Healing starts by listening

Our nation’s heart is exposed. And it hurts. Deeply.

Perhaps this is where the healing starts.

COVID-19 isolated us. In mid-Michigan, many of my friends are cleaning up from the worst flooding in their lifetimes. Last week, a police officer’s brazen killing – on camera – of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis ignited firestorms of protest that continue across the country.

Underneath it all, politicians far too often continue to divide us, even in these times of crisis.

Our pastor in his sermon this morning said what I’ve been feeling for the past few days: We need to listen. It’s not about judging the injustice, the anger, even the protests.

Racism still pervasive

I read a couple of stories last week unrelated to the protests that sickened me. In one, a white woman called the cops on a black man who was doing nothing more than pumping gas in his wife’s car. In another, a black man wrote that he takes his daughters and his dog with him on walks through his neighborhood – to protect himself, because as a black man walking alone, he is stereotyped and worse.

In his own neighborhood.

I thought we were past those days. We’re not.

I’m sorry. For all of it. As a middle-aged white man who so often is the cause of such racism and injustice, I’m sorry.

The solution?

Look beyond yourself. Get to know your neighbor.

My next-door neighbor is African-American. We chat when we’re both outside doing yard work or when she’s walking her dogs. We get along just fine. This is not rocket science.

Why does it take a man’s death to understand this?

Do not lose the message

Peaceful protests haven’t worked. We tell Colin Kaepernick to stand up. We quote and mis-quote Martin Luther King Jr.

What changes? Anything?

The Minneapolis officer wasn’t charged with murder until violent protests forced the issue.

Who is listening?

In some videos I see white people destroying and stealing things, and I’ve heard that out-of-town people caused at least some of the vandalism. The protests have become about more than racism.

But let’s not lose the message.

America is divided. Our heart is breaking.

Or, should be breaking. I’m not sure we white people get it, still.

Sharing leadership

As white Americans, we will not get involved in anything – education, politics and government, church, business, or anything else – unless we lead it. We will not submit ourselves to leadership of any minority group.

This was the main message of a conference I attended 18 months ago in Chicago on forming inner-city churches. Several African-American speakers made that point, politely, to us.

We will hire an African-American on staff and call it a diverse church. But that African-American has to “do church” the “white” way.

That’s not diversity.

White preachers use a three-point outline that congregates can take notes on. Black pastors don’t preach like that. White choirs use the hymnal and sing the notes as written. Black choirs sing with passion – and their directors dance while leading the congregation as well as the choir. I saw this during the conference when a gospel choir from a nearby church led worship one evening. It was very different from what I’m used to, and very powerful.

The church I attend has several campuses, and this spring opened up its latest in Lorain, Ohio – an economically struggling city (steel mills were the main employer once upon a time) with plenty of minorities, blacks and Puerto Ricans, as well as many residents living below the poverty line. Are we ready to serve a community that many of the leaders of the church can’t relate to?

Would we allow dancing during Sunday morning worship? What about Puerto Rican music?

Perhaps. We shall see.

‘Looted every single day’

We try to tell minorities how to protest. Do it peacefully, but don’t kneel. Don’t cause trouble, or don’t damage anything.

“There is no right way to protest because that’s what protest is,” said Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show. “What a lot of people don’t realize is the same way that you might have experienced more anger and more visceral disdain watching those people loot that Target—think about that unease you felt watching that Target being looted. Try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day.”

I can’t imagine what that’s like.

White people destroying stores and looting are taking away your message. Making the violence worse drowns out your cries for justice, for respect.

The effects of white power

And I have to say this: Our president is supposed to be a voice of calm and reason during a crisis. President Trump is not. In fact, he’s making the problem worse.

“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted – borrowing a racist phrase from 1967.

He’s given no leadership on the worldwide coronavirus crisis – indeed, making that situation worse by dropping out of the World Health Organization, instead of uniting with the rest of the world to seek a vaccine and other answers to solving this pandemic.

He even rejected the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice on reopening the economy. And contrary to all reasonable medical data, he wants to hold the Republican National Convention as normal – even though mass gatherings will likely be the last bastion of social distancing.

President Trump is not a listener. Never has been.

Instead, the rest of us must listen. That’s how we can lead.

If a man can’t even walk in his neighborhood because of his skin color, that’s on you and me. If a man can’t even pump gas, jog or ask that a dog be put on a leash in a public park because of his skin color, that’s racism. Pure and simple.

I’m stunned all these things are happening. Still.

Let’s not let the violence happening in our cities overshadow this message. We must listen.

Then act.

We must defend our neighbors, all of them.

We must let other people lead us. White people haven’t done a good job, especially recently, of leading our country. Too many Jeffrey Epsteins in this world, using his power to prey on other people.

Epstein isn’t around anymore to face punishment for his crimes. His Maker will have to take care of that, and He will.

But Epstein has left a trail of broken lives in his wake, more even than we know about.

This is what we have become as a nation. Divided, broken, dominant and repressive, man to woman, white to black.

