What can I do?

unrecognized answers to prayer

With each news story of a black person losing life in a police-related incident, I have become increasingly anxious. Despite my friends and acquaintances of color telling me stories of such occurrences for many years, only in recent years have I begun to fathom the problem and the tragedy. I stand convicted of chosen ignorance and inaction. As I left the office yesterday, I was praying, “Lord, what can I do?”

[photo credit: Patrick Tomasso]

Traffic was heavy and I decided to explore a new route home. The slower pace through a neighborhood of large, expensive homes had a calming effect on me. This wasn’t the most efficient route — there was a 4-way stop at almost every corner. Still, it was a break from the congestion.

As I approached one of those intersections, I saw a vehicle waiting. At first I thought that the driver was intending to turn. Then I noticed that it was his emergency flashers that were blinking. Even though he was there first and to my right, he waved me on. I understood. He was having car trouble. Moving ahead, I saw for the first time that he was black.

Fifteen minutes later, still on my commute, the reality of his situation suddenly occurred to me. He was a solitary black man in a disabled vehicle in a predominantly white neighborhood. For all I knew, he lived nearby. But even if he did, was he sitting and waiting for help in fear for his life?

I wouldn’t be. I’m white.

I couldn’t keep from thinking how that would be different for someone with a different skin color.

Lord, what can I do?

I always feel pretty shallow when God gives me an answer and I miss it. I could have pulled over, offered my phone if he needed it, been a friendly stranger offering company, and stood close by until he was safely on his way. Yes, I know the arguments against that stemming from personal safety concerns.

But at some point, we have to do something. Particularly if it’s an answer to prayer. Don’t we? What’s God telling you?

Political Uncertainty

polling the masses

On social media several months back, I made a post that was, by all counts, neutral. (By the way, “by all counts” is code for “in my opinion.”) Some of my readers understood my message to be one of uncertainty and proceeded to try to persuade me to line up behind her or his candidate. So, in a comment, I stated that I would not vote for either.  There was no political uncertainty in my mind because I was aware of what I did not want as a leader.

I still don’t want those things in a leader. Yet, I will vote and, after looking at the third and fourth candidates and their platforms, I will vote for either Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. But my political uncertainty is back.

The subject of politics comes up in almost any context I find myself. Three times yesterday. Two times the day before. I even had a discussion with a kind Swiss anthropologist somewhere in the air between Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Zurich, Switzerland last month.

It  has surprised me that I have learned something new in almost every conversation.

First, I’ve learned that a good number of those participating in my unscientific and stealth poll have not spent a lot of time studying the major issues. Among this group are those people who support Mr. Trump and base that support on how funny it is when he says something . . . Trumpish. Also in this group are those who have ignored Mrs. Clinton’s platform with the lofty belief that all-things-Republican are stupid. I wouldn’t classify these people — on either side of the aisle — as deplorable. But they do seem to be woefully uninformed. And, I’m not making a statistical study here, but there appear to be a lot of them.

Second, I’ve discovered that there is a substantial group of voters who will make their decision based on a single policy or issue. They truly understand what is at stake for that particular issue and they stand strongly with their candidate on that basis. Their focus on that single issue justifies their choice — and their decision to ignore all else.

Third, I have had the opportunity to talk with a very few individuals who are making a broader analysis of the candidates and basing their decision on a careful weighing of the impact of the election on multiple issues. I specifically selected some of these people because I had hope that I could gain direction from them — and perhaps I wouldn’t have to do the hard work of discerning all those things on my own. The problem is that I have different priorities and, in some cases, beliefs.

Frankly, I’m frightened by the choices we have — and have been in every presidential election in recent years. We have to reboot our political system. The tried and true party system is largely failing us. We have been sitting back and letting others think for us.

As painful as it has been, political uncertainty has been a tremendous blessing for me. For the first time in years, I’ve been forced to think. It’s not always comfortable. But it’s one of the highest plateaus of freedom.

Diplomacy

it's not just about getting your way

This morning, I was able to hear an excerpt from President Obama’s press conference in China. This trip has seen what appears to be purposeful disrespect from the Chinese, the announcement of North Korean missile test firings, a missed opportunity to come to agreement with Russia about the conflict in Syria, and now an open challenge from the Philippines president as to what our President may or may not address in upcoming conversations. President Obama, arguably the most powerful individual in the world, responded with diplomacy.

No, my right-leaning friends, it wasn’t weakness on his part. And no, my left-leaning friends, it wasn’t genius.

It was diplomacy.

Whether they were well-planned or spontaneous, his answers were appropriate and, well, diplomatic. By addressing the inquiries with calmness, reflection, and a careful choice of words, President Obama assured that he — and thus we, as a nation — continued to have a place at the table. I appreciate diplomacy. It keeps dialog alive.

I am not a fan of all of President Obama’s policies and strategies. Yet, I do respect him and the way that he goes about his work. Among many other good things, he is a diplomat.

