Monday, February 1, 2016

An Empty Box

Some terrible things happened last week. A sweet family found out their little girl had passed away on the day they were going to give birth. A first grader at Aspen’s school passed away unexpectedly after a postsurgical complication. A favorite teacher of mine from high school ended her battle with brain cancer… and people who’ve faced all these losses are left in the wake. 

It’s a lot. People are always dying. The first really shocking and unexpected death in my life was actually my 16-year-old cousin. Twelve years ago in January, she suddenly died of a brain aneurysm. It was horrible. I remember moments and faces and tears, and it makes me sick to my stomach to think about how my aunt, uncle, and cousin felt (and still feel). I was a new teacher at the time, and I remember the day I went back to work, just bursting into tears in front of my students. I ended up telling them everything that happened, and they were so sweet and kind to me. (See? Middle schoolers aren’t completely without compassion.) 

Then, seven years ago, I found out that my own baby had no heartbeat. I’d have to deliver his body, but he was gone. It was shocking and terrible and beautiful too, because God was in it, and if you’re reading this, you probably know that whole story anyway. 

At that time, there was a woman who had been through this type of loss as well, and she did something beautiful and kind for me. She invited me to her home and we ate lunch together. Then, she opened up a box of things that people had given her when she’d lost her little one. She told me that she decided to keep these trinkets and gifts for a season, and then to pass them on when she encountered someone who faced the same loss. It was a mixed tape. She added her son’s name and the date of his death, and she told me to add my baby’s name and his date of death and pass it on. I did. I also carried on this tradition of hers. It is beautiful and unifying for mothers. I was given all sorts of little things like Precious Moments figurines or memory stones, pictures drawn by children or little handwritten notes. In the past seven years, I’ve almost emptied my box. This week I pulled it out again before I was going to a funeral for little Violet. I used to be unable to close the box. Now, it’s almost empty. When I opened it, I was hit with a fresh wave of grief. It’s a beautiful and wonderful tradition that has connected me to other mothers, but all I could think was that each of the things I’ve given away over the past seven years represents another life lost, another mother with empty arms. Once you go through something like this, you are always being connected with others who face it. In the mental Rolodex of all your friends and family, you are listed as “Grief Expert.” She’s been there, done that. She’ll know what to say. I’d rather be there than not. I know how important it was to me to know a single person who’d faced something similar and survived. I never want another mom to walk through this alone. I also feel like it helps me not to waste my pain and remember that others are fighting hard battles all the time. It helps me feel like my baby’s life mattered, and like it still matters, even though I will never see him grow up or know who he would become. 

But it was so hard to see an almost-empty box. It’s not about the trinkets at all. I will continue this tradition with things that I pick up in the future. I’ll just buy a little something and add my baby’s name. It’s fine, and I’m happy to do that. It’s just that so many little lives have been lost, and I don’t understand it. In the initial wake of my loss, God’s presence was palpable. God did some amazing things and gave me these crazy dreams and promised me a little girl who just turned six last month. 

In the past seven years though, I’ve learned that He doesn’t always do that. So many times I’ve looked into the tear-filled eyes of a grieving mom with empty arms and prayed, “God, just give her a dream. You did that for me. It’s such a little thing for you.” To my knowledge, He’s never done it . I don’t understand. I don’t know why our babies are gone, and I don’t know why He wouldn’t immediately give these grieving moms that little gift. Why did He give it to me? Why not them? 

In the past seven years, I’ve also seen lots of babies and children healed. I’ve seen their bodies made whole again here on earth, and the prayers of people answered. I’m so, so happy these families haven’t had to walk through the terrible darkness of this loss, but I’ve thought, “Why not me? Why did He do that for them?” I often feel like the world is divided into two camps – Miracle Club and Death Club. Some people’s babies get miraculously healed, and some people get dead babies. I have genuinely no idea how that’s all sorted out, but I’ve seen lots of explanations over the years – answered prayers, great faith, righteousness… and I don’t know. Maybe it’s all of that or none of that, or maybe God is just way too complicated and big for us to comprehend. I’ve felt the sting of some of these explanations, and I’ve let the sting go. I’ll feel it again I’m sure, and I’ll let it go again. 