Let’s not explain this away by saying there are good white people and oppressive black people. Of course there are, but that’s not the norm.

We must listen, and learn

As white people, let’s acknowledge what we’ve become.

I’m sorry.

As the country starts opening up again, I’ll keep trying to reach out to those of you less fortunate than I am, racially and economically. That includes most of you, actually. Through my inner-city church. Through a food pantry that has been closed for two months, but which is reopening this week, in a limited form. Through my neighborhood.

Not just today, but going forward.

When the next crisis hits and this former police officer is relegated to the inside pages, we will have to keep listening. Or this will happen again.

It’s time we started learning some lessons from what’s going on around us. No more defending ourselves. No more trying to explain things away.

Listen, people. Just open your hearts and listen.

Lessons from COVID-19 changes

Things I have learned or discovered (in no particular order) since the coronavirus stay-in-place orders became commonplace in mid-March, nearly two months ago:

I-275 in Michigan

  • I miss driving. With few places to go, my car sits in the garage most days. But driving relaxes me. With my various volunteer activities, I routinely drive all over Northeast Ohio. I recently went for a drive with no destination in mind, just to get out of the house and hit the road. (The feature photo in this blog was taken on that drive, in Vermilion, Ohio. I took the photo above this paragraph in October 2018 on I-275 near Detroit Metro Airport.) We live in a beautiful country.
  • I discovered the only television I watch is live sports. Football, college basketball, baseball, tennis, the occasional NASCAR race … whatever is in season. With all of that gone for now, I don’t watch TV. At all. My wife watches a few shows and sometimes a movie; I’ll peek downstairs to see what’s on, but that’s about it. Instead, I read books and spend too much time on social media.
  • Speaking of which, too much social media is bad for me. It’s easy to get caught up in the online issues of the day and the frequently off-the-wall defenses people make for nearly any position. A friend the other day compared mail-in voting – the loss of freedom, the potential for fraud, how dare they take away my right to vote in person! – with what the Jews faced under Hitler. When I told her to grow up, she accused me of being rude (which I was, I suppose). Unfortunately, such exchanges are all too common on social media these days.

FB

Some people post meme after meme after meme spouting their political views, and if I dare to challenge one of them, nothing happens. I’m convinced that very few people actually think about what they post – they just mindlessly do it, and cannot defend their own viewpoints. I have un-followed several friends who would otherwise flood my news feed with nothing but one-sided political diatribe. These fights just aren’t worth the effort.

  • The first social-distancing lesson I learned, ironically, was how much I need physical touch. I watch two elementary-age brothers once or twice a week for a single mom who’s a nurse. They have a trampoline in the backyard. We play tag on it (it has sides so we don’t fall off), which gets tiring for this nearly 60-year-old guy in a tight space. We sit down and rest after a few minutes, giving each other a hug while we watch the birds or squirrels or the two preschoolers on the playset next door.

When I inferred that I enjoy physical touch with two young boys, perhaps you cringed. We have sexualized touch to the point where all touch is viewed – or felt – through that lens. We miss so much because of that.

There’s a feeling I can’t explain about the father-son touch that I hadn’t experienced since my own sons were little (they are in their 20s and 30s now). The boys and I don’t talk about it, but we all know it’s there. When their mom comes home from work, they give me a hug before I head out the door.

Love takes many forms, and we’ve lost this in our culture. It took a pandemic that separated all of us for me to re-discover this.

zoom life group

  • I hadn’t even heard of Zoom until seven weeks ago. I’m involved in several Zoom video calls a week now, most of them church gatherings or a Bible study group I help lead. Even the technologically challenged among us have figured out how to do this. One advantage is connecting with folks in other parts of the country who couldn’t join a meeting if we were doing it in person.
  • Throughout this pandemic, I have seen true leadership in the public arena. I have never been more grateful to live in Ohio than I am now. Our governor, Mike DeWine; lieutenant governor, Jon Husted; and public health director, Dr. Amy Acton, not only are plotting a reasonable course for the state to follow through this stressful and uncharted period, but their communication has been off-the-charts outstanding. They hold a press conference at 2 p.m. every weekday, offering updates and advice, and taking questions from the media. They duck no question. They implore patience, and explain why it’s necessary. They accept responsibility.

dewine-acton-husted

Gov. DeWine has said multiple times that he has an advisory group of 20 business owners across the state, offering their input on how to open up the state again. DeWine, a Republican, mentioned that he is in regular contact with the mayors of seven cities – all Democrats – to get their take on what’s going on. He communicates frequently with four previous governors to get their wisdom. He has formed and talks with various other task forces and community groups. Through Dr. Acton, he seeks the latest medical advice available.

He’s not afraid to change his mind. One day last week he ordered customers in all stores to wear a mask. When he got strong push-back about that, the next day he retreated a little to say wearing a mask is “strongly recommended” and “a best practice,” but that wearing a mask would not be mandated by the state. He took flak for bowing to political pressure, but he listed at least a half-dozen reasons for changing the policy, and took ownership of the original decision and the change.

