Posts Tagged ‘racism

29
Jan
19

You Belong

ice-cream-bikeThree doors down from the house I grew up in lived a family named the Thompsons.

There was Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Thompson (that was back in the time when kids didn’t know adults’ first names) and their three sons.

If you were one of the kids who got invited to hang out at the Thompson house, you knew you had really MADE IT.

You see, the Thompson family was in the ice cream business. They maintained a fleet of those big three-wheeled bicycles that carried a big freezer in the middle and a line of jingly, chimey bells on the handlebar (see photo). And if you DID get invited to hang out at the Thompsons, you knew it meant unfettered access to free Creamsicles, Fudgesicles, Bomb Pops, ice cream sandwiches, and all manner of frozen confections.

And yes, I am proud to say that I was a regular guest at Chez Thompson. That is, right up until the day when I committed the cardinal sin of actually ASKING them if I could have a Fudgesicle. You see, Thompson house protocol dictated that while ice cream might be offered, it was never REQUESTED.

It was a moment that provided me with one of my earliest memories of how it feels to BELONG… and then – in the twinkling of an eye – to NOT belong anymore.

And although it would be a stretch to credit this insight to my experience with the Thompsons, it amazes me to this day how much of my life has been a search to BELONG.

People much smarter than me have recognized the need to BELONG as a universal human longing.

We want to feel a sense of belonging in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in formal and informal groups of every kind.

But I don’t know… do you think it’s possible to overemphasize belonging? Can we concentrate so much effort on where we “fit in” that we start to make belonging an end in itself?

History is replete with examples of the damage that is done when we start putting a lot of energy into trying to figure out who belongs and who doesn’t.

Taking a quick inventory of my own belonging, I have discovered that I am part of an uncomfortable number of DOMINANCE groups. Here is what I mean by that: I am white… I am male… I am a Baby Boomer… I am American… I am middle class… I am Christian… I am college-educated… I am straight… I am married… I am a homeowner… I am able-bodied and of (mostly) sound mind… I am an oldest child.

I could go on, but you get the point. If there is a group that has been granted privilege and position in today’s world, I belong to it. And for most of those groups I just listed, I did absolutely nothing to qualify for entrance.

I just showed up.

Which is why I just want to take a moment to appreciate the courage of people who – for one reason or another – often find themselves on the outside looking in.

 

I have never personally experienced having doors slammed in my face because of my skin color or my gender or my religion or my nationality or my sexual preference or my physical ableness. I cannot imagine the ongoing pain of regularly hearing – directly or indirectly – “Sorry… you just don’t belong here.”

As a pastor, I can console you with the reassurance that every person matters equally in the eyes of God. I can show you the places in the Bible where God tells the Israelites to welcome the alien and the stranger, or where Jesus goes out of his way to include people that everyone else turns their backs on.

Because it’s all true.

But I can’t help wondering if that reassurance helps at all.

Dear God, please grant these your comfort. Help them know the warmth of your loving embrace. Fortify them for the days ahead and let them experience the wideness of your welcome.

And maybe, while you’re at it, break open the hearts of the privileged just a little wider.

AMEN.

04
Sep
18

Leashed Justice

Dog with a leashWhen it first happened, I felt kind of righteous and empowered.

A little later, I began to be unsure.

Later still I just felt bad. And more than a little ashamed of myself.

You see, in my community here in Overland Park, Kansas we have leash laws. This means that when you have your dog out on a walk, you are legally obliged to have him or her on a leash.

It’s not a good idea. It’s not a suggestion.

It’s a LAW.

And happily enough, most people comply with the leash law.

But now and then there are a few folks we meet on the trail who don’t.

When I meet them, I try and speculate on their reasons for ignoring the leash law. I wonder to myself:

  • “Maybe they are new to town and aren’t aware of the leash law.”
  • “Maybe they have extraordinarily well-trained dogs who stay right by their master’s side, or else who come immediately when they are called.”
  • “Maybe their last leash broke and they haven’t been able to afford to go get a new one yet.”

Normally the sight of an unleashed dog wouldn’t bother me. However, the last dog we had (dearly departed little Molly) was VERY aggressive toward other dogs when we were out for a walk. Molly would viciously growl and snap at them and tug on the leash as if to say, “Let me at ‘em! Let me at ‘em!”I worried that an unleashed dog might forget their careful obedience training and respond to her aggressiveness with similar aggression.

Because, you know, they are dogs… animals directly descended from wolves.

So there I was the other day, happily walking Rosie on the walking trail when what did I see but a lab/something or other mix walking up the trail toward us, unleashed. Trailing behind her was her master… holding a folded up leash in her hand.

I paused and had Rosie sit down next to me, warily regarding the other dog. It approached and began sniffing Rosie in a curious, “Hey, what are you all about anyway?” fashion.

As the owner approached I said, tersely, “Is that dog OK?” Meaning is it friendly.

She replied, “Oh yes… she’s fine.”

To which I responded, “You know there IS a leash law in this community.”

The woman seemed a little taken aback by my abruptness. She looked at me and said, “Yes… I know.”

Unsatisfied with her obvious lack of remorse, I pressed the attack. “Well, then maybe then you should try to OBEY IT!”

