Posts Tagged ‘George Floyd

12
Jun
20

I Can’t Know

Grieving peopleBy my not-totally-rigorous estimate, I have officiated at close to 100 funerals during my career as a pastor. This total was boosted significantly by one memorable week in 2014 when there were three.

Every one of these formal church services was preceded by many hours sitting with and consoling grieving family members. In some of those situations, I was also privileged to spend time with the person as they slowly died.

I was taught this in seminary, but also learned by direct experience that there are things you say and things you DON’T say to people when someone close to them dies. And right at the very top of that “DON’T” list is the phrase, “I know exactly what you are going through.

Because you don’t.

Because you can’t.

Even if your father died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 79 after undergoing numerous surgeries and chemo therapies and you are talking to the son of a person whose father just died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 79 after undergoing numerous surgeries and chemo therapies, you still don’t KNOW what they are going through.

One journey of pain is utterly unlike any other journey of pain. Every journey of pain is unique and unrepeatable.

And yet, even though you stand entirely outside that person’s experience, there is still a “compassionate ally” role for you to fulfill in that journey.

First, you need to discover the role. Then you need to fulfill it.

In the wake of the horrific lynching (let’s call it what it was) of the black man named George Floyd by a group of white Minneapolis, MN police officers, a lot of pain has been brought to the surface. In most cases what we are seeing is a pain that had been bottled up for centuries that is finally exploding.

This crime provided a moment that has led to some long-overdue, national soul-searching.

In an eerie parallel of the scenes surrounding the death of a loved one, some folks are responding to the pain by releasing their own pent-up pain. Some are responding by trying to deny, dismiss, or rationalize the expressions of pain they’re witnessing. Still others are struggling to find a way to respond… knowing that this particular pain is not part of their lived experience, yet also aware that they dare not turn their backs on it.

Number me as a member of that last group.

I want to come alongside those who are now in pain. I want to minister to them. I want to do something more redemptive and more effective than clucking my tongue and saying, “Ain’t it a shame.” I want to figure out a way to somehow engage in the struggle without making the mistake of saying, “I know exactly how you feel.”

Because I don’t.

Because I can’t.

Because I’m white.

In his letter to the church folk in Galatia, Paul told them they were called to, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, NRSV).

And as much a fan as I am of most of his work, I have to confess I am having a hard time getting with Paul on this one. The burden of systemic racism and oppression is not one I will ever be equipped to carry.

And yet somehow, despite my shortcomings, I know there has to be a “compassionate ally” role for me to play in this struggle.

Continuing to shine a light on it might be one option. Refusing to allow our national angst to be swallowed up by the next news cycle might help keep the dialogue going and the solutions flowing.

Educating myself about the depth and nature and duration of the pain might be another.

Standing up visibly with those who are hurting the most might be another ally role I can play.

Supporting the cause financially is certainly another.

What else?

 

I’d love to know what you think…

08
Jun
20

A Cracked Shell

Cracked egg shellSomething seems to be leaking… and I can’t help but believe that’s a good thing.

In fact, I hope you are starting to leak a little, too.

When you and I first come into the world as babies, we have a soft spot on top of our heads. This spot is also known by its formal name, fontanelle, from a French word meaning “small fountain.”

The fontanelle is only one of many things that makes babies weak and vulnerable. They can’t walk. They can’t talk. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t clean themselves. Every sight amazes them, every sound startles them, every nerve ending in a baby’s body seems to be exquisitely on edge.

Babies lack any kind of filter to help them stem the onslaught of sensation.

They are utterly defenseless and exposed.

But then, time passes. Then they (we) get older. Then they (we) grow filters. Then they (we) develop coping mechanisms. Then, slowly and steadily, we start to grow exoskeletons that shield us from the white-hot intensity of the world around us.

As we age, we become less soft… less vulnerable… harder.

And sometimes those exoskeletons fit so well and feel so comfy-cozy that we curl up inside them. We close our eyes and go to sleep in our shells while outside us the storms swirl and rage.

