In this Episode:
That the best way you get liberation for all is when you focus on the one that’s the least liberated.
I think it’s beautiful if you really want to get the closest you want to get to Jesus–according to Jesus–is when somebody’s naked, you give them clothing. Because if you do that to them, you’re doing it to me.
And I believe that the Latino population in America is called to represent that back to America. The opportunity, the beauty of the table is open for everybody and that everybody belongs and that there’s always more than enough. And that when, that when everything is broken, we can come back to the table.
And so no matter how much I want to draw lines in the sand, whenever I draw a line, Jesus goes over to the other side of the line and says, come join me here. That’s just who he is.
On this episode, we are joined by Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of The Happy Givers and author of Simply Sonship, Drop the Stones and the upcoming book, Flip the Tables.
We invited Carlos to speak with us today, because he is one of the most dynamic speakers doing this work. His recent posts on Instagram have been captivating followers. He’s bringing the prophetic fire and we’re here for it.
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet to Lisa @LisaSHarper or to Freedom Road @FREEDOMROADUS. We’re also on Substack! So be sure to subscribe to The Truth Is… and Freedom Road. And, keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks and letting us know what you think!
Lisa Sharon Harper: [00:00:00] Coming to you from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the city of brotherly love and sisterly affection. I’m Lisa Sharon Harper, president of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. Welcome to the Freedom Road Podcast. Now, each month we speak with national faith leaders, advocates, and activists to have the kinds of conversations we normally have on the front lines.
It’s just that this time we’ve got microphones in our faces, and you are listening in. And this month we are joined by Carlos Rodriguez, CEO of the Happy Givers and author of Simply Sonship, Drop The Stones and the upcoming book, Flip the Tables. I invited Carlos to speak with us today because he is one of the most dynamic speakers I’ve literally ever seen.
I’ve been ca… it’s true. Absolutely true. It’s [00:01:00] true. I mean, I’ve been really captivated by your recent posts on Instagram in particular, and, and I think that he’s a prophetic fire and I’m here for it. Right. You know, let’s hear from Carlos Rodriguez. He’s got a word, he’s got a word for us. And also I just love the way he brings that word.
So let’s hear, we would love to hear your thoughts folks. Tweet to us or insta me on at Lisa S. Harper or Freedom Road @ freedomroadus. And let’s just keep sharing the podcast with our friends and our networks and letting folks know about it and then talking about it. All right. So Carlos, let’s dive in.
I first, we always start with the faith journey. Just wanna know, yeah. What is your story of faith? Let’s just start there.
Carlos Rodriguez: Oh man. I was born and raised in a culturally Catholic home. Right. Just culturally, go to Catholic school, mass twice a year, not really engage in the church. Mm-hmm. But in Catholic school specifically, I always remember the first time I ever maybe had a theological encounter with something that challenged me and it, and I like [00:02:00] that kind of process. I was in computer class, which in 19 85, 19 86, when I was in like first or second grade, it was the best class cuz it was the only room in the whole place with AC and it’s very hot in the south of Puerto Rico.
So we always wanted to go to the computer class. And in my Catholic school computer class, like every other class was run by the nuns. And I never forget the thought process where it was almost like a multiple choice exam and it was in the computer and I had to choose between. Does God, this was the question, does God prefer the poor? in Spanish of course. And I was like, in my brain, I was like, no, cuz he loves everybody. That’s why they’ve been teaching me here. God loves everybody. And I kept pressing, no, God doesn’t prefer the poor. And it kept telling me, you’re wrong. Until you get it right, you won’t go to the next question.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: And I always remember that thought, like, wait, he prefers to pour and I’m having this conversation with the nun [00:03:00] and you know, this is classic liberation theology.
Very, yeah. Very spoken out in the Catholic church, especially in America. And you know, and she’s referencing this man called Oscar Romero and whatever. That’s the first time ever in my heart. I was like, wait, I have this thought about God, somebody else is telling me this other thought about God. And I actually like being challenged.
I like having to think, wait, God does prefer the poor. And it’s been a life journey of that, of discovering. That the best thing that God can do for the rich is prefer the poor. That the best way you get liberation for all is when you focus on the one that’s the least liberated. That, and so there’s that.
It was the beginning of this journey of my whole life. Then I wanted to be a priest for a little bit, and then there was a…
Lisa Sharon Harper: But how long is a little bit, wow. That was like, these all just like throw that out, like wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: Yeah. I, in Catholic school, it was like, what’s the ultimate way to get to [00:04:00] God? Then you’ll be the priest.
Oh yes. So I wanted to be a priest. I get it. Yeah. Wow. And then in 95, specifically Billy Graham does a massive crusading in Puerto Rico, the classic Billy Graham baseball stadium. Everybody’s there singing. Does an invitation. I was 14 years old and I’m running to the front, you know, like. You remember those old videos and there are people are responding.
Yes. The message wasn’t even that great. I know, right? He was, I he was like, why am I even here? I remember the message. It was basically the M for McDonald’s and the sign of Coca-Cola is more known than the message of, than the sign of the cross around the world people. Oh no. If they see the M of McDonald’s, they know it’s McDonald’s.
If they see the Coca-Cola, they know it’s Coca-Cola, but not as many people know that the cross represents Jesus. That was the message. And Billy’s like, who wants to make the cross the number one symbol? And I’m running to the front and…
Lisa Sharon Harper: First of all, lemme just say, [00:05:00] I can totally see you running to the front.
That is so you. It’s so you. No, but it’s like, I mean, one of the things that literally sets you apart, even as a speaker is your energy. Like you just got all of this energy. So even if 14 years old, you had all of this energy, you’re running to the front. I love that image.
Carlos Rodriguez: And, and fortunately for all this energy, I went to the front classic kind of evangelical conversion experience.
And then I go start going to a charismatic church. So there’s a place for that energy in the Pentecostal charismatic church. Right.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. Yes.
Carlos Rodriguez: So I’m having all these wild, like speaking in tongues, running around. There’s these like dramatic things that are happening. And it wasn’t just in evangelical or charismatic Pentecostal churches, even in the Catholic church in Puerto Rico, I was dating this girl who was, you know, Catholic, charismatic.
Mm-hmm. And it’s Catholics, you know, the priests with the cross, but people are like slain in the spirit and they’re these dramatic things happening.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yes. That was a [00:06:00] big thing actually. I wanna say that was a big thing. Maybe toward the end of the eighties, beginning of the nineties, maybe. This sure was the mid nineties, the Catholics started to get charisma, have charismatic experiences as well.
Yeah, yeah. Remember
Carlos Rodriguez: I read about it happening in Pittsburgh and Yes. And other places in Philly. Right. Yes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yes. So I went to Rutgers in New Jersey and it was there that I had my, with the Catholic church. I wanna tell you, like I went down to, I took the Eucharist, not knowing I wasn’t supposed to, cuz I wasn’t Catholic. nd you know, like…
Carlos Rodriguez: Been there done that multiple
Lisa Sharon Harper: times. You did. I mean, I put my, you know, I went up and I’m like, wanna take the bread from his hand? He was like, no. He’s like, and he just dropped his mouth, like to open it and like, okay. So then I dropped my mouth and he stuck it in there and I was like, oh my God, did I do something wrong?
I did it. But that’s okay. There’s forgiveness, right?
Carlos Rodriguez: It’s lovely and awkward and in many ways, and in a bizarre way. That was my, you’re talking about the faith journey. It’s been so convoluted. It’s been so mixed. It’s been so [00:07:00] random and in a way that’s been, but it always started with that kind of liberation theology from the beginning.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow, so, well, liberation and Billy Graham, which is like, wow, like the two of them put together is really interesting and makes a lot of sense actually when you think about who you are and who you’re speaking to today. Because you tend to speak to like a Billy Graham kind of crowd with a liberation message.