That’s leadership. Thank you, Governor. When this state needed you, you stepped up with your calm, almost monotone demeanor, listened to the best advice you could, and then led. And continue to lead.

  • I miss hugs.
  • I discovered how flexible my weekly schedule is, which is a huge change for me. For most of my working life, I was a newspaper copy editor – editing and designing the same pages every day, every week, with the same deadlines. The content changed, which made the job exciting, but the structure was the same every day. I liked that dependability.

Now that I’m retired, I don’t have that structure anymore. I set my own schedule. And with COVID-19, the schedule I had carefully crafted went out the window overnight – as did yours, I’m sure.

red cross

These days, I have more time to exercise. To volunteer at Red Cross blood drives, which I’ve been doing on and off for five years but which I can do more often now. To help our friend with her kids. To read. To think, and to write. To call my quarantined parents every week, even if I can’t visit them. To keep in touch with friends through texts, emails, calls, Zoom chats and the occasional letter.

  • Most “news” sources aren’t trustworthy and need verification. Once upon a time, news media competed to see who could break a story first. Today, I don’t believe any story I see the first time. I didn’t even believe that Don Shula, the NFL coaching great, died this week until I saw it from multiple sources.

So much of what passes for news these days is little more than veiled – or not so veiled – opinion. I choose my news sites carefully, and read and watch multiple sources. This is the only way to figure out what’s truly going on. Rather than disparage the media, which many of you do, I look for the nuggets in them – and the nuggets are there.

  • As this state begins to open up, I see two extreme responses. Protesters want the state opened immediately and completely. Others are so afraid to return to work in a public setting, they are threatening to stay home even if they are forced to return.

This summer could get very interesting.

The ACTS of Jesus, and us

Adoration

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 22:14-16

 

Lord Jesus, You were in control of Your life, even as You prepared to die. You are all-knowing, all-powerful, with wisdom beyond our feeble understanding.

You listened to Your Father, who wrote the plan for Your life – and for mine. You are creator, Lord, of the Earth and everything in it, including us. Your desire was not for anyone to suffer, and yet when suffering entered this world, you embraced it – for Your glory.

Your Father created a perfect kingdom, then invited us weak, sinful human beings to enter it. All we have to do is accept Your invitation.

Jesus, You are our savior. You entered our world and became one of us. You offer us meaning and purpose in this life, and the promise of a glorious, never-ending day of joy once we leave this earth.

For all of this, we give You praise.

Confession

When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know him.” … The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:55-57, 61-62

 

Jesus, how weak we are. It’s so easy to look at Peter and judge his lack of faith, his fear in the moments before You died. But would I have acted any differently? No, I would not.

I give Peter credit for even being there, for hanging around a death scene. Like the other apostles, I very likely would have fled long before then. Not seeing the big picture. Not understanding why You had to die, or comprehending the resurrection You talked about.

No, Lord, I am a sinner, in need of forgiveness. I think of myself far too often. My own “needs.” My emotional roller-coaster ride. I deserve nothing from You. In the daily battles, it’s easy to leave You behind. To forget that You are supposed to be my Lord as well as my Savior.

Does everyone I meet know that I know You? I’m sure they don’t, Lord. Some do, but many don’t.

How often I have denied You.

Unlike Peter, I have yet to weep bitterly over this. Perhaps that is my greatest sin.

Thanksgiving

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.

Luke 23:26

 

Lord, Simon of Cyrene was there to help You in Your darkest hour. Something about him drew the Roman soldiers to pick him out of the crowd, to carry Jesus’ cross.

Thank You, Father, for Simon. For his availability. For his strength to carry the heavy wooden cross – he was physically able to do that, or he wouldn’t have been chosen.

Simon of Cyrene entered Jesus’ story in His time of greatest need. None of His disciples were there. None of His most high-profile followers. Simon was a man in a crowd, just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, along the road to Golgotha, the place of the cross. But You, Father, picked him out of the crowd. The soldiers thought they chose him, but it was You, Father, who put Simon of Cyrene there, in the right place at the right time.

You do that with me as well, Father. Thank You for choosing me, for picking me out of a crowd – not because I did anything to be noticed, but just because I was there. Available. That’s all You ask.

Jesus, I can’t say I’m strong enough to carry Your cross. But in a way, that’s what You ask each of Your followers to do. We carry Your cross to those who need You.

Jesus fell, weak and abused. I wonder if Simon fell too. I certainly fall, repeatedly.

Thank You, Jesus, for the courage to get up and continue on.

Supplication

Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph … and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.

Luke 23:50-52

 

Jesus, I wait expectantly for Your second coming. Your first coming gave us life; Your second coming will give us eternal life with You and Your Father. Please come quickly, Lord. These days are hard. The hope of Your coming is a shining light in a very dark world.

Father, please open the hearts of friends and family who don’t know You personally. Father, as we celebrate Your Son’s death and resurrection this week, I pray that many of us would understand the meaning behind these events, perhaps for the first time, or perhaps in a deeper way than we ever have before.