The long grief is so much harder than the initial grief. Initially, God’s presence is evident, and everyone is surrounding you. As time goes on, your circle shrinks. If you’ve faced loss at a relatively young age, you may even get to go through a season of feeling like some sort of pariah. No one knows what to say to you or how to relate, so they just sort of ignore you. It hurts, but not nearly as bad as your loss, so it doesn’t really matter. Things are in a different perspective.  You find your people, and they roll around in the depths with you. 

The people who don’t know how to go to the depths without “answers” or compulsively trying to fix you or make God “look good” (He doesn’t need this if you really believe He is good.) relate to you like Joy does in “Inside Out.” Quincy had this epiphany just yesterday, and I thought it was so good that I wanted to share. We have so many “Joy’s” in the church, frantically running around trying to put a positive spin on things to make us feel better, but sometimes we genuinely need a little “Sadness.” We need friends who can sit with us without any answers. The truth is, we just don’t know. 

Over the past seven years, every new death has transported me back in time, brought a fresh wave of grief and sadness and questions, and reminded me how very little I understand.  

I look at my own life and experience, and I feel 100% confident that God has called me into this ministry to grieving mothers… and then I think, “Geez God, couldn’t you have, like, made me a singer or something?”  This is definitely not the first job to fill up on the signup sheet! But it is a job that really, really matters. Then I’m tempted to think that this means my own loss has “worked out.” I can’t actually think that because that phrase makes me bonkers. What does that even mean? Would I ever say to a Holocaust survivor who brought comfort to others that I was glad it had “worked out” for them? Just no. “Working out” is for the gym, not a result that applies to one’s life after loss. Survival is applicable. Choosing to open my heart and share my story and walk alongside new grievers is a good choice, I think, but it is just never over. These waves will always come. They mellow out over time, but I am forever changed. It hasn’t worked out. It has continued. I think it always will. 

And when the “Joy’s” with all the good answers suddenly and unexpectedly fall into a dark place where answers are hollow, I’m the first person they’ll pull up in the mental Rolodex. Call “Sadness” who has no answers. She can sit with you, and you won’t be alone. I’ll be there, and I won’t answer your questions. I’ll trust God enough to let you wrestle with Him. He’s been gentle with me in my wrestling, and I needed it. I understand that you need it, too. I’ll bring my empty box.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lament, Struggle, and Perspective

First, let me say that I’m writing this as a Christian to other Christians. That’s not to say that none of it applies if you don’t hold that belief system. Take the good parts that are helpful to you. Ignore whatever doesn’t apply. 

We live in a culture and society that is pretty averse to pain and lament. We’re not great at dealing with grief. We do everything we can to avoid it. We’re also not great and handling other people’s pain. We just want everyone to be okay. We’d like to rush along through the hard parts and make it all better. The thing is, this response usually just makes it worse. There is something about pain that demands to be felt. It is part of our human experience, our spiritual experience, and I think it is actually valuable. 

In the Bible, there is an entire book called Lamentations. It’s pretty depressing (though not totally without hope)… but still, I’ve never heard a pastor get up on a Sunday morning and devote an hour to lament. But why is it in the Bible? 

Why is there story after story after story of Biblical heroes of the faith in their proverbial sackcloth and ashes, ripping their clothes, and railing at God? 

Most of the time, these parts of their stories are glossed over in sermons. We look condescendingly on them like, “Well, that’s the part where they screwed up.” I think this is a completely wrong point of view. I think those parts of the stories are included for our benefit. I think we’re meant to look at them and say, “Yeah. I get that. I’ve been there.” We’re supposed to sympathize and see that we’re all flawed and prone to questioning and doubt. We’re supposed to take comfort in the fact that God uses messed up people and quit hiding our struggles.