Carlos Rodriguez: That’s, thank you for that. I guess it’s,
Lisa Sharon Harper: I see that
Carlos Rodriguez: It’s not even, it’s not even like a conscious thing, right? It’s just I’m trying to be as honest as possible, like sincerity is my only choice in this context because it’s been such a convoluted journey. It’s been, I’ve been fully, deeply in conservative churches, churches that I was pastoring, for example, in North Carolina, in the Trump era, and most of my congregation were the 81%, right?
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: And so I’m thinking, wait, how am I discipling people? That I got [00:08:00] people who quote unquote, have a prophetic gift and they want to use the prophetic gift to call ICE whenever they assume somebody is an illegal immigrant. Right.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Holy. Oh my goodness. How did you do it? What was your thought process when you started realizing, I am pastoring the 81%?
Carlos Rodriguez: It was lack of sleep. It was almost losing. I always say in a way, I found Jesus with Billy Graham, and I almost lost him with Franklin Graham. It was like from one to the other. It was like I, I almost lost my faith, to be honest with you. I almost like gave up the story of Jesus and what Jesus had actually done in my life.
Because of all these other Jesus people that I had loved, that have taken care of my kids that have been helpful to me in my life, and now they are saying we were, and I’ll use this an example, we’re having a conversation about starting a Spanish service. And I’m saying, of course we’ll start a Spanish service.
Um, I wasn’t [00:09:00] just a Latino pastor, I was actually the lead pastor of this church.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right. Okay.
Carlos Rodriguez: And I’m saying, and I’m talking to the team and I’m talking to the board and I’m talking to our Council of Wisdom and all the, you know, top leadership team and this, and I’m saying, of course we’ll claim that we’re a sanctuary so people know, so people who are undocumented feel comfortable coming here.
Right. Basically the whole thing was like, of basically the whole thing was like, of course you can’t do that. Like, no, that’s a political statement. I’m like, what are you talking about? That’s like, creating a refuge place where everybody’s welcome and especially those who are the most vulnerable and marginalized in our community.
This is North Carolina, right. Which is like,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh yeah.
Carlos Rodriguez: The buckle part of the Bible belt. It’s kinda like the end of the Bible. Its stings the most.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Ooh. And it’s really, and I think part of the reason for that is because it has been fighting to become like a purple state, a blue state even. Sure. But because of, because of that, in the same way I would pause it [00:10:00] being, you know, a little academic-y of me, but in the same way that I would, you know, theorize that because America is becoming, is browning.
You’re actually getting this major pushback against CRT against literally everything that is not white, male centric. Right. So it’s white, male favored.
Carlos Rodriguez: Yeah. That’s exactly how it felt. But, and you were asking about my experience in it. It was the bursting of that bubble. It was obviously like that pre the Trump era.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right.
Carlos Rodriguez: But the bubble, and I’m gonna be really honest with you, the salary, the green rooms that I was allowed in, the conferences that I was flown into, I’m gaining air miles and I’m gaining favor and my books are selling. People are making a line so I can sign their books.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah, yeah.
Carlos Rodriguez: The one that I wrote, and they want a word for me.
And so I fell for it completely. For the church, for the, you know, [00:11:00] celebrity pastor. Let me, not let me speak against that concept, but let me fully embrace it and try to achieve it. Let me say family comes first from the pulpit, but let me 100% put the church and the ministry and the book selling first.
Let me pretend to be vulnerable enough on stage. So people say, wow, our pastor is so humble, but not vulnerable enough for people to say he really shouldn’t be pastoring anymore. You know, and so I played all the games and it, there’s almost like an outfit to it, you know, the cool young pastor outfit and…
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh yeah, totally.
I, first of all, you have to have no socks did, you had to have no socks. And you also have to have like, you know, the little flip in your hair. There’s gotta be a little flip, you know, for the guys…
Carlos Rodriguez: Oh my gosh, look, I have it. Have no socks. I literally have no socks right now and I’m trying to do a little flip on my aging head.
Um, so yeah.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my god. Did I name it? I name it. And a skinny jeans. Do you need the skinny jeans?
Carlos Rodriguez: Oh, stop. [00:12:00] I you the skinny jeans.
I sure did.
Lisa Sharon Harper:. Oh my God. See, no, I know the outfit. I was in those conferences too, although I didn’t get on all the stages cuz you know, I was pretty upfront with my message pretty early. But I wonder, I mean, I wonder, I’m glad you for you No, no, I’m not, it’s not, that’s not a comparison, but it’s more just like, I think I did it honestly as a strategy.
Like, my very first book was Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican or Democrat. And I came outta the closet as a Democrat in my first book. So I was like, okay, either they’re never gonna invite me or they’re gonna, they just gotta swallow it and like, you know, deal with it. But I’m just wondering for you, you said two things so I, some clarification would be helpful.
You said that you almost lost your faith. And then you said, and you know, you really, you were preaching the gospel and then not really living it, not living what you were preaching. So was that all at the same time? Was that what made you lose your faith or almost lose your faith? Or what was like, when did these things [00:13:00] come in succession?
You know what I mean?
Carlos Rodriguez: I love the opportunity to clarify, you know, the borderline destruction of my life and my marriage and my faith because it was literally about to cost me everything and I faced, right? So I have the uncertainty of, wait, all these people support Trump? And they’re like, it’s not just I support Trump politically.
It’s like he’s the man of the Lord and he’s the trumpet from heaven, right? So I’m in those circles, I’m having those, like, extreme bubble burst. Then my wife is saying, we, I don’t wanna raise my children in this context. This is not who we wanna be as a family. You’re actually turning really nasty.
Lisa Sharon Harper:. Wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: Because I come from a broken, abusive home, alcoholism on, you know, infidelity, physical and verbal abuse.
And I always had the great excuse. I’m not as bad as my dad, so I’m good enough. But she’s saying, you still need to work on your stuff. [00:14:00] You still have overreactions. You’re claiming it to be cultural and it’s not. It’s macho behavior. Even though you’re talking about women liberation, you’re not acting like that at home.
So props to my wife are calling me out, consistently.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Go wife.
Carlos Rodriguez: Rachel Robins by Beautiful. She is a strong woman and I love her for it. 19 years this October. That’s awesome. And you know, it was bubbled sping actually needing to go to therapy to save my marriage. Actually facing myself in these green rooms with these amazing honorarium checks, realizing that I hated my life.
That I barely believe what I was preaching, that I didn’t, that I could pretend I’m doing okay. But I didn’t want to be around these people. That if I, that I stopped actually reading the gospels. Because if I would face Jesus in the gospels, I was like, I am. I intentionally would not read the gospels.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: And I’m one, let me go to the Old Testament. Let me go to the story of [00:15:00] David and let, cuz I, you know, I can relate to the king who’s got some issues, but you know, he’s the anointed one. If I get into the gospels, I know for a fact I’m a fraud.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah.
Carlos Rodriguez: And so the really long story short is I went to the bottom and it was in therapy with my wife that we made some really hard choices.
We want a different life. This is not who we want to be. And I can’t coin, this is my phrase cuz it’s not, but I just don’t know where I heard it. They called the South Star. It was 10 years in Raleigh North. You’ve heard about this?
Lisa Sharon Harper: I, I heard you speak on this at the Justice conference. That’s right. And I’ll never forget it.
That’s Oh my God, it was so good. Yeah. I mean, I, I literally started to quote you everywhere on that. Yes. Oh, explain it. Explain for our people. The South Star.
Carlos Rodriguez: Yes. So I, we did 10 years as pastors in Raleigh, North Carolina and the South Star is when you think you’re headed in the right direction. But you’re mostly discovering that you’re not, you’re mostly discovering that you’re actually going against what’s truth in you.
[00:16:00] And so I’m, so, for example, I wanna be a pastor and I’m gonna pastor amazing churches and we’re gonna be megachurches, megachurches that don’t care about the numbers, but we’re gonna be megachurches. And so I’m heading towards my south star, and when I’m getting there and the church is growing and we’re getting big buildings with big sound stages and big whatever, I’m like, oh wait, no, this is not where I wanna be.