And sometimes we forget to wake up… until it is too late.

I can’t help but notice… something has been happening to my shell over the past couple of weeks.

My shell has been cracked. Hammer blows named Breonna Taylor and Amahd Arbery and George Floyd, and Just Mercy, and #blacklivesmatter, and “Am I Next?”, and systemic racism, and Unequal Justice have been raining down on it.

My shell is cracking, and the world is leaking in on me… startling me and arousing me from my nap.

It feels somehow cold and unsafe…

… and yet also somehow exactly right.

I discover that I am slowly awakening. For one thing, I am awakening to the hard, cold implications of what it means to stand on the side of Jesus.

It is becoming abundantly clear to me that if I stand up and tell the world I am on the side of Jesus; I am, in effect, abandoning my shell altogether.

If I dare to tell the world that I stand on the side of Jesus, I understand that I am obliged to join him in saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Come to me, all you who are systematically denied justice. Come to me, all you who have seen hope snuffed out like a candle wick. Come to me all you that are hungry, and tired, and poor, and addicted. Come to me, all of you, and I will give you the rest you so richly deserve and which you have been so steadfastly denied.” (Matthew 11:28, with a few editorial additions).

In some ways, my shattered-open shell feels a little like a death.

In other ways, it feels like a rebirth… like becoming as helpless as a baby all over again.

May we each today be blessed with leaking margins and an uneasy soul. May we each be aroused and unsettled and hear the call of our brothers and sisters in pain. May we stand defiantly on the side of Jesus and choose to love those that he loved.

 

Abundant blessings;

06
Jun
20

Agents of Change

Fists upIt is no startling revelation to say that we are in a time my friend Max would have referred to as, “… a yeasty moment.”

Something is bubbling. Strong, unseen forces are at work, above and below the surface. Change is afoot everywhere you look. I walk apprehensively as the ground seems to buckle and surge with every step I take.

THE GIVEN: Life on this planet will not be the same on the other side of whatever-this-is as it was before. Hard truths are being voiced. Ancient wounds are being uncovered. Old, solid, accepted solutions are being exposed for what they really are: defense mechanisms for an oppressive status quo.

There will be no “the way it used to be” to go back to. It was lost in the fire.

All of which makes me ask: how does authentic change happen in the world? And when I say CHANGE, I mean lasting, elemental, paradigm-shifting change. BC/AD-level stuff.

Sometimes change is violent… sudden and unavoidable. Mount St. Helens blows up and redefines an entire part of the map.

Other change – changes in the way we treat deadly diseases, for example –happens only through a creeping, glacially slow evolutionary process.

Changes in social structures and the laws that support them seem to fall somewhere between those two extremes.

Describing the process of change is easy: first comes the recognition of the need for change. That recognition grows and spreads until some empowered person (or group of people) takes the necessary and effective steps and institutes the change.

Lastly, the change leaders dig in and prepare to defend that change against the inevitable assaults from those who oppose it.

As I said, describing the process of change is easy. Carrying it out is anything but.

Thinking back, I can recall one change in my own life I made with relative speed and ease. After watching this video of a TED Talk, (Click here), I immediately decided to change the way I tied my shoes.

Just about every other change in my life has been preceded by much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth… even when I agreed the change was needed.

Right now, we are at the “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth” phase of the change in our way of being a nation. The killing of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers last week has ignited a tinderbox of rage, sweeping up even those most committed to staying on the sidelines. The brazen injustice of that act combined with the frustration of the coronavirus lockdown, the rampant loss of economic security, and an already bitterly divided electorate are all helping feed the flames engulfing our cities today.

Some of us want immediate, wholesale, revolutionary change. We spray-paint obscenities on public buildings, set dumpsters ablaze, lock arms and chant in the streets. We ignore curfew orders, police loudspeakers, and clouds of teargas, daring authorities to arrest us.

Some of us want to sit calmly at a bargaining table and rationally work out the size and shape of the change. We want to be social engineers, carefully drawing our blueprints. We disapprove of the tactics used by our boisterous sisters and brothers and wish they would stop breaking things and alienating people.