My friend, Lisa, has been so incredibly brave about sharing the truth of her experience in the wake of losing her son, Eli. A lot of what she has written are things that I have felt as well, but never dared to say out loud, certainly not outside the confines of Grief Club. She’s doing a beautiful thing in showing us the whole truth, though. She’s allowing us to see this loss in the dark moments and in the light. Some of it is difficult for us to read. We want to fix her. We want her to be okay. We can’t. We shouldn’t rush her along. We should recognize and embrace that this pain is part of her journey, allow her to feel it, and be with her in it. We shouldn’t negate her experience with words or platitudes.

One of my favorite Old Testament examples of this is about a guy named Elijah. He was a prophet and was part of some pretty serious miracles. Then some stuff went down, and Elijah was afraid. So he ran for his life and ended up suicidal in the woods.  He’s like, “God, just kill me now!” What? I mean, this really makes very little sense. He has literally had mountaintop experiences with God. How on earth does he get to the point of despairing of his own life? I think it’s because he’s human. I also think God’s response is kind of cool. He doesn’t give him a Hallmark card. He sends an angel who does two things. First, the angel touches Elijah. Then the angel says “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” He does not say “don’t worry, you can do this! God’s got your back.” It’s quite the opposite. He literally says “You CAN’T do this. Eat.” When we are struggling, sometimes those are the kinds of friends we really need. When others are struggling, sometimes those are the kinds of friends we need to be. We need to see someone in their pain and do two things. First, touch them. Hug them. Hold them. Hold their hand, or whatever. Second, acknowledge their pain without diminishing it and maybe just give them something to eat. Here’s some water. Here’s a granola bar. Here’s an apple. When was the last time you ate? It’s practical and simple. It communicates presence and care. 

Then there’s Job. Job really went through some serious stuff. He lost it all… and basically every single one of his friends completely sucked at helping him. You know what did help him? When he finally got the chance to take his case straight to God and say, “What is up with this?!” In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis said, “Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half of the questions we ask – half of our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that.” I tend to agree. I think God knew that there was no answer to Job’s questions that Job would be able to grasp. Instead, God reminded Job that He’s still in control. Sometimes we just need that encounter with God Himself, to remind us that He’s still in control… but we have to recognize those encounters come on God’s terms. God didn’t sit down with Job and try to connect a bunch of dots to make it all make sense. We shouldn’t do that with people who are struggling either. We should also be very careful about how we remind them that God is still in control. We should do it with love and gentleness. We should remember that we don’t get to come before them like God came before Job to put them in their place. We aren’t God. 

Another great lamenter and struggler was King David. David was the same kid who knocked out Goliath with a rock. He was the same shepherd boy who became a king. He communed with God and was chosen by God, but still, he said things like “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” We tend to gloss over the anguish of these verses right to the hopeful ending because we are not good at addressing pain, but David was a guy who God called “a man after His own heart.” David was honest and open. His doubts and questions and pain and struggle are woven all throughout scripture. There is a beautiful example in that. We shouldn’t look down on David’s moments of “failure.” We really shouldn’t even call them failure. We should consider it David’s humanity. We should thank God that all those moments are recorded. We should thank God that we can relate to someone like David when we ask those questions ourselves. We shouldn’t be so quick to try to correct the others in our lives when they are going through a season of asking difficult questions. We should try to see the David in them. We should see ourselves in them. We should touch them. We should feed them. We should remember that this human experience is full of joy and pain, so both must have some value for us. 

