Posts Tagged ‘violence

02
Sep
20

Time for a jolt?

As a child of the 60s, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about protests. 

Granted, most of my participation in the anti-war or civil rights protests of that era consisted of watching them on TV from the safety of my parent’s living room. 

Then again, there was that one time when five or six of my friends and I “took over” the roof of the administration building on our college campus for a few hours in order to protest the Vietnam War. 

The quotation marks around the words “took over” in that last sentence stem from the fact that no one really seemed to much mind us being up on the roof of the admin building. They studiously ignored our chanting and passionate singing of “We Shall Overcome.” We maintained that righteous rooftop vigil right up until it was time to head home and finish the term papers that were due the next day. 

While it is true that I was personally a bit of a protest weenie, I see real value in taking a grievance to the streets. I believe that the Vietnam War might have dragged on for years longer had it not been for those anti-war peaceniks. The struggle for civil rights – though far from resolved even today – might not have gained even token footholds without the people who were willing to gather publicly and express their collective outrage at America’s Jim Crow status quo.

As I think about protestors, I also think about the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire… the young man in Beijing (and his friends) who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square… and of Nelson Mandela sitting alone in a South African jail cell for 27 years.

At the time most of these people were labeled extremists… kooks… dangerous radicals. So-called reasonable people denounced their tactics as wholly unnecessary. They urged calm, cogent conversation as the preferred way to solve society’s problems. 

But as history has demonstrated again and again, calm, cogent conversation doesn’t always move the needle. Sometimes, it takes an abrupt JOLT!

As it turns out, no one understood the strategic use of the abrupt JOLT quite as well as Jesus of Nazareth. He employed it regularly in the rhetorical technique known as “prophetic hyperbole.” A great example shows up in Mark’s gospel where we read these jolting words: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.” (Mark 9:43-45, NRSV). 

Does he really mean people should cut off their own hands or feet? 

Or when he told the rich young man that salvation meant selling everything he owned, giving the money to the poor and following him, did he mean that literally?

My guess would be that Jesus didn’t really intend for his words in Mark to be taken as a literal command. In the other one, maybe he did. But maybe not. 

You see, Jesus was a revolutionary. He came to turn the status quo of the world upside down. He did not come for calm, reasoned discussions. He came to instigate radical, top-to-bottom life change. 

In fact, when this man – sometimes called the Prince of Peace – talked about his earthly mission in Luke’s gospel he said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51, NRSV). 

Jesus sought to WAKE PEOPLE UP! To shake them from their complacency! To stress the urgency of the moment. 

Please understand… I am not saying that the people taking violently to the streets today are shining examples of Christ-like behavior. I have no insight into their hearts or minds. Many, I feel certain, are interested only in mayhem and destruction. 

What I AM saying is that sometimes the world finds itself in a place where a good, old-fashioned JOLT of prophetic hyperbole is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

What do you think… is this that kind of time? 

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…

29
May
20

Fear of Being Feared

I cannot express it more clearly or powerfully than these words of Deltha Katherine Harbin. So I will just step aside and let her speak for herself and her husband Phillip.

My thanks to Lindsey Choguaj for the original post.

Phillip Harbin picMy husband is 31 years old. My husband can proofread a paper to perfection! He makes the best pork chops and neckbones. My husband was raised in an extremely wholesome home where they were not even allowed to watch Harry Potter. My husband has never tried any drugs, not even weed. He has never stolen from anyone, not even a corner store. My husband treats me and our sons like royalty. He serves at our local church faithfully and helps anyone he can.

None of this stopped my husband from becoming a suspect in Semmes. My husband wanted to do me a favor one night when he got home late from work. He got my keys and drove around the corner to fill my tank at the gas station. While there, an older white woman was at a pump across from him and he noticed she appeared very nervous and stared at him. He said she got in her vehicle and got on her phone and pulled off to an area near the gas station. Within minutes police cars pulled in and surrounded him. He was questioned about why he was out. He was questioned about his activity earlier in the day. He was told he fit a description. They asked who’s car he was driving. He was told he could not leave. He was told the description was simply a black man. Not a 5 ft 7 inch black man of around 220 lbs who loves WWE, macaroni and cheese, and the Temptations. Just black.

The older woman was now watching and the cops revealed she had called in his suspicious behavior of pumping gas. And now he was a suspect because he fit the description of being black. He was humiliated. He was emasculated. He was angry. He was helpless. He was on his way to being cuffed when a white man stepped in. An older white man told the officers they were wrong and that my husband had come from a different direction than the robbery they had mentioned. The officers released my husband after this. Not because my husband told them multiple times he was innocent. Not because there were two car seats in the back of my car. My husband’s voice meant nothing. The only voice that penetrated those badges was a white one.

My hard working, kind hearted, silly husband was guilty because of his skin and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. The sight of him caused a woman to call the police. He said he wanted to scream. He wanted to fight. He wanted yell at the top of his lungs that he was a man and he mattered. If he had, he would be deemed aggressive. He would be resisting so he said he kept telling himself he had to make it home to me and the boys. He knew these men could kill him and justify it.