This Joseph kept his faith hidden because he feared reprisals. But when he saw You die, he forgot about his fears and stepped forward to ask for Your body, so he could give You a proper burial.

Father, take away my fear too. Help me to step out in faith, in public, and serve You, as Joseph did.

Joseph didn’t understand the coming resurrection; no one truly did at that moment. But he served You anyway. Father, may my faith be like that.

Answered prayer

… Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you. … Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself.” … While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Luke 24:36, 39, 41-42

 

Father, changed lives are the proof of Your Son’s resurrection. Changed for the better. Not change for the sake of change, but now we have meaning in life.

The disciples were stunned, shocked, filled with disbelieving joy and wonder. Could this be? For real? The miracle of miracles? Is this what He meant?

Then You proved it, Lord, by eating a piece of fish. Ghosts don’t eat solid food. Dead people don’t eat solid food, either.

Jesus, You are alive!

All we ask or seek in Your name, it’s true!

This is why we celebrate Easter Sunday, Lord. You overcame the last, most vicious of Satan’s weapons: death. We don’t have to face that anymore. Our earthly death is nothing more than a transition to a glorious life with You.

We adore You, Father. Thank You for allowing us to see and know Jesus, and because of that to know You. The day is coming when we will know You completely.

May that day come soon. Very soon.

We’ve learned the wrong lesson from 9/11

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

So said George Santayana, a Spanish-born American author, in 1905.

Perhaps that’s why my wife and I, during a long weekend in New York for a wedding, took a train and subway ride into the Big Apple to see the 9/11 memorial.

As a friend told us, that’s something you do only once. It’s a sober reminder of what happened on one particular day 18 years ago.

Once is enough for a powerful reminder like that.

Cannot forget

If you were old enough to remember that day, those two airplanes crashing into the iconic World Trade Center towers provided memories you’ll never forget. I was a newspaper copy editor in Michigan at the time, watching the surreal events unfold on deadline.

newspapers 7

Our daily newspaper published several editions that day, because the news happened so fast. Our first edition didn’t even mention the attack. The last edition – literally a stop-the-presses moment – reported the panic and shock of a nation-defining tragedy.

Since that day, our society has changed permanently, and not necessarily for the better. We no longer trust each other, not in airports – security is tighter than it’s ever been – or even on the sidewalk, where we stare at our phones or listen to our music, oblivious to the world around us.

Burned-out fire trucks and ambulances. Twisted steel of the north and south towers. Charred pieces of the airplanes-turned-weapons. Snippets from the morning TV talk shows, interrupted by updates from Ground Zero. Smoke billowing in New York, at the Pentagon and in western Pennsylvania.

memorial 9

The memorial captures all of it. And much more.

As if we could ever forget.

Fear replaces trust

It struck me that people in other parts of the world face these fears every day. Imagine the Kurds in Syria right now. Will they be alive tomorrow?

We lived through that once.

Just once.

We have the capability to prevent such attacks, for the most part anyway, by stepping up security. Cameras watch us everywhere – not just at airports, but at businesses, street corners and even some private homes.

We don’t trust anyone anymore.

Why is there so much evil in the world today? Because that’s what we expect of each other.

We act out our fears.

If, instead, we would look for the good in the world, we’d see it. I discovered that as we raised our three sons. Give them a little age-appropriate responsibility, and they’ll step up. A little alone time because Mom and Dad both need to run a short errand. Then, our oldest driving to an out-of-town event with his best friend as a teenager. Eventually, all three of our sons went away to college.

We trusted them, because we’d prepared them. And they passed with flying colors.

Perhaps that works at home, but society no longer operates that way.

Unity, for a brief moment

If your skin color is different, if your nationality or religious beliefs are different, you are not to be trusted. That didn’t start on Sept. 11, 2001, of course, but it sure increased after that date.

Immediately after 9/11, this nation unified like I’d never seen it do before. That lasted about three weeks. Then people stopped going to church and praying for each other, seeking solace in the unity that comes from a shared experience.

memorial 8

In a sense, we’ve forgotten the past already. We’ve forgotten what unifies us.

We care only about what divides us. Our politics, our religion, our nationality, our social values, our language. We build walls, literal ones and figurative ones in our hearts.

Every one of us, including me, does this.

When our sons were learning to drive, I told them not to trust any other driver on the road. Act as if all of them are idiots, so that when another driver does something stupid, you won’t be surprised. And you’ll be ready to react.

That’s good advice on the road. Unfortunately, we live all of our lives that way, don’t we?

We prove ourselves untrustworthy. Every time I drive on a highway – every single time – I get passed by drivers going 15 mph or more over the speed limit. So do you, unless you’re the speeder. There aren’t enough police cars out there to prevent this.

Identity theft. Robo calls. Inferior products (we don’t build things the way we used to; I could write a column just about this). I’m renting a tux for an upcoming wedding; the company doesn’t want me to pick it up early, and they want it back on Sunday, the day after the wedding. They don’t trust me to keep it even one extra day, even though I’m paying more than $200 for the privilege of holding onto that tux for, like, four days. Not five.