I recently re-read a children’s story that is so poignant and relates well to so many issues, but particularly this one. The story is called “Seven Blind Mice,” by Ed Young. (Listen to the story here: ) Basically, the premise of the book is that there are seven blind mice who are investigating a “strange something” by their pond. Every day, a different mouse goes to try to figure out what the “strange something” might be. The “strange something” is an elephant, but mice are so very small in comparison to an elephant. Each mouse climbs on a different part of the elephant and comes back with a completely different assessment of what the “strange something” might be. One mouse thinks it’s a pillar. Another mouse thinks it’s a spear. Another mouse thinks it is a snake, a fan, or a rope. On the last day, the final mouse wisely runs all over the “strange something” to discover that all of the other mice had been correct in their assessments, but each only had a piece of the picture. The moral of the story is that “knowing in part may make a fine tale, but wisdom comes from seeing the whole.” 

I believe that we are like these little blind mice when it comes to God. He’s gigantic, but we are small and blind. We encounter Him in different ways and have different experiences with Him throughout our lives. Perhaps we’ve just experienced a mountaintop moment with Him, and we see Him in the highest heights! But perhaps we’ve latched ourselves on to one of his legs as we walk through the darkest valley with Him. He feels scary and unpredictable. We are doing everything we can to trust, but our perspective matters. Our circumstances and experiences matter. And both perspectives are equally valid. And both perspectives actually complement one another and give us a better picture of the reality of God. He is in the highest heights! But, He can also be very scary and unpredictable to us. I think this is why God places a high value on community. We can become skewed when we only hang out with people clinging to the leg for dear life. Equally though, we can become skewed when we only hang out with people riding on His back in the highest heights. We need to be in relationship with both groups, and with everyone in between. We need to learn and practice the skills of empathy and understanding. 

The Israelites were actually much better at mourning with those who mourn. This is probably due at least in part to culture and advances in modern medicine. We have so many ways of staving off death that we have become culturally stupid when it comes to mourning with those who mourn. We relegate that to the funeral, and then we are ready for everyone to hop back up on the elephant’s back and join us in our joy. Really, we have to climb down to the leg and hold the hands of these people as they make the long and scary journey back up. We have to form a human chain and bear their burdens and see the scenery from their point of view. We can’t rush it. We’ll either leave them in our dust or knock them off the elephant entirely. We have to recognize that we’ll encounter some difficult situations on our journey. We have to admit that we don’t have all the answers. We have to recognize that we’ll find ourselves clinging to the leg for dear life at some point as well. And this is hard. 

We can celebrate, praise, and worship together easily. It is second nature. But can we lament together? I’m not sure, but I think we ought to learn. I love that we have examples of struggle from some of God’s “favorites.” If you are a questioner and a struggler, you might just be one of His favorites, too. Much love, strugglers.

I’ll encourage you also to read these blog posts by my friend, Marc Nettleton, on Lament, Cynicism, and Despair - and Lament and Empathy -
This article on “The Recapturing of Lament as a Christian Practice” is also quite poignant -

Saturday, August 1, 2015

On Death - Write that down.

Lisa and I have talked about a billion things over the past couple of weeks, but there are two specific things that I was directed to write down. So, that's what I'm doing. Writing it down.

(And I suppose for the sake of any strangers who stumble upon this blog, I should say that Lisa is a good friend and mom to little Eli, who recently went to be with Jesus. So she's a newly initiated member of death club, where we love well, but "we aren't as fun as Girl Scouts." Quote credit to the wonderful and hilarious Janice Foster.)