He came home a changed man. I am a changed woman. We cried. We prayed and we have healed since this took place but it changed us. Issues that once felt somewhat distant became our reality. So, when you dismiss the plight of black men in America you diminish the ever present fear within our community. You are willfully ignorant. If you think people make this up or are only apprehended by the police when they deserve it… you are part of the problem.

Open your eyes but more importantly open your hearts to the reality of being black in America. We don’t get the luxury of ignoring it because we live it. This picture of my precious family looks threatening to some people. My boys are cuddly and cute until they aren’t anymore and then they become a threat too. My heart aches for our country and I feel so helpless. Lord, please heal the hearts and minds our land! 

05
Aug
19

At moments like this…

Words fail me

 

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

  • Romans 8:26, NRSV
19
May
19

GOT GoT? Nope

Iron ThroneWinter is coming… but I won’t be there to see it.

Tonight – as you might have heard – will be the final installment of the mega-blockbuster TV show Game of Thrones.

This fantasy-based program features mythical ancient kingdoms, zombies, dragons, violent family rivalries, and some of the most jaw-dropping scenery imaginable. It has been a huge ratings bonanza for HBO.

Last week’s penultimate episode drew an estimated audience of 18 million.

Almost as ubiquitous as social media posts of fans of the show have been the declarations of languor from the non-GoT folk.

For some it seems to be a badge of honor to be able to say, “I’ve never seen a single episode,” or, “Game of WHAT?” or, “Giant YAWN!”

Personally, I don’t watch the show. But I have seen it. In fact, my wife and I watched the entire first season.

Our kids finally goaded us into it, arguing, “The writing and the characters are INCREDIBLE!” And they were right on both counts. I have never really been a fan of the fantasy genre, but I was VERY impressed with some of the early episodes I saw. The amazing music and scenery were extra-added bonuses.

But then there was the VIOLENCE!

Lots of violence. Graphic violence. Gruesome-leaving-nothing-to-your-imagination violence.

So after one season, we ditched it… and haven’t looked back.

It does make me wonder though: what is it about the high tolerance some people (actually, based on the Game of Thrones audiences, I should say, “…a WHOLE LOT of folks”) have for violence?

Honestly, I don’t get it. And whereas sometimes I will plead “old age” and “being out of step” for some of my attitudes about cultural trends, I am unapologetic about this one.

Watching some people hurting other people in horrible ways leaves me absolutely cold. Call me an old coot, but you can keep that crap to yourself.

And it seems the national appetite for violence of all types is only INCREASING. We can’t seem to get enough of the controlled mayhem of the National Football League. The sport that is growing the fastest in TV viewership today is Mixed Martial Arts… or “Human Cockfighting” as I also like to call it.

I know that some will say that televised violence is a kind of catharsis… they argue that viewing violence second-hand actually keeps people from committing it themselves.

Sorry… not buying it.

Of course, I can’t prove this at all, but I think it is not coincidental that more of us are lashing out violently against our neighbors (in shootings, stabbings, and other random attacks) as our violent forms of entertainment continue to ratchet upward.

It’s like they say in the world of computer programming: Garbage in… garbage out.

Tonight I’m not entirely sure what will be on the tube at the Brown house: although it will probably be last night’s episode of Saturday Night Live we recorded on the DVR.

All I know is that it won’t be anything featuring zombies, dragons, massive stone walls or bloodshed.

 

Unless, of course, John Belushi returns to SNL for an episode of “Samurai Hotel Desk Clerk.”

30
Oct
18

I just can’t.

weeping-1Four.

That is the number of times I have sat in front of my laptop today, fingers poised, intending to write.

I had a few other ideas percolating for my next blog post. But in light of the horrible shootings in Pittsburgh on Saturday, they all seemed odd and irrelevant.

“Write about the shootings,” said my brain.

“Good idea,” replied the fingers. “Give us the words and we will get right on that.”

And so four times I have given this blank screen my best, most intense and threatening stare.

Four times I’ve begun something.

Four times I’ve come up with nothing but drivel.

And so I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I do not possess any words or wisdom necessary to help myself (or anyone else, for that matter) deal constructively with those horrific events.

So today I am just going to grieve.

Today I am just going to look down at the pieces of my broken heart lying here in my hands and weep.

Maybe later I will have a clue about why hatred continues to increase in this country and boil over in senseless acts like this.

Maybe later I will have something like an insight into how we can see and embrace our common humanity, looking beyond superficial differences like race or religion or sexuality or gender or physical ableness.

But today is not that day.

Today is a day just for reaching out to my Jewish brothers and sisters and telling them I consider them beloved, valuable members of my community.

Today is a day to tell them I mourn with them in their time of loss and sorrow.

Today is just a day to weep.

 

06
Nov
17

Stunned and speechless

man-crying-facebook“Stunned and speechless” seems to be my default state every time I turn on the news these days.