I’m thinking I’m an amazing husband and I’m gonna really be an example to Latino men about what it is to be a great husband and dad. And then I’m realizing, oh no, I’m actually not that I need to work at it. I need some healing. I need some accountability. I’m heading towards success in ministry and books and whatever.
And I’m realizing, wait a minute, if I compare this to the gospel it’s the opposite. So the South Star for us, my wife and I, we like to say 10 years in Raleigh, was us discovering all our nos. I’m actually not that capable at this part. I actually don’t want this thing that I thought I want, I actually don’t wanna submit to this way [00:17:00] of thinking or this theological framework.
And so it’s in discovering all the nos and the heading towards the south star that you realize I need to do, which is what the word repentance means, right? Yep. You literally do a 180 and you start heading in the other direction. So here in Puerto Rico, we feel like we’re finally, you know, living our biggest Yes.
Which is, wow, living in a marginalized community, serving the community, learning from the community, empowering the community, and doing work that truly matters and we just sleep better. I… that’s my best way to explain it.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I love that story. I love your story. I love your journey and I respect it.
I respect your journey. Can I ask you, um, you know, Did you, have you come across the word or the phrase decolonizing or you know, have you thought of your journey as a decolonizing journey?
Carlos Rodriguez: 100%. I remember a conversation I had with one of my pastors, again in a very charismatic kind of Pentecostal [00:18:00] setting, where they were like, let’s look into your past.
There was this whole big fad of generational curses.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh yeah.
Carlos Rodriguez: And you’re like, cause my, both my great-grandmothers and we have records of this, both daughters of slaves, black, beautiful women, you know, we’ve done the DNA n A test and all that stuff. It’s literally for Molly, women that were Mali here. From Mali, yeah.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Hey, we might be neighbors or like, yeah, family. You never know.
Carlos Rodriguez: You never know. I know you had some family living here in Puerto Rico. Yes. They might have married some of my family.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I mean, you really never, and Mali, although I’m joking cuz Mali is one of those like places where a lot of people came from.
But at the same time it’s really, it’s pretty awesome that you did that work and you know, how did you respond when you got that, you know, DNA story and it said Molly,
Carlos Rodriguez: it felt normal, natural because my great-great grandmother, um, she was 99, uh, you know, however old she was when I was like very young.
She’s like six foot [00:19:00] seven, black long, beautiful, regal. But she hated black people. Because she hated herself because of all the pain that she endured for, because she was black. My grandmother was the product of rape from her capataz, you know, the field worker man who raped her mom, and that was her dad, my grandmother’s dad.
And back to that conversation and that I’m having in this space, this very white conservative space where they’re having a fad about breaking generational curses. And they’re like, we, we’ve heard your story about having African slaves. So we need to break all those generational curses of voodoo and santeria.
They can only see it through the lens of, you know, bad religion, evil stuff coming through your bloodline because you have some African in you and
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: And you know what I submitted to it? It’s like, oh my gosh, you’re right. I need to break off those curses and, and we need to shake off those check. What like,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah, yeah.
Carlos Rodriguez: There’s [00:20:00] zero, zero framing in that same context of the Freemasonry secret societies in Europe that they need to break off. It’s the African, it’s the Voodoos, the santeria. And so decolonizing is exactly the experience that I had.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: As I’m leaving these spaces, and I think the most painful thing, Lisa was realizing in a bizarre way that I was basically a puppet because I’m a pastor of a mostly white church in North Carolina, and in a way I was there reasoning for saying I’m not a racist, my pastor is Puerto Rican.
And so I was a placeholder for justifying so much of their hatreds towards people of color. By saying, oh, our pastor’s Puerto Rican. But they would, again, they were the church of the 81%. And whenever I would challenge any of those spaces, then, you know, there’s the board and the Council of Wisdom and every other leadership thing to say, no, let’s control the pastor.
He’s getting too brown for us in this context. And you know, there’s been a lot of…
Lisa Sharon Harper: [00:21:00] Wow. Yes. And won’t they do that? That’s what they call the race test. What kind of a person of color are you gonna be? Are you gonna be a white person of color or a real person of color? And if you’re a real person of color, then you get pushed out.
If you’re a white person of color, we can take you and use you in order to justify our white understanding. Wow, Carlos, my God. Woo. You really lived the story. You lived the story. And so you really did. And I think that, and the thing is, your story is very similar to a lot of people’s story right now. And that’s one of the reasons why I remembered your South Star.
Yeah. Oh my God. I mean, I was literally quoting it and it was so weird because, you know, you and me and the other Carlos were actually in, you know, the main speakers that, that night at the Justice conference that this year, I think it was this year. Maybe it was back in the fall. I It’s all blending right here.
Carlos Rodriguez: Yeah, it was in the somewhere in the fall.
Lisa Sharon Harper: In the fall. Yeah. Yeah. And, and it was amazing how our messages just went. It just felt like, wow, God like lined this up, set it up. It was like [00:22:00] bump spike or bump set, spike. You know? It’s amazing. And you were…
Carlos Rodriguez: Lisa. Lisa, you were, listen, you were speaking. I’m sorry to interrupt, but I was this close and I mean this if they, people can see on the camera.
I’m holding my fingers really tight. I was this close. As you’re reading from when you’re reading about _____ and the Bomba and the Plena. Yeah. And you’re doing the movements. I was this close from going all Pentecostal, running through the stage cuz I’m a drummer. I was so close to grabbing the drums and starting to play.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my God. Carlos, are you, I should have done, my thought was so fabulous. Wow. We should go on tour together and you do that.
Carlos Rodriguez: We should go on tour together!
Lisa Sharon Harper: …and then when you talk about this South star, I’ll get up and I’ll do like little twinky lights behind you. Yes. Oh, that would be wonderful. My gosh.
Carlos Rodriguez: I mean, anyways, I’m sorry to interrupt.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh no, that’s okay. That’s okay. The thing that just really it that blew my mind was that your message about that South star, [00:23:00] it really drived with all of us because all of us were really describing the experience of, of what is the call, what is the actual, what is the good news of Jesus? Yes. And especially for us as people of color, it’s not gonna be the same good news, quite honestly, as for no people who have.
Either benefited from, or basically for like the last 500 years mm-hmm. Been on the upside of systems and structures that have ensured their protection and their flourishing at the, excuse me, at the expense of images of God of color. And so
Carlos Rodriguez: That’s the problem. At the expense of Yes. Yes. That’s the problem right there.
Yes. Right. It’s just because I want everybody to prosper and be happy and have a great family. I, that’s our hope for everybody, for the land to flourish and for families to be flourishing, for people that don’t wanna have families to flourish. It doesn’t just have to be in the family context. We want
Lisa Sharon Harper: Hello somebody.
Carlos Rodriguez: We want the old and the young and the right. So that’s, [00:24:00] that’s the whole point. But it’s, the problem is when it’s at the expense of, and that’s. And that’s why that liberation and theology has, it was always there. It’s always, it was al, it was like a rhythm on the inside that just every time the gospel turned into the worship of me, myself, and I of the wrong trinity.
It just didn’t feel right and it would actually disgust me. I remember having moments in my own church, in my own context that I would feel like almost nauseous. Like, what am I doing here? This is so far from what I believe to be true of Jesus. And going back to my nun and the Catholic and the and Catholic school in that computer class, if I’m reading Jesus in Luke four, as he’s like the, he’s announcing his ministry: The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yes. Mm-hmm.
Carlos Rodriguez: There’s an intentionality about who is number one on the list. There is an intentionality, good news to the poor liberty, [00:25:00] to the captives healing to the brokenhearted light, to set it free. Those who are prisoners, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, the favorable year of the Lord.
To whom? Yes, to the prisoner, to the poor, to the captives, to the brokenhearted. And, and we see the same thing happening in Matthew 25. Like it’s when you feed the hungry, it, it would sound better. It’s like feed everybody and give food to everybody. But no, Jesus is when you feed the hungry. Cuz that’s the best thing the ones that have food can do, is to share it with those who don’t have food.
