Michigan on this retreat. I’m trying to start my first book of frameworks on how to engage in these difficult, but I’ll say temporarily difficult only to those who are unpracticed conversations.
Jared: Excellent, excellent. Well thanks so much again for taking out some time and chatting with us here Xavier.
Xavier: Thank you
Pete: Yeah, see ya, thanks so much!
Xavier: See ya!
Jared: Thanks everyone for another episode of The Bible for Normal People. We hope you join us next week. But also, just a reminder if you could, join us on March 26th at 8:30pm EST for just an hour, pay what you want, just head to thebiblefornormalpeople.com/howtoreadthebible it will take you to an Eventbrite page that will give you more details. Also if you want to further the conversation, you can go to peteenns.com, you can look us up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, we’re in all the places for those conversations, so we hope to see you there.