The first thing I want you to know about death is that it's not what you think it is. This is so hard to communicate, and I'm not sure anyone will believe me until they are actually in it, but it's just not what you think it is. Lisa and I sat in my car in the wee hours on Saturday night, the night before Eli passed, talking and crying and praying. She told me how she didn't think she could survive losing him, how she didn't know how she would be okay, and how she didn't know how they would go on. She shared all the fears and thoughts you can imagine, and yes, you CAN imagine it. Everything that you'd fear and think if it were your child in that hospital bed is everything that she said. I kept telling her, "If you have to do it, you'll be able to do it, and I'm so sorry that you'll be able to do it." She was sharing thoughts about life without Eli, well beyond the actual moment of loss. How would she only be a mom to a teenager? Would she be such a young empty nester? How can this be happening? This is all wrong. It absolutely is all wrong. Completely. 100%. However, there is something interesting that happens when we entertain thoughts and fears about the future in our minds. I experienced this when I lost Ransom, and I've experienced it in a hundred different ways since then. The anticipation of a thing is almost always worse than the thing itself. I truly believe the reason for that is because we fail to account for God in our minds. You have to know that when I knew that I'd be giving birth to a baby who had already passed away, I was terrified. How could I do that? How would I survive? What would it be like? Would I be completely crushed? There is no way I could live through such a thing. ....and then God. If you know my birth story, you know that I ended up giving birth with arms raised singing a worship song. It was truly the most beautiful birth experience of my life. It wasn't because of me or anything I did. It was because God showed up. When God shows up, things are completely different than our fears and expectations. We can't predict God. He does new things. He shows up. He walks with us through our darkest moments, and they are completely different than our expectations. There are moments of beauty and joy and even laughter. He genuinely draws near to the brokenhearted. And when He's near, you're okay... actually, you're better than okay, and there are times in those moments when you get a glimpse of the bigger picture and realize that your pain is worth all of this beauty, and this story, and this closeness with the Creator. I understand if you only sort of believe what I'm saying here, and that's okay, but just try to plant this little nugget in your mind. When you are fearful and anxious about the future, remember that your brain is only capable of so much. Once you're actually in those places where you're afraid, God will show up. It won't match any of the scenarios your mind has constructed, and you'll remember that He is good. So whatever it is, you'll be able to do it. And I'm so sorry (but maybe a little not sorry?) that you'll be able to do it.

Here's the second thing. Once you've walked through a loss, you have a choice. It is easy to become extremely fearful. Death has hit too close to home now. You can expect it to hit again, at every turn....OR you can become fearless. You can recognize that you have survived the worst experience of your life, and no matter what is thrown at you, you will survive. You are capable of so much more than you realized. No, you don't become reckless or try to tempt death, but you grow in strength and confidence. You think, "Screw you, Death. You thought you were going to destroy me,  but you didn't. I'm going to take this experience and tell everyone they shouldn't be afraid of you. I'm going to link arms with others who've walked this journey, and you are going to lose some of your power against us." In the past, I shared my Lord of the Rings analogy, and I'm going to share it again. This is an excerpt from a previous blog, but it still applies.

"I’ve shared this several times with several different people. I think it applies to a multitude of circumstances. I know it applies to mine. (Bear with the following nerdiness.) In the first Lord of the Rings movie, there is this scene that always makes me cry. They are running across this bridge in the mines of Moria. This monster, a Balrog, to be precise, is coming after them. Gandalf stops on the bridge and faces the monster. He yells, “You cannot pass!” The monster keeps coming at them. He says, “I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the Flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udun.” A moment of silence. “Go back to the shadow.” Another moment of silence. “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!!” Every single time I see that scene, I cry. I think if I had any clue of the power that I have in Christ, I would face my own fears with that kind of confidence. I would slam my staff into the ground. I would say, “I am a servant of the Most High God, bearer of His Holy Spirit. The dark fire will not avail you, my enemy.” “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!!” I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Yeah, great. Doesn’t Gandalf fall off the cliff in that scene?” Yes. He does. BUT THAT MONSTER DOES NOT PASS. And if you know the whole story, you know that Gandalf falls and fights that monster and emerges as Gandalf the White. Here’s a youtube clip of the scene. ( Knowing Tolkien’s motivation for writing these books, I don’t think my interpretation or encouragement from that scene is far from the mark that he intended. So, as I daily declare to my fears that they shall not pass, join with me. Declare the same to your own. Slam your staffs into the ground and refuse to be defeated. Join with me “until at last we throw down our enemy and smote his ruin upon the mountainside.”

