The Right Path

Changing the culture through counter culture

My social media feeds explode with political themes even now — after the election and just days before the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States. The eruptions I’m seeing are not only from those who opposed Mr. Trump and oppose him still. The majority of outbursts I am seeing are from the side of the victor. Should any one venture to express concern over anything remotely connected to the incoming administration or the legislation it supports, immediate taunts ring out along with veiled and, sometimes, open threats. With such attempts to demean and devalue, the true nature of the person bubbles closer to the surface. This should be a time of finding the right path, the one that leads to common ground and reconciliation.

These angry and irrational voices from both sides are not those of patriots. Patriots are those who have searched their souls and, after serious contemplation, taken a stand for what is just and right. Justice and righteousness moves well beyond what is good for just one individual. The refusal of these angered individuals to seek understanding and their insistence on following blindly is frightening and bear no resemblance to patriotism.

On this day, January 16, 2017, we pause as a nation to honor the memory of a man who, above all else, pursued the right path. Not a perfect man, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood as a blessed and blemished child of God to speak out with dignity against sin and social wrong.

Through the years, Dr. King’s detractors have attempted to distract the world from his message by parading his human failings. He had some. However, for those of us who are truly honest, we recognize that we are no different. Our challenges may or may not be a little different from his. The power of the message from Dr. King comes from the fact that he was broken like all of us. And from the lips of those who have been with us on the journey comes the most helpful of all advice.

In this time of heightened emotion and political activism, we stand at the brink of disturbing thought and behavior. With that as a backdrop, please consider these words from Dr. King, delivered in a sermon in Montgomery, Alabama on November 6, 1956, one week before the Supreme Court of the United States would declare Alabama’s bus segregation laws unconstitutional.

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Always be sure that you struggle with Christian methods and Christian weapons. Never succumb to the temptation of becoming bitter. As you press on for justice, be sure to move with dignity and discipline, using only the weapon of love. Let no man pull you so low as to hate him. Always avoid violence. If you succumb to the temptation of using violence in your struggle, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and your chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.

Although Dr. King delivered those words to his congregation, the importance and implication are apparent regardless of the political posturing you exhibit. We must learn to talk together without the violence of words and action. What will your chief legacy be? We must choose the right path.

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.

“If just” — our answer to all things Ferguson

When I went to bed last Monday night with the images of mayhem in the streets of Ferguson burning as brightly as the fires in those streets, I knew that I would have to write something to express my feelings. So I did.

Thankfully, my writing session yesterday was interrupted repeatedly with meetings. I would return to my computer, read through the words that were there, edit a few, and then be called away again. What a blessing that turned out to be!

When I give advice to others about writing, I decry the evils of interruptions. Focus, write, close, ship! My advice is classic and echoes the lessons taught by many of the great writers of all time. And in this day of instant publishing, that outline for success could be seen as essential.

But it wouldn’t have served me well yesterday.

I wrote a long article. It had some great elements to it. But there was something haunting about those words. Slowly, I realized that I had fallen prey to my desire to judge and to correct from my sole perspective. That view is not simple — particularly when you add my thoughts on social and legal systems and my penchant for productive activities. Yet, I realize that my sole perspective should never be the only consideration. And I realized that I should never assume I fully know the perspectives of others.

Despite the fact that I invested several hours on that post, I couldn’t hit “publish.” This morning, just a few hours ago, I opened it one last time and then sent it to the trash. I thank God that it is gone.

Why?

Because, like most of the things I saw in social media and from the news media in the last 36 hours, it was from the “IF JUST” angle. If just people would do this. If just people would not do that. If just the prosecutor had done this. If just President Obama had used these words in stead of those words. If just . . .

“If just” paints my view and my judgment on everything. That’s the problem with most of our “justice” conversations. The concept of justice is self-centered. We agree to a set of norms or rules because, under certain circumstances, we want those rules to benefit us.

Honestly, every society in history has written laws and rules to benefit self. And the “self” that was benefited was always those who were in power at the moment. I’m not just talking Democrats and Republicans here. For the sake of continuity, the concept of legal precedent surfaced to help people make decisions — so they would know what to expect from their behavior and from society’s response to that behavior. And the laws and the precedents have shaped multiple systems that raise barriers and increase the likelihood that you and I will never have true relationship and understanding with those we perceive to be different from us.

Systems are efficient. But systems aren’t perfect. Some systems are just bad. One of the strengths of a system is its ability to resist change. That strength is also the biggest threat posed by systems.

We must change some systems in this country. I am of the opinion that we suffer from systemic racism. Maybe you don’t share that view. Yet, perhaps you would agree that we have some sort of problem. However, if your answer to that problem is preceded by “IF JUST” it has little chance of success in the long term.

I hope I haven’t urged “IF JUST” beyond what I hope is a clear statement of our need to make this conversation about more than our personal justice perspectives. Let’s truly scrutinize the things we do and the things we permit that discriminate and devalue others. And let’s do it in a spirit of building instead of destruction. And let’s take action.