And that in the context, and again, going back to being charismatic and we love the worship and the raising of hands and you know, so many of our songs, the theology of our songs are so dramatic and the presence of the Lord is a fire that’s engulfing me. And in, in that context, which is, I think it’s beautiful if you really want to get the closest you want to get to Jesus, according to Jesus is when somebody’s naked, you give them clothing. Because if you do that to them, you’re doing it to me. [00:26:00] If somebody is shit, you take care of them. Cuz when you do that to them, you’re doing it to Jesus. That is, to me, the most beautiful space of worship, of proximity to God himself, according to Matthew 25, according to Jesus himself.
And so that’s our north star here in Puerto Rico.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Ooh!
These are our stories. You’re listening to the Freedom Road Podcast, where we bring you stories from the front lines of the struggle for justice.
So Carlos, wow. First of all, that last segment, hearing your faith story, I mean it really in a lot of ways I have never heard all of that detail.
I think you allude to it a lot in your talks, even in your South Star talk, that detail, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s. It makes me understand, you have been on a very similar journey as a lot of other people and you started an organization on the other side of that. So now you’re in Puerto Rico with your wife obviously, and your family.
You are, you started an organization and the name of the organization, we [00:27:00] talked about it earlier, is Happy Givers. Right. So where did the name of that come from?
Carlos Rodriguez: From being a miserable taker, basically.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: It, it was truly, wow. The name is truly, I’m heading towards a south star, which is taking, uh, which is what can I get from the church?
What can I get from the congregation in terms of value for myself in terms of actually monetary value? I became a taker. I would use words of building the kingdom of God. I was surely building my own kingdom. Unfortunately, I would even use language of family. Cause when you use language of family, people are easier to manipulate when you’re using language of family, which is so dangerous in church context now.
And so, In that season, right, of Catherine, my wife and I, going through therapy of really borderline losing my faith of really having to rediscover and go back to the gospel, which I had been ignoring on purpose. It was like, this is the North star. We wanna be happy givers [00:28:00] and you know, from cheerful givers, and so we…
I kid you not the very night that I’m releasing my second book, Drop The Stones, I have this big event at Barnes and Nobles in Durham, North Carolina at this fancy mall. There’s a big picture of me at the front door. Author Carlos Rodriguez, come. All my friends are coming. All these people that had been following me on social media are coming.
I’m doing this big event in Barnes and Nobles, right? And my family’s there. My parents come from Puerto Rico, friends, fans, blah, blah, blah, blah. I have been practicing reading chapter four, which I think was the best chapter, and I’m reading it in public and people are crying at Barnes and Nobles and
Lisa Sharon Harper: oh my gosh,
Carlos Rodriguez: That very night Hurricane Maria was destroying the island of Puerto Rico.
That very night of my second book release and all this kind of personal joy, a reward, right? You’ve written a book. There’s like, there’s an amazing satisfaction. It’s a, it’s a good job. Well done. It’s valuable and it [00:29:00] matters. Mm-hmm. It really does matter.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And you really did put in serious work, you know, so celebrating it is not a bad thing, but…
Carlos Rodriguez: Not at all.
But the island of Puerto Rico was getting destroyed and my schedule was just filled with events to promote the book, events, to do readings of the book, events to preach that book in different, you know, big churches. And I’m talking, you know, church in Pittsburgh of 9,000 people and an event in, you know, a Europe tour through big important churches that I love.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: And so, three days after the hurricane, the news is coming slowly cuz it was so bad those first 48 hours we’re not, I can’t contact my family, my sisters cousins. We don’t know what’s happened.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my gosh.
Carlos Rodriguez: And to make a really long story short, a friend who used to be a missionary in the Middle East called me up, couldn’t get to me, but left a voicemail.
And that voicemail was borderline aggressive, pushy. It was disruptive to me, and I’m so glad that, you know, he spoke the truth [00:30:00] in love, even though it didn’t feel very loving. But at that moment, the voice message was basically, do not waste your life being a talking head. Do not dare waste your life talking about your book without living it.
Like make the choice right now. This is a fork in the road. And he was an older gentleman who’s played the game for many years. So he was giving me a sincere and lovely warning, don’t waste your life talking about it, but not doing it. And that shook me to the core. I have a conversation with my parents who were visiting because of the book launch, and it’s like, I’m gonna start taking teams to Puerto Rico.
I’m changing my whole schedule and I start coming to Puerto Rico. We canceled everything that I had to do with church, with meetings, with conferences. And I start coming with people, trained emergency people, water filters, support for the elderly. And so we started bringing teams under the banner of the Happy Givers as a 501(c)3 nonprofit doing relief work.
And that changed everything cuz [00:31:00] then it was when there was no platform, when there was no camera, when there’s no podcast, when there’s nothing because literally there’s no cell phone signal, there’s no way to capture that you’re doing the work of Jesus and you’re just doing the work of Jesus and the liberation I felt, and it really it, that was my moment the night of Hurricane Maria.
Choosing the book or choosing the island was the repentance moment, the changing of directions, the shifting from the South star to the North Star. And we literally moved as a family here. And we established the nonprofit. We have a social kitchen feeding the elderly. We’re in, you know, we feed more than 168 people.
We go to the most marginalized communities. And in those marginalized communities, find the most marginalized people. Cause there’s always somebody that’s more marginalized than the most marginalized you’ve met. And so we’re very intentional about that. And then how… empowering those people. Um, we create jobs at the nonprofit.
We have a community farm. Just a work that’s meaningful that I [00:32:00] love, that, I love doing that. I love being part of that. I love, you know, leading with this beautiful community.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I love this. And so what has this work shown you about the church? What have you learned about the church by doing it?
Carlos Rodriguez: For sure. And I, this is not even like a humongous revelation, but we’re definitely wasting too many resources and things that don’t matter when there are so many legitimate issues that require not just money, even though money’s really important.
And when I was a pastor in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I thought that I was one of those pastors that really cared for the poor and the lowly and the marginalized communities of the city. And then when we looked at the budget, it was actually 2.5% of our budget was actually used for work that was outside of our own salaries and our own building.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: I wanted to,
Lisa Sharon Harper: that’s one way to cut it. Ooh Lord.
Carlos Rodriguez: And 2.5%, according to a Barna, the Barna group, which did a whole thing on what’s given from [00:33:00] the churches, local churches, to things that, you know, relief work or marginalized communities. That’s common in the States, 2.5% of the budget, which is insane. And so coming to do’s.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I’m sorry very quickly. That’s why my old boss, Jim Wallace, you know, he coined this, termed, I have to mention him because he did, but it’s true. Please. If you look at a person’s budget, you see their morals, their ethics. I actually
Carlos Rodriguez: A hundred percent.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I would say your budget reveals who you care about
Carlos Rodriguez: A hundred percent.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right. So if you are only feeding yourself with your budget, if you’re only making sure you’re set with your budget, then you really have revealed who and what you care about.
Carlos Rodriguez: Yes. It’s a budget reveals theology. It reveals ethics. It reveals priorities. Yeah. It reveals the fears that you have, the whole keeping to myself, you know?
Yeah. The insecurities. You know, [00:34:00] there’s that statement from Jesus, which is never shown in the gospels as Jesus say in it. But Paul says, as Jesus like to say, basically like Jesus always was tweeting. It is better to give than to receive.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I love that Jesus was tweeting.
Carlos Rodriguez: Yeah. It seemed like Jesus said it so many times that he became this thing like, oh yeah.
You know how he always used to say it? It went viral. Yeah.
Lisa Sharon Harper: It went viral. It’s a viral tweet. It’s better to give than to receive
Carlos Rodriguez: And it doesn’t happen automatically. And this is the truth. When you start. Changing directions from the worship of me, myself, and I, to a true worship of Father, Son, Holy Spirit and everything that entails.