What neither of us quite seems to realize is that BOTH of these voices are needed to affect change. I have no doubt that were it not for the loud, obnoxious voices of the sit-ins, peace marches, and draft card burnings, this country might still be mired in the swamps of Viet Nam. Without the rude PETA people throwing buckets of red paint at people wearing fur coats, there might never have been any meaningful animal-welfare laws passed.

The loud voices call the moderates “sellouts.” The calmer voices call the loud ones, “radicals” and “anarchists.”

I pray that each extreme in this debate might see the vital role played by the other and that real, lasting, just change will arise from this troubling moment of national anguish.

Of course, the only real, lasting, soul-deep change in the world AND its people is the change of comes from faith in Christ. As Paul reminds us, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, NRSV)

Praise God for change. Praise God for justice. Praise God for reconciliation.

Abundant blessings;

02
Jun
20

The Magic Bullet

Wheat germEarlier today, I was busy in the kitchen, whipping up a new batch of my famous homemade granola. Before you get too excited about my domestic skills, it is literally one of four things I know how to make… and then only by carefully following directions.

As I carefully measured out the ¾ cup of Kretschmer’s Wheat Germ, I suddenly flashed back to my childhood. I remembered when my father proudly brought home our first vacuum-sealed jar of Kretschmer’s Wheat Germ. He announced that it was an amazing superfood, packed with all manner of vitamins and nutrients and – no doubt – secret superpowers, too.

Dad told us that the way to eat it was to just sprinkle it on our breakfast cereal, ice cream, waffles, or anything else we might eat. And then, as I imagined it, we would just stand back and let the magic happen.

 

I am sure I was daydreaming about the incredible biceps I would soon sprout and the amazing strength and endurance I would be blessed with in a day or two.

Three weeks and MANY sprinkles of wheat germ later, nothing.

Bupkis.

Nada.

I was sorely disappointed with wheat germ and – to be honest – a little dismayed with my dad for promoting such a worthless product. I was still too young to realize there were little things like sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet that were all critical elements in my quest to be a 10-year-old he-man.

I wish I could say that this was the last time in my life that I have caught myself believing there must be some kind of quick fix, magic bullet solution to life’s challenges.

Take this present moment, for example; I want a COVID-19 vaccine tomorrow.

I want an effective economic fix right NOW.

And maybe more than anything else, I want a Harry Potter-style wand to wave at the pernicious evil of systemic racism to make it vanish completely FOREVER.

As a privileged white male, I have to confess that I have been walking around with my head in the clouds. Until this nightmarish year began unleashing its fury on us, I had convinced myself that, in the area of racial justice, things in this country were vastly improved compared to the world of my 10-year-old, wheat-germ-eating self.

“Guess again, paleface,” scream today’s headlines.

It is unthinkable that we still live in a place where a person cannot jog, go to school, shop in a clothing store, play on a playground, walk in a neighborhood, or wear a particular kind of clothing without a legitimate fear of being killed because of the color of their skin.

It is horrifying to think that the scales of justice are STILL being tipped unequally by presence of something as benign as melanin.

This week, I have had my nose rubbed in a reality that my African American brothers and sisters face 24 hours of every day of their lives. The difference is that I can turn away from it and think about something else any time I choose to.

They can’t.

This whole situation just really sucks, and I want it to go away… NOW! SHAZAM!

But see, as long as I keep seeing the problem as existing somewhere OUT THERE, it’s not going to go away. Not now. Not ever. It is exactly like the quote (mistakenly) attributed to Benjamin Franklin says; “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

I am complicit. I am part of the problem. As long as I relish my white privilege and passively cluck my tongue at the “bad people” out there, I help perpetuate the nightmare.

I cry out with King David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NRSV).

And then I pray, “Show me, Lord. Show me how you are calling me to stand up and act on your behalf in the pursuit of justice.”

 

But today, I weep.




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