The new normal

Why do we remember 9/11? Is it to point fingers at the bad guys?

Is that all we learned?

Have we forgotten what unifies us?

memorial 23

Every one of us is the bad guy, actually. Each of us, including you and me, is an enemy to someone. If you call yourself a Republican or a Democrat, you’re an enemy. If you’re white or black or Middle Eastern, you’re an enemy to someone. If you’re a Christian or a Muslim, you’re Satan personified to someone.

We have more in common than we think we do. 9/11 proved that, if only for three weeks.

The fallout proves how much we’ve forgotten.

Why visit the 9/11 memorial in New York?

How do we prevent such a tragedy from happening again? While we haven’t had an attack of that scale on our soil since, we have mass shootings all the time. Most of them are internal, not from outside terrorists.

memorial 27

We no longer trust each other. We put up walls and stockpile weapons to protect ourselves. The spiral deepens.

I went for a jog through the neighborhood shortly after we bought our house two years ago. I left the front door open, since I wasn’t planning to be gone long. My neighbor noticed and said I shouldn’t do that, because there’s teenagers around who will steal stuff.

Even in suburban America, this is the world we live in. We’re hardly safe even in our own homes.

The world has come to our front porch. We’ve slammed the door, and locked it out.

This is our 9/11 legacy. I’m afraid we’ve missed the lesson we needed to learn.

Law and freedom: Can we have both?

I roll through stop signs if there’s no traffic.

I fudged deadlines all the time as a copy editor to get the latest news in the paper.

I jog in the rain, or in snow with 15-degree temperatures (not this year yet, though).

And yet:

I get at least eight hours of sleep every night.

I’ve never received a speeding ticket.

When I’m scheduled to be somewhere, I always show up early.

So, who am I?

I’m a rule-breaker. But I learn the rules first, so I know which ones I can break. And when.

Two plus two equals …

I came down with pneumonia as a college student, so I don’t have the stamina that most of you do. If I don’t get enough sleep, I get sick.

If I break rules, there are consequences. That’s one consequence I don’t want. So I go to bed early every night.

I drive with common sense. I’ve written blogs on this before. Safety is paramount; I drive the speed limit or slightly above, weather conditions permitting. I fudge the law only when it’s safe, and my eyes are wide open. (But I’ll stop at a red light, even if there is no other traffic in sight.)

I married a math expert. Two plus two is always four to her. I’m a journalist at heart. Two plus two could have multiple meanings. Two apples plus two oranges equals four pieces of fruit, but you still have only two apples.

Are you counting fruit, or apples?

… safety …

This is the source of today’s political divide. We don’t know what we’re counting.

One side is all about laws.

The other side is all about humanity.

What happens when law and humanity clash?

We get a government shutdown.

Laws serve a crucial purpose. They give us structure and order. The trash truck comes every Friday. Our City Council signs a contract with the trash hauler to do that. My tax dollars pay for it. That’s the way government works.

Here’s a better example, actually. My tax dollars also help pay for the local police department. Its primary job is to keep the residents of our city, including me, safe. The City Council, the county, the state and the federal governments all pass laws intended to keep us safe. Opioids and illegal drugs hurt people. Thieves and robbers hurt people. Drivers who weave in and out of traffic and/or run red lights risk causing a collision and hurting people.

Laws protect us, and police and the court system defend the right to live without fear for our lives. That’s the goal, anyway.

… or freedom …

But are laws themselves ever oppressive?

Once upon a time, women were not legally allowed to vote. Other laws enforced slavery. It took time, far too much time, before those injustices were legally corrected.

Today’s hottest debate is over illegal immigrants trying to enter this country through Mexico. Immigrants have been doing this for decades, and I’ve read that in recent years the immigration rate has actually declined.

But we now have a president who wants to cut off the illegal immigrants’ entry into this country completely. Illegal, by definition, means they are breaking a law.

But are the immigration laws of this country fair? And are illegal immigrants as evil as Republicans make them out to be?

The answer to the first question must be decided by Congress and the president. The second question? A resounding, “no.”

… or both?

Illegal immigrants are not an organized band of terrorists seeking to destroy American life, as Al-Qaeda was on Sept. 11, 2001. They are mostly women and children fleeing their native countries because their lives are in jeopardy there. Gang wars and violence have destroyed the culture of Honduras and other Central American societies. These women and children have seen relatives and friends die, and face death and/or poverty themselves.

Americans cannot comprehend this. No one in my community is seeking my life.

Why is it so wrong for such people to seek a place to live where they don’t have to fear death every day?

If crime and terrorism are the reasons why, well, those issues are already here. News flash. Illegal immigrants aren’t going to change society much at all.