You know, perhaps our conversations should be framed “IF JESUS.”

 

A Picture of Ferguson, Missouri

You have probably noticed there isn’t one.

I looked for a picture of Ferguson that didn’t have police lined-up across from citizens or chalk outlines of bodies on the asphalt or clever protest signs. I grew tired of looking.

I simply wanted to write about Ferguson and its struggles with words that would provide the space we all need to grapple with the problems and handle the results of confrontation, death, peaceful demonstrations, riots, prospects of grand jury indictments. And the incredible sadness of a community where the pictures are all of trouble.

And, I wasn’t hoping to show a peaceful Ferguson in an effort to downplay all that is at risk there today. I was hoping to show a town much like the towns we know. Towns not caught in the public spotlight. Places where mistakes are made and bad things happen, but we have a sense that, overall, people are trying to do the right thing. I was hoping that there was a time when Ferguson was like that.

From what some would say, there may not be a picture of a truly peaceful Ferguson in recent history — perhaps decades. I don’t know. I don’t have enough information.

I read a blog post earlier today that said I shouldn’t write anything about Ferguson if I was going to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t have enough information.” But I don’t have the information that can positively place blame on one side or the other. I don’t know what the outcome should be.

So, here is what I do know.

  • It is a shame whenever anyone’s life is taken by violence, whether justified or not.
  • Minorities, especially African Americans, are involved in confrontations (often deadly) with police at a much higher rate than white Americans.
  • To some degree, that higher rate is the result of personal and institutional racism. (Sorry, I don’t know to what degree. I am not smart enough to read and interpret all of the statistics. But I’m not dumb enough not to understand the implications.  If you are offended by my use of the word “racism,” I apologize for making you uncomfortable. But, it’s an accurate word. Discrimination based on race is racism. Our systems do discriminate.)
  • People across the ethnic spectrum misbehave and make mistakes.
  • It is not wrong to enforce laws for the good of society regardless of a person’s race or the color of their skin.
  • It is wrong to hand out justice inconsistently based on race and skin color.
  • Because of past history with our justice system, many of our friends and neighbors who are not white will not trust an outcome by that system — in Ferguson or elsewhere — if it does not result in an indictment against the police officer. Their experience makes the system suspect.
  • If the system is corrupt, it needs to be changed. If people are corrupt, they need to be replaced.
  • This is a horrible situation.
  • We each — every one of us — need to find one piece of holy, common ground to start the conversation and the healing.

And that is where most of us will say, “I don’t know” how to find that one piece of holy ground.

Let me offer this.

Find one person who does not share your racial background. Sit with them and talk quietly about this. Listen. Don’t expect to solve all of the problems. Do expect to discover holy ground. Don’t make it your job to persuade the other person. Do make it your job to understand the other person. If your relationship permits, pray with the other person. If you don’t have a praying relationship, pray that you will.

If you can’t do that, please pray that others can have the conversation.

And while the blog post I read earlier tells us that we should be ashamed to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t have enough information,” I can’t be tagged with that shame as long as I am listening and searching for the answers. With understanding, we come to that place of knowing.

We should pray for hundreds of thousands of these conversations. Even if that quest for holy ground only saves one life . . . even if it only helps one individual make a better decision, it will be worth the effort. I know that it will do far more.

I can guarantee that the holy ground discovered will be exponentially larger than that small stretch of asphalt in Ferguson where tragedy occurred. Even if we don’t know — and may never know — the full story of that tragedy.

Who are you listening to today?

Bad Fashion Choices

Have you ever wondered what changes Michael Jackson made after he sang his #1 hit song, Man in the Mirror?

The song, written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett, shares the experience of looking around, seeing needs, and then making the commitment to bring change. The song speaks of hungry children, the homeless, and the heartbroken. It is a call to action.

Take a look at yourself and make the change
You gotta get it right, while you got the time
Cause when you close your heart
Then you close your mind.

I’m not trying to start a debate over Michael Jackson’s life or lifestyle. A little research reveals that he did, in fact, make some significant charitable contributions. Yet, our glimpse into his latter years showed an increasingly troubled man who surrounded himself with those who wanted to take from him. I wonder how differently things would have been had he chosen to spend time with those who truly needed his help.

The man in the mirror image is a fitting one. Occasionally I’ll look through family albums or videos and steal a glance of my past. Invariably I’ll ask myself, “Why in the world would I choose to dress that way?” or “Why didn’t anyone bother to tell me how bad that hairstyle was?”

I have to remind myself that I was there at the time. I was fully capable of seeing who I was, how I dressed, and how I parted my hair. (Yes, I once had sufficient hair to part. Now, it is merely departed.) But the point is that I failed to see.

Why is it so hard to see ourselves?

And when we do, why is is so difficult to make a change?

As you look around today and see things that need to be done and people who need you, take a look in the mirror. But don’t look away until you genuinely see yourself. For, when you see yourself, you are uniquely equipped to truly see others.