When you start to rediscover in the gospels, the value of God for justice amongst the poor, the hurting the oppressed. And it takes a little bit because you’re so used to one direction, it’s like greedy, capitalistic mentality towards like the incredible joy of [00:35:00] the amount of things that I’ve been told that I need, that I actually don’t need.
And that was the word going back to the churches. That’s what I’ve learned about the church. The amount of things that are used or done in the context of church that are so useless, literally useless and dung as the apostle Paul would call it. Literally trash. Yeah. And how much joy there is in the giving, in the supporting, and not just thinking, and I’ll use, you know, our social kitchens as an example: I have this beautiful team. Most of my team is actually 60 plus, and there’s this beautiful kitchen, they’re cooking, they’re doing all these wonderful meals. We’re not just giving hot dogs and french fries for the one photo of the quote, unquote giving day for the church.
We’re creating a system of support. Of dignity. What we have at the Happy Givers, we call it the dignity checklist. What do we think is a dignified life? It’s good, healthy meals, it’s good rest. Do they have a good mattress? Do they have [00:36:00] a positional bed? If they need help getting out of bed, do they have a bathroom that they can use daily?
Do they, is there cleanliness? Is there, what is dignity? That they can lock their doors and feel secure within their space? What is dignity that they have friendship and we do events and there’s bohemian music nights and we do big feasts with like roast pork and all the Puerto Rican goodies you can get.
And so we have this dignity checklist that we wanna take all of our families, mostly the elderly who are by themselves in Puerto Rico because the island being a colony of the United States. And I always like to remind people we are a colony of the United States. Um, we are second class citizens. I live here in Puerto Rico.
I have an American passport, but I can’t vote for the president while living here. While at the same time I have family members
Lisa Sharon Harper: Really?
Carlos Rodriguez: Who are in the military. Yes. Wow. Puerto Rican, Puerto Rican citizens can’t vote for the President. We don’t have representation in Congress. We don’t have a, we don’t have anybody in Congress that can vote in the Senate or the House as rep, [00:37:00] as you know, as a Puerto Rican representing Puerto Rico.
And then our young people go to the American military and die in American wars without being able to come back home to vote. And so it, I feel right. I feel in this context, we are an oppressed people. We are a declaration that America is not a democracy. Uh, we are a colony. Literally a colony. That.. taxed but not represented.
I think there was a war about that back in the day.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Something called revolutionary, maybe. Yeah.
Carlos Rodriguez: I, I’m telling you. And that, and that’s the context that we live. And yet in this context, There’s so much joy in music and creativity and laughter and long tables where everybody’s included. And again, I, we love not just, we love the work we do.
But we love that we get to do it here. And we love that it’s led by our people. And we love that. It’s not white saviors coming from far away, landing for a [00:38:00] week, taking photos and telling us on a whiteboard, this is everything you need to be doing. Now it’s actually our community leaders speaking and raising their voices.
It’s actually our way of farming, our way of cooking, our way of liberation theology. And so it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful to do church in that complex.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And what have you learned about the nation? Ooh. By doing this work.
Carlos Rodriguez: There’s a, for those of you who are listening who watch Ted Lasso the show, Ted Lasso on Apple TV.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Wow. Yeah.
Carlos Rodriguez: Ted Lasso has this thing that he struggles with, and it’s called Toxic Positivity. And there is an element in Puerto Rico where we have fallen for toxic positivity. We’re like, oh, we resist! No matter what Hurricanes come, we’re always gonna have fun and some joy, and we’re gonna dance away.
And I love that is the initial reaction. But unfortunately, sometimes it does become, here in Puerto Rico, it does become like, let’s just ignore the [00:39:00] reality that we are a colony. Let’s ignore the reality that we are being oppressed. Let’s ignore the reality that there’s this thing called the Jones Act, which tax everything that comes into Puerto Rico.
And so food and ca, the car I’m sitting in, which is a Tacoma, Toyota Tacoma from 2017, because it’s here in Puerto Rico, it’s 47% more expensive than the same car in Florida, even though it came from the same place.
Lisa Sharon Harper: My God, that’s huge.
Carlos Rodriguez: 47%. And so we’re losing.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And this is for a nation, or not a nation, but this is for people, a community, an island that is more poor than the rest of the country, and you’re having 100% … 47% more.
Carlos Rodriguez: It’s the most ex, most expensive place to live. If you consider Puerto Rico being an American territory. If you consider Puerto Rico a place to live in, America is the most expensive with the lowest wages, like across the board. And on top of that, Lisa, which is the hardest part, the hardest [00:40:00] conversation to have, even in the church context, is the fact that we are at the forefront of climate change.
We get the storms right. We don’t, it’s not even a conversation we have, it’s an experience that we’re living. It’s a price that we’re paying, right? Where these storms are more dramatic, are longer and bigger. We just had Hurricane Fiona last year. It was historic rains. Our whole campus, our whole farm, seven acres was completely flooded.
Areas that were never flooding are now flooding. There’s less money coming in to mitigate the dangers and the effects of global warming. And yet, global warming is here to stay. I was just telling Corey as we were preparing to start this conversation, that 111 degrees historic heat, we’ve never experienced this in May, and we’re breaking all the records for three days straight.
And so, we are at the forefront of, you know, the consequences of global warming.
Lisa Sharon Harper: My gosh.
Carlos Rodriguez: And so that’s why I hold on to look four good news to the poor [00:41:00] here. Liberty, the oppressed, the people here, the favorable year of the Lord. I’m holding on to that promise. Let it manifests here. Yes. Because it’s been brutal.
It really has.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That is the hope. That is the hope of the people who the Bible was written by and for.
Carlos Rodriguez: Mm-hmm. Yes.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I mean, and the things that, those who took it and ran with it and then colonized it, I mean, those are the people who, and I’m talking about the west here, that are more, the majority responsible for climate change.
Like, so it’s their corporate decisions. It’s our, I should say, as an American, right? Like, and I mean voting Americans, it’s our corporate decisions that have made for the flooding that shouldn’t be happening in Puerto Rico. Whereas Puerto Rico has no ability to actually cast votes to say, no, we don’t want that.
There’s a, a stripping of agency, which theologically is really a stripping of humanity because what it means to be human is to be able to exercise agency. Right. [00:42:00] So…
Carlos Rodriguez: Amazing.
Lisa Sharon Harper: You’re dehumanizing this whole group of people, and because of that and the ways that you have actually then raped the earth, hello somebody, exploiting the earth, you have then exponentially increased the pain of the least of these
Carlos Rodriguez: Brutal.
Lisa Sharon Harper: So I guess, Okay, so you now you wrote on Instagram you did, this is actually back in March, right? So I’m not going back a little bit, but you wrote this in this interview.
Carlos Rodriguez: What did I write? Jesus help me.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I gotta have him on. It really is. This is the post that I said, oh, I gotta have Carlos on. He is in the middle of something here. He’s going, something’s going on with Carlos Rodriguez. So you did a post that said, Jesus, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. So we’d know that someone’s public affection for Jesus might not be telling the whole story.
And you, of course, now Jawn at Jawn O. Is that you? Who is John? So who?
Carlos Rodriguez: No, Jawn O. Yeah, that’s not my personal [00:43:00] quote. Thank you for clarifying that. Yeah. He’s a, he’s an African American brother that I follow on Twitter, and please, at John o, go follow him.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Yeah. And John is j, not j o h n or j o n. It’s JawnO, which means homeboys from Philly.
Carlos Rodriguez: Yeah, that’s it.
Lisa Sharon Harper: I know exactly what John, like, John is like, it’s a Philly John that’s, yeah. Right. So that’s, I knew it immediately. I was like, is Carlos from Philly? Like, anyway, keep going.
Carlos Rodriguez: That’s love. I got a lot of Puerto Rican friends in Philly. That’s true. Yeah. But that’s just one example, and I’m so glad we’re using his quote to have this conversation.