My wife and I met a 77-year-old woman on Christmas Day while delivering meals to several families in town. She has custody of her two teenage great-grandchildren, because no one else in her family wants them. The teens’ mother is a drug addict and can’t be around her children. The 16-year-old girl has anger issues and screams at the top of her lungs, forcing neighbors to call the police sometimes. The great-grandmother does what she can to keep her fragile family together. They rent a one-bedroom house – which isn’t legal since the teens are a boy and girl. So the boy gets the bedroom and the girl and great-grandma sleep on mattresses in the living room.

They’ve been in this house only a short time, and likely won’t stay long if they can find a place with more bedrooms.

When children move that often, it’s not surprising that they have trouble keeping up in school.

Building a border wall won’t help this family.

We need laws, certainly. We need security, of course. The wall might appease some politicians, but it won’t do much – if anything – to improve security in this country.

Can we pass laws to improve security that actually work? Do our immigration laws assist apples and oranges together, or are we defending the apples and trying to remove the oranges?

What is the fruit of our labor?

Do two and two always equal four, or is there another possible answer?

Our country is full of oranges as well as apples.

Can we enjoy the flavors that both bring to this country?

Is there a way to get creative and keep the law at the same time?

A litmus test for evangelicals that shouldn’t be

Honduran migrants cross the U.S. border wall to San Diego from Tijuana, Mexico, on Dec. 16, 2018, before turning themselves in to U.S. border patrol agents, standing at the top. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

President Trump, along with Republican and Democratic U.S. representatives, have forgotten that immigrants, legal and especially illegal, are human beings. They have turned the immigration issue into a political football.

They threaten a partial U.S. shutdown later this week over whether to pay for Trump’s border wall with Mexico (which, by the way, during his presidential campaign Trump promised that Mexico would pay for). Trump wants $5 billion for it. Democrats are offering $1.6 billion for border security.

Those numbers are peanuts compared with the trillion-plus-dollar budget that Congress oversees.

The stalemate has nothing to do with dollars and budgets.

It’s all about the politics.

Worse, for many Americans, it’s become a litmus test of evangelical Christianity. Many outspoken proponents of the border wall are evangelicals who support Trump’s for-the-most-part conservative social agenda.

https://www.vox.com/2018/10/26/17989084/christopher-maloney-in-god-we-trump-evangelicals-trump

Many staunch opponents are “social justice” Democrats who see the immigrants’ “caravan” in Mexico, heading for the U.S. border, as displaced Latin Americans fleeing poverty and, especially, violence in their home countries.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/fleeing-poverty-and-violence-central-american-women-explain-why-they-join-caravans-1543947664

I am an evangelical Christian who supports the Democrats on this issue.

Why?

Because Jesus would.

The kingdom of God has feet

Jesus’ primary mission on Earth was to introduce us to the “kingdom of God.” He offered us a personal, one-on-one relationship with his Father. In the Old Testament, God came and went, offering support to specific individuals for specific events or short periods of time. In the Gospels, Jesus said God would come and remain with us at all times, not come and go as he did previously.

To do that, Jesus did not require us to get our act together spiritually or socially before we could let God into our hearts full-time. No. God met – and still meets – us right where we are.

In other words, Jesus Christ was – and still is – the “social justice” God as well as the “evangelical” God.

Very few Christians understand this, even though the message is obvious throughout the New Testament.

Jesus called several fishermen as his first disciples (Matthew 4:18-22). Not exactly upperclassmen. He also hand-picked a hated tax collector (Luke 5:27-28), who left a lucrative job to follow a charismatic leader and his band of nomads. His other disciples were not exactly household names or community leaders when Jesus called them (Mark 3:13-19).

Jesus the social activist

Once he had his chosen twelve, Jesus did some surprising things. He visited Samaria, which no self-respecting Jew would have done, and talked with a woman who had been married five times (John 4:1-42). He acknowledged her past but didn’t condemn her for it.

Same with a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). And a mentally disturbed caveman (Mark 5:1-20). And an inquisitive political leader who met him at night because he didn’t want to be noticed (John 3:1-21).

He healed numerous disabled people, including several who were blind and others who had physical deformities (read the gospel of Luke, for example).

All of these folks were outcasts. Yet Jesus met them right where they were, healing them and encouraging them to “go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)

Jesus the leader

Jesus also interacted with the religious and political leaders of his day, who were the Pharisees, Herodians and Sadducees (Mark 12:13-40). Those religious leaders also were the local political leaders, serving the oppressive Roman government in return for keeping the peace in their communities.

They tweaked Jewish laws and customs to keep themselves in Rome’s good graces, picking and choosing Scriptures to fit their agendas.

To put it mildly, Jesus didn’t like that. He called them blind guides and hypocrites (Matthew 23:13-36).

Jesus didn’t attack the Pharisees and Sadducees on a political level, but on a spiritual level. On politics, he said: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

On Palm Sunday, the crowd thought they were hailing a political king who was entering Jerusalem to overthrow the hated Roman government (Matthew 21:8-11). When Jesus didn’t do that, they deserted him – and crucified Him.

What does all this have to do with immigration?