Sometimes we face hard battles. We fall off the cliff and we fight. There is hurt and pain and difficulty, but our monsters DO NOT PASS. We don't give ourselves enough credit, but if fear hasn't completely overtaken our lives, if we're battle-weary and still fighting, it counts! Gandalf's battle was long and rough, and our own battles are the same, but as long as we keep fighting the temptation to let fear take over our lives, our monsters WILL NOT PASS, and guess what? WE WIN. Screw you, Death.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Broken Systems

I’ll start with the disclaimers. If you know me, you may already have an idea where I stand on these issues. If you know in advance that you disagree with me and are not open to another perspective, but just want to fuel your own flame (I get it. I’m like that sometimes.), just move on. I’m not going to change your mind. You aren’t going to change mine – certainly not in an online forum. So, agree to disagree and move on with your life. If you want to talk about it face to face, hit me up! ;)

Secondly, I’m talking to people who consider themselves Christians. Yes, some of this certainly applies outside of that realm, but if you don’t share that perspective with me, I may just sound like a crazy lunatic to you. I’m okay with that. Hopefully you’ll still be my friend, despite my crazy lunacy! :)

With that said, here goes nothing.

All systems are broken. All of them. There is no such thing as a perfect system, and no Christian person should die on the hill of defending any system. However, we should all be constantly looking critically at the systems of which we are a part. We should be examining them and asking ourselves if we are contributing to the brokenness (through action or even silence) or if we are contributing to the healing. 

It has been interesting to watch many of my colorblind friends (but you know how I feel about that already) suddenly regain their ability to see color in the past few weeks, asking things like, “Where are the protests for black-on-black crime?!” Well friends, they are out there. They don’t get the same media coverage, but there are plenty of protests for black-on-black crime. Also, you might have missed them because you are colorblind anyway, so you wouldn’t know who was protesting what. ;) Black-on-black crime occurs at a rate of 91%, while white-on-white crime occurs at a rate of 83%. Where are the protests for white-on-white crime? It seems we’ve got our own issues. We get angry that the media coverage of a white police officer killing a black man is more significant than a black police officer killing a white man. Guess what? Plenty of black people are angry that the media coverage of the protesting of black-on-black crime is so insignificant as well. Plenty of black people are angry that the media coverage of all of the recent protests are focused on the opportunists and those people who chose to become violent, while it seems that the vast majority of protestors were quite peaceful. Guess what? We’re all part of this broken media system. Every single news outlet in the country knows that these kinds of stories will get a zillion clicks, views, and comments. We feed that machine. Want more fair coverage? Stop watching, clicking, and commenting. Want things to continue exactly as they have? Click away. 

With that said, let’s talk about the police. Actually, no. That will get everyone all riled up. Let’s talk about teachers and the education system instead. Everyone’s fine with criticizing them. Good news! I’m a teacher. I can take the heat. (Snarky, snarky girl!)

Our education system, like our media system (and all systems), is broken. There are lots of ways that this brokenness manifests itself, but I want to focus on one particular area and try to draw some analogies. 

If I walk in to any school and go into a secret room to take an anonymous poll of teachers, and ask one question – “Which math teacher’s students are most likely to fail the big test?” – I am willing to bet that one or two names will be repeated over and over. In most schools, although teachers are not always in one another’s classrooms, we have an idea about what is going on. Maybe we teach the grade level above, and we’ve noticed that teachers from X classroom always perform really well, while teachers from Y classroom always seem to struggle. We know what’s up. Maybe Y teacher doesn’t show up to many professional development courses. Maybe that teacher’s “water cooler gossip” indicates that he hates the job. Maybe they just flat out seem incompetent. If you’ve worked in any job, you’ve had coworkers who were less competent than others, and everybody knew it. Right?. But what do you do about it? Do you “tattle” on your coworker, on suspicion of suckiness? Is that even a thing? Do you offer your help to them? Do you stay out of it because it’s not really your problem? Do you just thank your lucky stars that you aren’t in administration? Well, what if your kid gets assigned to that teacher’s class? You’ll probably make sure your child gets a transfer right out of there! But are you responsible for all the other kids? That’s a tough question. 