The public affection, the worship, the grandiose of the temple and the cathedral and the worship albums and the expressions on the camera. Yeah. Judas could have done all that, and that doesn’t mean right. That. That he’s actually following the Jesus that would choose the poor, the broken, the lonely. And you know, there’s that story of almost [00:44:00] Jesus correcting Judas cuz Judas is being all like, but shouldn’t we give this to the poor?
And that even that statement has been used as an excuse. When Jesus says, you the poor, you will always have among you, the poor will always be among you. So I guess, you know, we need to focus on other things being used as an excuse not to follow Jesus until that moment of liberation where everybody’s flourishing.
And so, yeah, there’s all these uses that I experienced, and I wanna make this clear. I was fully in that world. I gave language to that theology. I was from stages pushing that narrative. And I have to ha… I’ve had to have moments of real, like, like self-forgiveness for being part of that system. I have to repent of, you know, propping up that system of being a person of color that was used as a marionette, as a puppet to push that narrative.
And so, um, without that sense of unnecessary guilt, [00:45:00] I do want to take responsibility in like, I have rediscovered the beauty of the story of the gospel as you beautifully said. It was written by the oppressed for the oppressed, and it’s the best thing for the privileged. And that’s what I always like to say.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Like it’s true.
Carlos Rodriguez: This is the best thing that for the privileged, the best thing that Jesus could have said to the rich young ruler who the Bible clearly says that Jesus loved. The best thing that love personified could say to him was, give all you have to the poor and come and follow me. And so the gospel of liberation, it does involve all of us, but it has to be from the context of the poor, the oppressed, the lonely, the marginalized.
Because in that context is when you really discover the gospel, you really discover God. You really reignite your spirituality in a way that I myself hadn’t had for many years because I was lost in the church, in the green rooms and everything else that came with that.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Walking freedom road from coast to [00:46:00] coast and around the globe. This is the Freedom Road podcast.
So Carlos, I wanna do a, like a quick succession. I wanna pick your brain about different issues facing the nation right now. And I mean like quick, like as in what’s your first thought about these things? And then we’ll move on the next one. Yeah. And be, and because I wanna know your real thought and I know that…
I know that you know a lot of people, a lot of people respect you and respect what you would have to say, especially because you come from their communities. And I’m thinking especially those 81% communities, right? So, and I think thankfully actually that number has come down a little bit, but it’s not come down enough, you know, for us to actually have some worries about the church.
So I wanna hear from you first. What do you think about CRT?
Carlos Rodriguez: I think it’s a boogeyman, like so many other boogeyman, it’s like,
Lisa Sharon Harper: And CRT means…
Carlos Rodriguez: Critical race theory. Mm-hmm.
And it’s critical [00:47:00] race theory. I, so let’s use a human being as opposed to the concept, the critical race theory, a human being. Carlos Rodriguez, who is a Puerto Rican man who is a bit lighter than other Puerto Ricans.
I, I don’t claim to be Afro-Caribbean cuz I’m not. I have enough of the Spanish, who was the slave owner running through me as much as I can claim, you know, my great-grandmother who was from Mali. Right. So I have to be CRT in the concept of a human being. It’s the study, the honest, critical study of what are my places of privilege.
Because even though I can have this conversation with you from the place of, you know, I’m in Puerto Rico and we’re oppressed. And we’re broken, I can also have an honest conversation about that. I’m a man in a macho society and I do have privileges in this context that some of my female coworkers don’t have.
And so the honest introspection. And I’m using the person. But if the nation was able to do that, honestly [00:48:00] review how systems of white power have propped up white men to be rulers, to be class rulers, to be wealth rulers, to be political rulers. And so it’s a boogeyman in the context that they’re using it as this thing that separates people.
And it’s so important to have those conversations. So it’s, and I’ll finish with this. I had a teacher in fourth grade when I moved to the States. Her name was Mrs. Strickland. And Mrs. Strickland, it was almost like prophetic. She welcomed me into a “strict land,” she would, I spoke no English. My parents had separated. We moved to Lakeland, Florida, and Mrs. Strickland was the first and only teacher I had, cuz it was like homeroom teacher. She did most of my classes. In Florida, central Florida, Lakeland, Florida. And Mrs. Strickland, in the little English that I knew, I never understood why me and Leonardo, the other Puerto Rican kid had to stay during lunch hour.
We had to stay in the [00:49:00] classroom while everybody else went to play. And she forced us to clean the classroom while all the kids played. And when I picked up my English three, four months into being in school than being, you know, learning English, which I’m now using with you to speak and have this podcast.
Basically she was telling us, and I have remember now the words, you are only gonna be as good as a janitor. So you stay here and you clean everybody else’s desk. And that was our job. Every lunchtime.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right. That hurts.That hurt. Oh my God.
Carlos Rodriguez: That hurt. This is Mississippi. You said that,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Did she say that?
Carlos Rodriguez: She said that: she would verbalize that consistently.
It wasn’t months later that I would began to understand what she was saying. I’m 10 years old. Yeah, yeah. And this is, and just so you know, when I internalized what she’s saying, when I realized what she’s saying, what she’s forcing us to do, and we can’t go out and play soccer like everybody else, that’s when I made my, at [00:50:00] 10 years old, that was the first time I made a decision when they do the National Anthem and the Pledge of Religions to the flag, I’m not doing it.
If this is how this, and then of course she started to get even, she started to get angrier with me. Cuz whenever now she knows I’m understanding what’s happening and I’m understanding the language more and more. And that was 91. And I never forget cuz it was the first Gulf War, the. And they would play not just the National Anthem and not just the Pledge of allegiance.
They would pray they would play this song from Bette Midler from a distance. The it looks, God, listen, that was like, I remember,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my God, why did they play that? What’s that got do with anything?
Carlos Rodriguez: It, we were, it was a time to be overly patriotic cuz we’re invading, you know, we’re fighting co, we’re fighting Iraq, supportive Kuwait, whatever.
They’re trying to like propped up patriotism. And that was the [00:51:00] first time that I’m like, no, I’m gonna sit. I’m not gonna do the Pledge of Allegiance, I’m not gonna stand for these songs. And then of course, she liked it even less and liked me even less. That was a 10. Lisa.
Lisa Sharon Harper: the thing that really gets me about CRT is that it’s like now she was abiding by unspoken rules.
Like these are, although right now, honestly into Florida right now, they’re actually speaking them and reinstituting them into law, which is amazing to watch them do that. But at that 1991, a lot of that had been torn down by the Civil Rights Act. Right. That’s, although,
Carlos Rodriguez: That’s right.
Lisa Sharon Harper: The Civil Rights Act since then has been torn down by the Republican Party.
It’s been stripped apart. And so now they’re able to pass these laws in Florida. And, but CRT critical race theory is really the history of the laws that create, of the laws created, the culture, the Yes, the laws created, the structures and the pathologies, the ways we had to live together that then
Carlos Rodriguez: That’s right.
Lisa Sharon Harper: You know, you take the way the laws away and [00:52:00] it’s still there. Like you’re still living that way and you don’t even know why, but it’s because you’ve already been living that way for hundreds of years. So it wasn’t been gonna question that anymore. Right. So here you are in this class, you’re 10 years old, and this teacher without a law to tell you that the only place you can be is a janitor.
She’s now telling you, accept your lot in the country because you are not a citizen.
Carlos Rodriguez: That’s right.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Which is ironic and because Yeah, are But then you’re also colonized, right? Yeah. Right. Dang. Yeah. Yeah. Right. So what do you think that’s our reality? What do you think of authoritarian governance? Speaking of Florida?
Carlos Rodriguez: I mean, it’s number one wild, how it’s happening so quickly. How it’s happening. So normally and in a bizarre way, like Governor DeSantis, it’s almost like the celebration in the Republican party that he’s doing all these things so quickly and so efficiently, maybe different to Trump, which would be a lot of talking and a lot of, you know, more, more vocal [00:53:00] than anything.