Jesus the servant

For people outside the church, Jesus was compassionate and gave them the benefit of the doubt every time. For people inside the church, Jesus spoke harshly for their judgment and hard-hearted attitudes, because they knew the Scriptures and should have known better how to treat people (including Jesus Christ himself).

If Jesus walked across the United States in the flesh today, he would give us the same message. We still haven’t learned it.

Immigrants need us. They are fleeing for their lives, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

In contrast, many Americans are richer than we think we are. Globally, if your wealth (assets minus debts) is in the $100,000 to $1 million range, you are among the 7.3 percent of the world’s population that has about 40 percent of the world’s wealth. If your wealth equals only $3,210, you are wealthier than half of the people across this planet.

https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-richest-people-in-the-world-20160121-story.html

Our response

What are we afraid of? That we might lose political influence?

Blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups already are gaining influence in this country. So are women. Are we truly worried about immigrants who have nothing materially, but who just might have the gifts, talents and work ethic we need to make this country run?

Is there not room for all?

I recently attended a conference in Chicago on urban ministry. One speaker pointed out that white Americans will not get involved in any project or event unless they lead it. That means whites will not allow any minority individuals to lead whatever they are involved in.

Whoa. That’s an eye-opener.

Are we afraid that a minority person might actually have leadership skills? As white people, are we not willing to submit ourselves to a black, Latino and/or female supervisor or other type of leader?

In the words of a decades-old slogan, what would Jesus do?

Jesus’ response

Jesus hand-picked a group of outcasts and under-the-radar people to train as the leaders of his future church. (If you read the book of Acts, there are women and couples who are leaders in the early church, as well as the more well-known Paul, Peter and James.)

No one is an outcast in Jesus’ eyes. Not disabled people. Not mentally disturbed people. Certainly not immigrants.

In a dispute between outcasts and church leaders, Jesus sided with the outcasts every time.

The “unchurched” often understood Jesus better than the church folks did. They certainly connected with him in a more real way.

We forget this at our own peril.

Finding passion in the midst of constant change

Nothing lasts on Earth. Nothing at all.

Is that a good thing?

Depends on your outlook.

If you are adventurous, you like doing new things all the time. You create change. Things that last probably bore you.

If you prefer security, commitment and long-term involvement, then change gets in the way. You might even fear it.

What if change comes, and you wish it wouldn’t?

I’m finding it hard to remain committed to much of anything these days. Maybe I have some secret anger, a restlessness, an insecurity, an impatience with something that keeps me from things that last.

Perhaps it’s none of those things. Perhaps this is just the way life is.

Short-term volunteering

For example, I enjoy mentoring elementary-age students through local schools. Many children these days need a good male role model. If I can help, I enjoy doing that.

Our church in Saginaw, Mich., partnered with the elementary school across the street, and that’s where I first got involved. I showed up at lunchtime and played games with the student, ate lunch with him, and gave him encouragement. Sometimes I helped him with homework that he didn’t finish in the morning.

That lasted a couple of years, until we moved to Rockford, Ill. A month or two after we moved there, I found a reading program through Rockford Public Schools. That winter/spring and the following fall, I spent an hour in a classroom, reading with four students whom the teacher sent to me in 15-minute segments. I assisted them with words they had trouble pronouncing, and I helped with their comprehension – do you understand what you are reading?

We moved away after a year to Elyria, Ohio. I found a lunchtime mentoring program at Midview Schools in nearby Grafton. After a year, that program disappeared and I never heard from the school district again.

So I connected with Greater Cleveland Volunteers, which introduced me to My Mentor My Friend, a lunchtime mentoring program at four elementaries in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  I picked the school on the west side of Cleveland (the other three schools all were on the east side), and mentored three students there in a little more than a year.

Trying to make a difference

My first student there moved away in the summer. My second student, probably a loner like me, seemed uncomfortable with the one-on-one attention and dropped out of the program. My third student also moved away this summer.

That’s the lifestyle of the typical low-income inner-city student. Many live with one parent, or in the case of one of my students, with Grandpa. The parent often rents and moves across town frequently. My last student told me his dad got a job in Arizona, and he was planning to move out there to be with him. Dad said Cleveland was too violent. The student had anger management issues and it wasn’t unusual for him to be on suspension when I showed up to mentor.

Did I make a difference? Only God knows. I will never see the long-term results of any student I have mentored thus far, in any district in any state.

That’s just the way it is.

And now, My Mentor My Friend lost its United Way funding and has ended.

The Cleveland school district might keep the mentoring program going on its own. We’ll see. I’m also looking into another mentoring program in Lorain, which is nearer to my home. Either way, it’s another new start.

Elyria City Schools doesn’t have a mentoring program, a teacher there told me recently, because of the work involved to set up and administer such a program. I get that. When a man wants to work with children, red flags go up, don’t they?

At each school district, I had to pass a background check. In Cleveland, I also faced two interviews, fingerprinting and had to provide references – as intensive as any job interview I’ve had.

A year and a half later, is it all for naught?

Where’s the passion?