Let’s change the situation. What if you suspect a teacher of having an inappropriate relationship with a student? So, it’s no longer just that students are getting a subpar education, but perhaps they are at risk. You don’t have real evidence, but you’ve got a bad feeling. You see the way Y teacher looks at one student in particular. It just doesn’t sit well with you. Let’s say, like with the poor teaching quality, you decide not to get involved because it’s really not your problem. Besides, it’s just a feeling. Well, stuff goes down, and your gut feeling was right. Oh no. Are you partly to blame for what happened to that student? Should you have spoken up? 

What if that student was your child? Would you feel that all the people who contributed to the situation (actively, or by remaining silent) should be held accountable? Probably. 

There are lots of good teachers out there. There are also lots of bad teachers. What is the role and responsibility of good teachers in these scenarios? In my opinion, it is always to err on the side of the student… but that is HARD. It puts teachers in uncomfortable situations with coworkers. It can make you a target, an annoyance, or a whistleblower.  Anyone who has had a job with any coworkers can understand that. These kinds of things are not easy to do, at all. There have been plenty of times when I’ve failed to speak up about issues, and there will probably be plenty more in the future. However, as a Christian, shouldn’t I always be critically evaluating the system of which I am a part, and my particular role in it? Yes. It’s my job to do justly, even when it’s uncomfortable.

So NOW let’s talk about police. I have several friends who are police officers, and I do believe they are good ones. I hope they see me as a good teacher. I hope they won’t take any of this as critical of them as individuals, but that they will understand (and possibly even agree with) the concept that the system is broken. There are good police officers, and there are bad police officers. I’m sure I could go into that secret room and take that anonymous poll, and ask “Which police officer is most likely to shoot an unarmed black teenager?” and probably get one or two names over and over. That should bother us. 

Many of you read and shared Voddie Baucham’s recent piece, and probably skimmed over this part:
I have been pulled over by police for no apparent reason. In fact, it has happened on more than one occasion. I was stopped in Westwood while walking with a friend of mine who was a student at UCLA. We found ourselves lying face down on the sidewalk while officers questioned us. On another occasion, I was stopped while with my uncle. I remember his visceral response as he looked at me and my cousin (his son). The look in his eye was one of humiliation and anger. He looked at the officer and said, “My brother and I didn’t fight in Vietnam so you could treat me like this in front of my son and my nephew.”
I commend Baucham for forgiving those who treated him unjustly, but it should bother all the rest of us that we live in a society where a man like Voddie Baucham is face down on the sidewalk for no apparent reason, at the hands of those who are supposed to “do justice.” These types of stories are repeated over and over by many highly respected black men. That’s not okay. It’s not okay that these men were humiliated in front of their children. I seriously cannot imagine if a police officer had treated my dad that way, for no reason, in front of me. How could I ever look at police without fear and suspicion in the future? It is no wonder there is fear and distrust of the police in the black community. 

So, here’s the issue. The bad police who did this to Baucham certainly worked with good police who never would have done such a thing. Are the good police at all responsible here? Should they have spoken up? Did they have a gut feeling about these guys? Had they overheard water cooler gossip that indicated some racist tendencies? Did they think, “Well, that’s just that generation. He’ll be retiring soon.”? It’s hard enough to speak up if you are a teacher in a school. How much harder is it for police who have to count on one another in what could literally be life or death situations? How do the police create a culture where fairly upholding the law is more important than brotherhood, or having each other’s backs, or any of that? I don’t know. Seriously. No idea. 