Just when I think it can’t get worse, somehow it does.

My capacity for outrage is sorely tested every time one person does violence to another… for whatever deranged reason.

I had been struggling to process the avalanche of revelations of sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment and news media recently when suddenly, out of the blue, a young man walked into a small-town church and shot 46 people, killing 26 of them.

“Stunned and speechless” yet again.

As I mulled over all of these “gut punch” events, I began to see a tragic connection between them. Whether the perpetrator is sexually exploiting people or killing them with a gun, each heinous act seems to grow from the same seed: the utter devaluation of the lives of others.

I have no idea what it will take to make it happen, but until we come to see every human life as God sees them: as precious, unique, beloved, and infinitely wonderful, we will probably continue to be stunned and speechless on a regular basis.

“As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.”

  • Psalm 103:13-14, NRSV
18
Jul
16

THE PURSUIT OF SAFETY

BostonMolassesDisasterLet’s talk about safety for a minute…

Are you safe? Why? Why not?

If you do NOT feel safe right now, what would it take to make you feel safe?

What are the things that cause your sense of safety to erode?

On a list of all of the values you hold, how high on that list is the value of SAFETY?

Last question (for now): Where does safety come from? In other words, what makes us safe?

On a very basic level I am drawn to the idea of safety. Great feelings of warmth and affection wash over me when I remember hearing my mother or father say something like, “It’s OK… you’re safe now.” Or, “Safe and sound.”

SAFETY feels like a warm, impenetrable cocoon that follows me and covers me wherever I go.

I think it is also accurate to say that because of my race and social standing I have come to view a sense of safety as an entitlement… something the world owes me. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I walked or drove anywhere that caused me to actually fear for my physical safety. And that includes walking into the University of Texas stadium for a football game wearing my full MIZZOU regalia.

As important as we would all probably agree that safety is, do you think we are ever guilty of turning SAFETY into an idol… i.e., something elevated to the place of ultimate importance in our lives? And if we agreed that it is indeed possible to worship the idol of safety, I also have to wonder how this posture shapes us and the way we “do community” with one another?

Because frankly sometimes it is just not very safe at all to relate to another person. For starters, they might smell bad. They might have odd habits. They might not be polite. They might hold different truths than you do. They might challenge your faith and ideals. They might be mentally unstable.

Taking the chance of relating to a person you don’t already know could endanger the safety of your body, your mind, and your worldview all at once.

Let’s face it: building bridges is dangerous. Especially if you don’t exactly know what is on the other side of the bridge.

Building walls is safe.

Worshiping safety would probably also mean never trying out an idea that had an uncertain chance of success. Because if you tried out your idea and it failed, you could lose money… prestige… credibility… and maybe even friends.

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask anyone who has ever tried to take a new, different, strange, or offbeat idea and make it fly. They will tell you they have lost one or all of those in the process.

In all seriousness, you know what is REALLY dangerous? The pursuit of safety as our ultimate community value… that’s what.

Elevating safety to ultimate importance means taking no risks… venturing into no new territories… initiating no new relationships. It means withdrawing. It means committing yourself to looking suspiciously upon anyone or anything that approaches you. It means putting all of your energy into defending THE WAY THINGS ARE and fighting off the encroachment of THE WAY THINGS MIGHT BE.

Because let’s face it: there is nothing any of us can do to absolutely ensure our personal safety. You might have been unlucky enough, for example, to have been walking down a North End Boston city street in 1919 at the exact moment of the Great Boston Molasses Flood. Caused by the bursting of a large molasses storage tank, the Great Flood killed 21 people and injured another 150. (Source: Wikipedia. That is the picture at the top of this blog post). It is safe to say that none of the victims imagined “death by molasses” for themselves, that day or any day.

Worshiping safety also means you would have to turn in your “Person of Faith” card. This is because we rely on our own devices and not God to provide our security. We imagine that a higher wall, a bigger gun, a deadlier bomb, a more powerful X-Ray, or a better set of laws will give us the safety we seek. Proverbs 29:25 helpfully reminds us, “The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.” (Proverbs 29:25, NRSV).

The truth is: SAFETY comes from God and God alone.

In his life and preaching SAFETY seemed to exist – if it existed at all – at the very bottom of Jesus’ priority list. Time and time again we see him endangering his personal safety by violating Sabbath laws, eating with the wrong people, pronouncing forgiveness to sinners (“Who is this that thinks he can forgive?”), touching lepers, walking on water, and defying political and religious authority.

And as we watch Jesus work, we know his courage doesn’t come from the heart of a daredevil; it comes from an unshakable faith in the God who created him and sent him into the world on his mission of mercy. Jesus summed up his own views on security pretty well when he said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33, NRSV).

Safety and security are important. But pursuing these as the ultimate value of life is not only unfaithful to God’s word… it is downright dangerous to the world. As Jesus said to his disciples in his farewell message in John: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

AMEN.




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