Bending down to clip the leash on her dog, she sighed tiredly, said, “Have a nice day,” and continued down the trail.

Like I said… my first feelings following that encounter were feelings of righteousness and empowerment. I mean, what the heck?! A law is a law, right? I’M following it… you should too!

But the further the event receded into the past, the worse I felt. Yes, of course, I stood on the side of legality in that situation. But what had I demonstrated to that person by the way I chose to handle the situation? Did I demonstrate kindness? Or compassion? Or anything even remotely Christ-like in the way I responded to her and her dog?

Being the pastoral type that I am, I immediately began flashing back to Paul’s words in Romans 7 and 8. I heard an updated version of his description of the life devoted to serving the LAW compared to the life devoted to serving the SPIRIT.

In those passages, I’m pretty sure Paul wasn’t talking about leash laws, but he might as well have been.

But then here is where I went from being mildly mopey about the whole thing to being ashamed and embarrassed; it was the point at which I asked myself, “OK, caped crusader… you seem to be more than willing to speak out loud and clear against the injustices of suburbanites ignoring leash laws. But tell me… are you just as willing to speak out against REAL social injustices? For example, injustices like systemic racism, or economic injustice, or sexism, or homophobia or hunger? Are you willing to risk consequences that might be more serious than a sullen scowl from a neighbor?”

I sincerely hope my answer to that question would be “YES.” And heck, maybe I am preparing myself to do exactly that.

But for now, I think I will pick a different path for our morning walk… making sure I ALWAYS have my dog on her leash.

 

Abundant blessings;

15
Aug
17

Certainty, Wisdom, and the Fugue

Three tinhornsMy wife and I had some fun over the weekend. We were part of a local musical revue that featured songs and dances from several well-known Broadway shows.

One of my favorite parts of the show was when I got to sing the Fugue for Three Tinhorns from “Guys and Dolls” with two other men.

Even if the name of the song doesn’t ring a bell, you have probably heard it before. It is the song that features an amateur horse race bettor singing, “I’ve got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere, and here’s a guy that says if the weather’s clear…” The other two guys join in, fugue-style – singing the virtues of THEIR picks in the upcoming race; horses named Valentine and Epitaph.

The concluding line of the song is when the three point to their tip sheets and sing in harmony, “I’ve got the horse… right… here!!”

It was fun and (I thought) went rather well.

Thinking back on that show and our song, I suddenly realized our frivolous moment onstage might have actually concealed a deeper message.

That message is about CERTAINTY and the ways we arrive at it.

In the song, each of the bettors believes they have a foolproof source of information. For the first guy, the race day weather is the key. The second bettor’s friend is the jockey’s brother so he feels secure with his “inside” information. The third guy relies strictly on the odds displayed in the tip sheet.

The point is, each bettor believes his horse is THE horse.

In fact, they are each certain of it.

Thinking about the song in those terms brought to mind a phrase I read recently in the book, A Failure of Nerve. This book, written by Rabbi, family therapist, and leadership consultant Edwin Friedman, includes insightful prescriptions for those who lead during turbulent times.

Friedman says, “An anxious system demands certainty.” Naturally, that anxious system looks to its leader(s) to provide them with the sought-after certainty.

More often than not, leaders are very willing to provide certainty to the anxious system. That certainty usually comes in the form of strong declarations of righteous, unshakable principles. It comes in the form of definitive lines drawn to help us understand who is on the “good side” and who is on the “bad side” of the issue. It comes in the form of vague, but bold-sounding statements of steps that will be taken, “… going forward.”

Sound familiar?

The problem, according to Friedman, is that certainty is almost always the antithesis of wisdom. When we allow anxiety to drive us toward sure and certain answers, we find that we must also silence the voices that challenge our certainty.

The tinhorns in Fugue sought certainty about an uncertain horseracing event in the future. But by definition, the future cannot be certain until it gets here. And when it gets here it is no longer the future!

Learning to be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity is absolutely necessary if we hope to achieve wisdom. According to Friedman, our comfort with ambiguity is, “… critical to keeping the human mind from voyaging into the delusion of omniscience.” (A Failure of Nerve, New York: Seabury, 1997).

As I see it, racism, intolerance, xenophobia, and all forms of hate have their roots in the desire for certainty AT ALL COSTS. We look around us and see a dynamic, uncertain, and changing world… and it seems threatening. The dynamism of that world leads some of us to rush out and erect walls of protection against a world that looks less and less like the one we grew up in. It also makes us hostile to the forces of change.

The good news is yes, there is a timeless truth. Yes, there is omniscience and ultimate wisdom. But it does not reside with you or me or anyone equipped only with this puny three pounds of gray matter we have inside our skulls. It resides only with the One who created us and placed us here in love.

Psalm 111:10 reminds us that: “Fear [meaning awe, or respect] of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom.” Proverbs 3:5 tells us, “Trust in the Lord… do not rely on your own insight,” and a little later that, “… wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.” (Proverbs 8:11).

I believe God calls us to be wise rather than certain. I further believe that the first step on the path to wisdom is HUMILITY… in other words, knowing that we do not know.

May your path lead you to wisdom today.




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