A couple days after the Ferguson verdict, there was a story in the news about a police officer who wrote on Facebook, “Damn cockroaches! Squashem all!!...” Oh my gosh. How is this guy a police officer in the United States in 2014? Not only is he blatantly racist, but he was bold enough to put it on the internet for the world to see! Surely some of the good police officers who work with him have picked up on this. What have they done about it? I don’t know, but for some reason he’s still a cop. 

I do know this, though. Several years ago, our government started looking at our broken education system very critically and added in a bunch of tests and other things, in order to deal with some of these issues of teacher quality and fair education. Teacher pay is now tied to student test performance, and the whole system has gone from being one kind of broken to a different kind of broken, with very little teacher input into how the problems should be solved. I think the police are about to be in for the same thing. To you good police officers, I commend you for your good work. I hope you continue to do good work. I hope you also become very vocal about how best to fix the brokenness in your system before the government forces “fixes” on you without consulting you. 

So basically I have no answers here, just lots of questions. I hope that you agree that no system (including the police) is above reproach. As Christians, we do have to constantly evaluate our roles in our own broken systems, and especially, our silence. We are either contributing to the brokenness or to the healing. Choose wisely.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Race Talks: Race and the Christian

This one is a little over an hour. Particularly, I'd recommend Tim Keller's portion (starts around minute 26). It's worth your time, I promise!

Race Talks: Bloodlines

Got 20 minutes?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Race Talks: Listen, Listen, Listen

Wow. Yesterday's blog had over 500 page views. For perspective, the most page views one of my blogs has ever gotten was 4500, and it's been up for 3 years. haha :) I'm going to assume I hit a nerve. I will also assume that I upset some people yesterday, and that what I said bothered lots of people who did me the courtesy of keeping it to themselves. ;) I hope you noticed that I flippantly used the words "white" and "black," and avoided political correctness. I was really trying to share without pretense. I know that many people feel we should not discuss race. I would contend that this approach is doing us absolutely no good. I think we need to talk about it. So, here I go again...

Today, I just want to challenge my white friends. Let's listen. Let's listen without defensiveness. Let's listen with understanding as our objective. Go to one of your black friends and ask them to tell you what it's like to be them. Try really, really hard not to be defensive. Don't receive any of their statements as indictments against you. Just listen. Don't ask questions to try to back them into a corner. Ask questions like, "Do you think racism still exists? How have you experienced it? How did it make you feel? What should we do about it? What can white people do better?" And just listen. As I said yesterday, there are opinions across the spectrum within each racial group, so you may find that the person you talk to shares very similar opinions to your own. If you find that, I'd encourage you to keep digging, just so you can exercise your "listen without defensiveness" muscle even more! You can even go to one of the hundreds of very racially-charged Facebook threads out there right now, look at the pictures next to the names, and try to listen (read) the common thread. What are people of other races saying? They do have the right to feel there is a problem. We should also afford them the right to be heard.

I took a class in college with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It was called "Truth and Reconciliation." It really rocked my world. The archbishop taught us about post-apartheid South Africa. The people of South Africa, instead of seeking retribution for the injustices done to them under apartheid, set up meetings (for lack of a better term), where people were able to voice the injustices done to them, and be heard. An amazing thing happened... forgiveness, and reconciliation. Post-apartheid South Africa could have easily been a violent, nasty mess. I'm not saying that was completely absent, but I can definitely see how this process of allowing people to be heard was so valuable in stemming the tide. So, why don't we try it out?

Does it do us any harm to just listen? If nothing else, it's good practice for all our other relationships. Listen. Practice reflective listening. "What I hear you saying is..." and see how well you do.

Please know that I am not trying to assert myself as any authority or moral superior. I just think this is an important discussion, and want us to keep talking... and listening. ;)

Also, I'm trying to convince one of my black friends to share on here soon. Hopefully I'll be successful! :)

Have a great day of listening!