Whereas Ron DeSantis actually doing it in the context of laws and pushing this agenda and you know, using both of that. It was, when it really shook me, was a book of Roberto Clemente, which is an Afro-Caribbean, Puerto Rican man who was one of the greatest baseball players, played in the Pittsburgh Pirates for many years, was the mvp, died on a plane crash going out of Puerto Rico to Nicaragua to bring relief aid.
Every year in the World Series, they give somebody the Roberto Clemente Award for being the most humanitarian of all the players. They were banning books of Roberto Clemente in Florida. Because he is, he’s a black man. A black man who is a Christian man who died bringing relief aid to people who had suffered an earthquake in Nicaragua.
And you know, I was recently,
Lisa Sharon Harper: I’m like rocking myself and shaking my head. I feel like, oh God, like I need sematic therapy right now. I need to snapping and [00:54:00] jumping…
Carlos Rodriguez: When you’re, when they’re trying for us Puerto Ricans, when they’re trying to control the story of Roberto Clemente. And I know for anybody in the states when they’re trying to like control the story of Rosa Parks, she sat at the back, there’s, let’s rewrite this book.
She sat at the back cuz she didn’t…
Lisa Sharon Harper: Like, was that not amazing?
Carlos Rodriguez: Yeah, it’s insanity. It’s actual insanity. It’s happening in real time and it’s absolutely insane that it’s happening. And I think it’s slightly more insane that we get to talk about it, but that there is no more evident protesting, more intentional.
Let’s get into these Capitol buildings. Let’s have sit downs. Let’s go back to, let’s go back to what brought us a little bit ahead, which is the Civil rights movement. Let’s have, and that’s Brother Jones there in Tennessee.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s right. I was gonna, I was gonna ask you about him. So what do you think about Tennessee?
Carlos Rodriguez: Oh man, brother. Like I, fortunately he’s one of my actual Twitter friends. You know those,
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my God.
Carlos Rodriguez: People that you’ll meet on Twitter that you then [00:55:00] actually end up relating to, this was before, yeah. He went on the national stage. They are the example. They’re setting an example for what should be happening.
Tennessee should be, what should be happening everywhere else. There are, I know in every one of these registers, there are people of color who are in some element of the government and the local state senate or whatever that have the opportunity, that have the agency, the voice, the rhetoric. These two brothers in Tennessee, I mean, I want to go to their churches.
I want to hear them preach. I want them to call me out. I want them to challenge me. I want to hear them. But there’s,
Lisa Sharon Harper: And we’re talking right now about Justin Pearson and Justin Justin Jones.
Carlos Rodriguez: That’s right. That’s We’re talking about Justin Jones, brother Jones. That’s right. Exactly. He’s at Brother Jones on Twitter.
I call him brother… but
Lisa Sharon Harper: Right, right, right.
Carlos Rodriguez: And just appears just as brave, as courageous as they are. But they really should be the beginning, not the end, not the standard, not like, wow, we’re impressed by them. Right. I know. [00:56:00] Specifically I would know from them that they don’t want to just be. A placeholder or a talking head.
They want to be an inspiration for others to do the same. And so I…
Lisa Sharon Harper: I think, can I just share this one thought, Carlos?. Is that I think that in at least my feeling about Florida has been that Florida feels like it’s just. They got it on lockdown. Like they literally have every facet of government they have stand your ground.
That was actually one of the first pegs to fall in this whole authoritarian era where you begin to legalize vigilantism and it starts in Florida in 2005. And then, you know, we start to see the results of that, of course, in 2013 with the death of Trayvon Martin and That’s right. The exoneration quote.
Carlos Rodriguez: That’s right.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Exoneration of his killer. Yeah. Um, but we now we see, so how DeSantis has been manipulating the government so much, so [00:57:00] put like installing his people and not just the government, but also schools and boards and just every, like, every little thing he’s, he is literally. Like creating a, a new Florida, an authoritarian in Florida, an environment where he gets to exercise authoritarian power with… without any legal checks or balances anymore.
So it feels, I wonder if people in Florida literally just feel hopeless, like they don’t know what to do cuz there’s no ability for them to fight back except at the voting booth. So it’s like, until there’s a vote, why should we get ourselves in a tizzy? But the problem is, you know, if you’re not organizing before the vote, people aren’t gonna be motivated enough to go out and actually vote this character out.
Carlos Rodriguez: I know and I have to speak now for Latinos and not generalizing all Latinos, of course. Ah, but even a lot of Puerto Ricans that have moved to Florida. The Republican [00:58:00] strategy unfortunately has been super smart in Florida, which is to use Venezuela and Cuba as the boogie man. The amount of Puerto Rican people that I know that have left Puerto Rico, so let me go back.
0.5% of the Puerto Rican population has left Puerto Rico in the last 10 years. That’s how bad it’s been. Hurricanes, earthquakes, economic instability. One of the, one of the worst debts all over the world. The debt in Puerto Rico, which brought austerity measures. There’s a fiscal board that was established unfortunately from Obama to Trump, a fiscal board that literally rules the budget of Puerto Rico.
Most of them Trump appointees. They, they choose, we’re gonna close these 10 public schools and these five hospitals so we can pay, you know, the investors that put money into this debt.
Lisa Sharon Harper: My God.
Carlos Rodriguez: It’s terrible, right? It’s bad. It’s really bad, Lisa. God. And a lot of the population, again, more than 12% of population has left Puerto Rico.
A lot of them have moved to central Florida. [00:59:00] The Democrats just assume we got all these new Puerto Ricans in central Florida that’s really gonna help us take Central Florida. We know we struggle with the Cubans in South Florida, but, and most of them went for DeSantis, most of them, unfortunately, the Latino people, especially Puerto Ricans, because of this, I’ll, again, I’ll personify it in a way that might not be helpful, but this is my best way to explain it.
The US is our stepfather, and the US as a stepfather has let us know, you’re definitely not my son. Yes, I’ll let you live here. And yes, I’ll pay for the food and yes, at least you have electricity and water. But I’ll make sure that you know that you don’t belong. That you’re not really my son. I’ll be abusive to your mom and I’ll be a jerk, and you’ll wanna leave me, but you’re gonna stay right here because you have no other choice.
So that, that’s the best way to personify the relationship with the US and Puerto Rico. And unfortunately a lot of Puerto Ricans, because we are [01:00:00] American citizens, when they move to the states, the first thing that makes you feel like a true American in the states is the fact that now you can vote. So we can’t vote when we’re residents of Puerto Rico, but as soon as you move to the US you can vote.
And the way that you feel the most American, and I know this from conversations with a lot of my friends, is voting Republican. That’s how you can go from, I’m just a Puerto Rican, so now I’m a true American. You move through the states, you support the Republican party.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh my God. Like as in Republican equals American.
Carlos Rodriguez: Yes that’s a…
Lisa Sharon Harper: Oh, oh God. Oh my God. How did that happen? What? I know. Wait, okay. Here’s my little theory of how that happened. Because true American equals white and the Republican Party is a party of white men.
Carlos Rodriguez:That’s it.
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s what, it’s the party of white men’s as simple as that. A true American, you join the, wow, my God,
Carlos Rodriguez: And this is how, and they’re voting against, and this is how we don’t, [01:01:00] they’re voting against their interests and they have the language.
We don’t wanna be Cuba. We don’t want to be Venezuela. And this is how so much of the Latino population in Florida and Arizona and supporting the Republican Party, and again, I’m speaking for conversation, many conversations that I’ve had with Puerto Rican people understanding, you know, the ____, as we say in Spanish, idiosyncrasies is the word in English.
Of living in Puerto Rico as an American colony. And ha what, having that American passport, they moved to Florida, they moved to Connecticut, they moved to Pennsylvania. And a lot of them, and I’m telling you unfortunately, the majority of them, they, they end up voting Republican and so they look at a DeSantis as, yeah, that’s the kind of man I wanna follow, I’m gonna listen to and yeah, that’s right.
That’s right. We shouldn’t be reading, they shouldn’t be telling us that we’re not important. It’s almost like Stockholm Syndrome, right? Like, the abuser is the one we’re holding onto. It’s real. And again, I’m generalizing and that’s not fair, but unfortunately I’ve had enough [01:02:00] conversations with enough Puerto Ricans who are now living in the States and that’s how they’re thinking right now.