Odd, isn’t it, that we have chosen a system of elections that no longer honors diplomacy? Instead, we now seem to appreciate and value violent confrontation. Perhaps it isn’t always physical, yet we have seen rhetorical violence lead to violence. We teach our children that shouting louder, exhibiting anger, and refusing to consider ways to work together is the way to get ahead in life. In polite parenting circles and in our parent-teacher conferences, we decry such behavior. Yet, that’s what we demand of the candidates in our political system. Our children are our witnesses to our choices.

Our current election system is focused on power.

Here’s a short history lesson: When power dominates, over time we push for laws to form boundaries to limit power. When laws abound, bureaucracy grows. When bureaucracy grows, certain groups, empowered by the privilege created by bureaucracy assemble power. You would assume that this would be an endless cycle. But every so often there is a hiccup. Those not empowered become frustrated and desperate. Revolution. Chaos. A new power base is formed — often from an outside force that celebrates this moment of weakness. Rarely is this disruptive force beneficial.

The only remedy for this self-destructive path is dialog, understanding, and collaboration. Yes, my colleagues and my students in conflict resolution, the answer is a focus on the interests of all involved. Diplomacy is an essential part of the picture.

Yet, we, the voters, demand blood.

I left out another important piece of that history lesson. Most often, the voters get what they ask for.

Maybe we should be asking for more diplomacy, longer sessions at the table and fewer knock-out blows.

Remember, most often, you’ll get what you ask for.

Trade-Offs

it's the name of the game

Politics is all about trade-offs. Compromise. Concessions. Politicians make deals to gain support. Voters, a complex and complicated group, have to decide what is most important, what is their priority, what is their trade-off. Although it’s a serious game, it’s a game.

I can’t look at a news source or open my social media without being drawn into thinking about politics. On social media, I have expressed some of my opinions in ways, that I believe, allowed others to hold on to theirs. I’ve not tried to be persuasive, only thoughtful.

So, having more important things to address at this stage of my life, my last word on politics as I withdraw for a season. Whoever you are, whatever you believe about the candidates, you are simply wrong. Why? Because choosing a candidate in the present age is about trade-offs, at least if you are truly aware of the issues at stake. If you’re honest with yourself, you know your choice is wrong for some reason. Or, more dangerously, if you’ve chosen a candidate and you believe you’ve made no trade-offs, you are more delusional than the candidates themselves. At least they know, deep inside, of the compromises they’ve made.

It’s the whole “putting faith in man” scenario. It’s never worked out perfectly. Choose a candidate. Make it for the reasons you can live with.

End the Fear

I am fortunate because I have friends from diverse cultural backgrounds. However, I am remiss for my failures to consistently seek understanding of the life experiences — the trials and the celebrations — of those who are different from me. I don’t see such things as race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation as a barrier to prevent me from loving them. But perhaps the problem is that I just don’t see. I just don’t fully understand. That is a symptom of my privilege. On numerous occasions I have had to ask for patience and forgiveness as I’ve stumbled from a lack of sensitivity. Sensitivity is only a starting point. Each one of us must take action. That action should begin with a deepening of our relationships. And we must address our fear.
 
We have had too many tragedies triggered because of our “differences.” Whether it be skin color, religion, gender, or political persuasion, we need to understand that all of this is God’s creation. All the differences are part of God’s creativeness and are meant to bring us joy. Instead of joy, we are bringing fear to God’s party.
 
Terrible things have been happening. Some have been addressed. Some answers have come very slowly. Some answers seem impossible to find.
 
Violence is not one of those answers. Sadly, violence is part of the cycle that demands law and order. And law and order can go astray quickly in the face of fear. Those steps backward do not justify the end of law and order. That fear does not justify unequal treatment.
 
Today is a sad day in Dallas, Texas. Our hearts and our prayers are with that city, with the families who have empty chairs at their tables this morning, with the citizens who are enduring a time when fear seems to be the safest place because of the vigilance it brings.
 
But remember that yesterday was a sad day somewhere else — in Louisiana, in Minnesota, in Istanbul . . .
 
If we are to fully accept our roles as God’s children, we have to stop taking sides. We must seek relationship with those who see things differently and even those who adamantly disagree with us. If we don’t, we are left only with fear. No understanding. No blessed intimacy with others who can teach us so much about what God truly wants.
 
Please end the fear. Talk to people. All people. Pray for people. All people. Perhaps while we are praying, God will provide a holy space where we can make better decisions, choose better words, take a different course of action.
 
 
To those among my friends who this post offends or disturbs. I will not ask that you unfriend me or obliterate my blogsite from your internet, although that is your choice. It has become all too easy in this world to press that “unfriend” button. I would ask that you be respectful of me, however. I will be glad to talk with you about anything. Social media can be a wonderful place to bring understanding. However, it often lacks the context of that blessed moment when two people come together. Remember, Jesus specifically identified that space as a place he’ll join us.  Thanks in advance for listening to me, even if you disagree.