And we see it from the polls. We unfortunately know that a lot of Latino population supporting the Republican party,
Lisa Sharon Harper: That’s disturbing. That’s very disturbing.
Carlos Rodriguez: Yeah. Trust me.
Lisa Sharon Harper: You know, I wanna ask you this as we close, I wanna ask, you know, what does it mean to walk with God in our times? Think about, and I want you to shape that message for two different audiences.
One, I’d like for you to shape that message and speak directly to the Puerto Ricans who have moved to America the 12.5%. Um, what is it, what is the message? What is your message to them about what it would look like to walk with God in our times for that community?
Carlos Rodriguez: You know, there is an element, cultural element, and I’m going back to how we started. That liberation theology is common and prevalent in the language of politics, of church, of [01:03:00] Schooling, even in Puerto Rico. And it is way more natural for a Puerto Rican when you say something about helping the poor or standing up for the marginalized, there’s less resistance to that language. Way less even in, even in people that would probably be more, you know, like we’ve just talking about, maybe voted for DeSantis, maybe voted for Trump.
It’s kind of like that evangelical, like we voted for Trump, but we vote, you know, he shouldn’t really speak like that about immigrants cuz there’s an element of the evangelical church that really does care about the, you know, the honor and the dignity of migrants coming into the states and et cetera, et cetera.
So it’s already in us, is what I wanna say. The gospel’s already in us and I come from, again, I come from a broken home–abuse, alcoholism–but there was something that my parents did that, I don’t know how they did it, but they revealed the gospel through the table. Especially in Latino culture.
The table is open for all and no matter how bad it was in my [01:04:00] family, and I’m the first born of both of my parents’ second marriage. I was never allowed to call my sisters from my dad’s first marriage, half sisters. I wasn’t. I was never allowed to like differentiate like it. I was a teenager when I realized, wait a minute, my dad’s a stepdad to one of my sisters.
Like it wasn’t even a thought process because no matter how bad it was, the table was always open. Abuela always had food. Everybody was, no matter the arguments, the problems, we were always welcome at the table. That’s why the gospel was always so attractive to me, and I’ll give props to my mom and dad for doing that, for being an example.
And I believe that the Latino population in America is called to represent that back to America. The opportunity, the beauty of the table is open for everybody and that everybody belongs and that there’s always more than enough. And that when, that when everything is broken, we can come back to the table.
I love that about Jesus, [01:05:00] and I feel like sometimes Jesus kick Judas out, but no, Jesus allowed Judas to be there, wash the feet of Judas. And so no matter how much I want to draw lines in the sand, whenever I draw a line, Jesus goes over to the other side of the line and says, come join me here. That’s just who he is.
That’s in the nature of God to be welcoming, to have an open table. That’s why we love the experience of communion of that holy table. And so I would make a call to my Puerto Rican brothers and sisters to my Latinos brothers and sisters living in the state. As they’re entering these new places of privilege, maybe that they didn’t experience living here, to never forget that the table is open for all, and that truly there is no better way, according to Jesus to encounter Jesus than by feeding the hungry, given water to the thirsty, taking care of the sick, visiting the prisoner, and welcoming the stranger.
Lisa Sharon Harper: And what does it mean to walk with God in our times? For the people [01:06:00] in the church that you used to serve in North Carolina,
Carlos Rodriguez: It means permission to walk away from Jerusalem on the road to Emmeaus, and maybe in that road when you’re confused about what happened in Jerusalem, and Jesus shows up and you can’t even recognize him, right?
There’s these two disciples, they’re walking away from Jerusalem, right? And Jesus shows up to them and intentionally makes himself unknown. And I think there’s a whole generation that’s walking away from their Jerusalems, from the places they were told. This is where you tithe, this is where you worship.
This is how you worship. This is when you worship. And as they’re walking away from that, because of the pain and the loss, Jesus is intentionally right now in this season, not really revealing himself. And I guess I’ll go back to the first part. It’s at the table. It’s at the table that your eyes, you realize we’re, our hearts always burning.
And so there’s a whole [01:07:00] generation’s, Lisa.
Lisa Sharon Harper: True. It’s when he broke that bread, that’s when they saw, wow.
Carlos Rodriguez: It’s when he broke the bread. It’s at the table. And so there’s a whole generation, I so many, and I’m heartbroken that so many of my brothers and sisters that I pastored in North Carolina, it’s like almost split perfectly through the middle.
Some of them are still there even deeper in the Trump world. And the other half are like, we want nothing to do with Christianity. And those ones that are like, it’s so heartbreaking to me. Right. Because it’s leaving Christianity. To me it’s like white supremacy. It’s like we’re giving up, we’re literally giving up this gospel that was for the poor and the broken and the marginalized and the ground, believing it at a brown gospel.
Lisa Sharon Harper: No, it’s really true. Come, I think, can we really think about that for one minute? Like when, and I actually, I wrote, I tweeted about this a while back, but when you have white folk who get completely disillusioned and I do get that. Like with the Jerusalem. Yeah. And they say, I’m [01:08:00] leaving. I’m leaving this white supremacist faith.
What they don’t have the imagination to imagine is that actually what they’re leaving is a decolonizing brown faith. That’s right, that’s right. For, and by brown people that’s in the right, the context of white supremacy, Rome. Right? Like a, that’s explicitly white supremacist empire. Like that’s what they’re actually leaving behind.
But they have never been taught that. So they think they’re leaving white Jesus. And I’m cool. I’m like, I, hey, leave white Jesus,
Carlos Rodriguez: Go ahead and leave white Jesus please.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Because he’s just, I mean, you know, he’s like a masquerading, you know, um, clown. Anyway, he’s not actually the real thing. That’s right. But don’t leave Jesus.
Carlos Rodriguez: No, no. That, that, and that’s my pleading, right. Without being too preachy or without turning into a new way of fundamentalism or a new way of manipulation to dare to go back to the gospels. [01:09:00] I, so let’s take away the theological: Jesus is the son of God, Jesus is the savior of the world, which I believe with all my heart, I just can’t get away from them.
But let’s take away those elements that might be difficult still to absorb of the resurrection. Is it real is enough? Let’s just go straight up to the story, to the teaching, to the invitation of love. I, I still think it’s the most attractive of all the narratives, not just the most attractive, but also the most powerful of all the narratives.
It’s the one that led people like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King to literally change the history of a whole nation, of a young nation and of a racist nation in the right way through nonviolence. It’s, it seems completely abnormal, counterproductive, and yet it’s so beautiful, and yet it’s so rewarding also.
And I go back to saying, like, doing the work of Jesus, and I’ll claim, I know we all pick and choose our theology. We all do it. [01:10:00] But I’m picking and choosing the love part. The table is open part, the feeding the hungry part. I’m picking and choosing that part, and I sleep so much better. And I feel like our marriage, my wife’s and my marriage is better, as a parent, as a citizen, as a human, as a man.
It’s just like, it’s the story that I love. It’s the story that I will share. It’s the story that I wanna live, not just through books, but through my everyday cooking and feeding and farming and loving the broken people here in Puerto Rico. I would just invite anybody that is completely disregarded as you’re saying, Lisa, so beautifully, the white Jesus. I’m telling you, the Brown Jesus is out there and he is wonderful.
Lisa Sharon Harper: The conversations leaders have on the road to justice. This is the Freedom Road Podcast. Thank you for joining us today. The Freedom Road Podcast is recorded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and wherever our guests lay their heads at night.[01:11:00]
And this episode was engineered and edited and produced by Corey Nathan of Scan Media and Freedom Road Podcast is executive produced by Freedom Road LLC. We consult, coach, train and design experiences that bring common understanding, common commitment, and lead to common action. You can find out more about our work at our website, freedom road.us, so stay in the know by signing up for our updates, which are now on Substack.
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