I’ve had trouble keeping jobs long-term as well. I had one job that lasted eight weeks. The job in Rockford lasted 14 months. My first job here in Elyria lasted 13 months. My next job lasted 2.5 years, but I got burned out. Without going into details, that job is over too.

I enjoy volunteering in the community. Mentoring, yes, but doing other things as well.

It’s me and God now. I no longer answer to a supervisor.

Will I find work again? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Financially, we are doing well.

And, as I said, I’m burned out. Impatient. Perhaps angry.

I have no home on Earth. I’ve felt that way for a long time.

The Rev. Doug Mater, who is the current pastor of a former church where we worshipped and served, wrote the following in a church newsletter earlier this year:

 

How often do we let our God-given strengths go to waste? We spend so much time trying to overcome our limitations by doing things we are not equipped to do. On the contrary, we should consider our special talents for ministry and focus on doing these things better, asking ourselves if we are trying to do something that we are not equipped to do, just for the sake of thinking I need to be different. …

We must continue to be the best we can at these talents so that others will see us as Christians who care about others and want them to share in the joy that we have in Jesus Christ. So, I ask you to look at your talents and keep practicing them. … Let us excel for God with the talents He has given us for his glory.

 

That’s a great message. Often we focus on our weaknesses and try to get better. Or take a job, any job, just to meet the budget.

Instead, we should emphasize our strengths and do them with passion.

What am I “equipped to do?” Do I have any “special talents?” How can I “excel for God?”

As I face yet another transition in my life, this is a good time to ponder such questions.

The journey continues.

The reason to live

President Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un recently traded barbs about who had the largest “nuclear button.”

Soon after, an emergency missile alert accidentally went out to everyone in Hawaii, sparking panic as thousands of people, assuming they had only minutes to live, scrambled to seek shelter and say their final goodbyes to loved ones.

Mudslides in southern California killed at least 20 people.

And there was a fatal school shooting in Kentucky.

Lots of fear. Life at times flashes before us, unexpectedly.

Which leads me to this question: Are we ready to die?

What if one such emergency visited your neighborhood?

No guarantees …

We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. None of us is.

We know this.

We eat nutritious foods, exercise and live a healthy lifestyle to try to prolong a happy, healthy time on Earth. Often it works.

I’ve been blessed with a healthy body, which I don’t take for granted. I enjoy ice cream or a chocolate chip cookie as much as anyone, but I don’t overindulge in them. I try to get some exercise once or twice a week.

All things in moderation.

It’s worth the effort. I rarely call in sick to work. I don’t sit on the sidelines because my body won’t let me do what I enjoy doing. I know many of you can’t say this. Each of us does our best with what we’ve been given.

… except death

But even in the best of situations, it won’t last forever. Our bodies eventually will wear out. It’s inevitable.

I am ready to die today. I’m not hoping to die or expecting to die; I’m not fatalistic about it.

But I’m ready.

It might not happen for another 40 years. That’s great, too. I’ll serve God on this Earth for as long as I’m here.

We all think about what might happen in the next life. We’re wired that way. We know we’re mortal. Some of us try to suppress those thoughts, but we all have them.

Especially as death nears, so I’ve heard.

Preparing for forever

Why wait until then to address the issue? There are things we can do now to prepare for forever.

I will be with Jesus Christ in heaven when I die. This I know. Whether it’s today or 40 years from now, it will happen.

The God of the Bible is not the same as the gods of any other religion or belief system. We do not have our own truth. Sorry, Oprah. There’s a bigger picture here, one that men and women must adhere to. (Men who abuse women will not be excused in the next life, that is certain. Even if justice isn’t served on Earth, it will be in heaven.)

The God of the Bible is the only god who cares about our welfare – on Earth as well as in the next life. That’s why we should look at this issue now, before we reach our deathbed.

 

God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

 

We don’t have to follow a list of rules before God will accept us. He takes us just as we are. Christians aren’t perfect people – far from it. We don’t have our act together, necessarily.

What makes us different?

We are forgiven. That’s all.

 

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Romans 10:9

 

That’s it. There’s no magic formula or ritual that must be followed.

Living forever

Of course, living that out isn’t easy. That’s why we attend church every week, and why we should participate in Sunday school or a small group for support and encouragement. It’s why we should read the Bible often – every day, if possible – to learn what’s in there.

Even Bible scholars, which I am not, have plenty of things to learn about God.

Does that turn you off?

It should excite you.

God is bigger than we can possibly imagine. At the same time, He is smaller than the tiniest detail of our lives.

He cares. To the point of death. His death. Our deaths.

His life. And our lives.

Am I weak or ignorant if I say that there are things I know about God, but there’s plenty I don’t know?

“Salvation” is knowable. That’s one thing we can be certain about.

Why does God save some and not others? That we will never know on this Earth.

All of us are sinners. No one deserves “salvation.” No one earns it.

Why God saves some, why He shows mercy, proves that He loves us and wants the best for us.

Including you.

Instead of asking why bad things happen to good people, we should ask:

Why do good things happen to bad people?

All of us, every single one of us, is “bad.” You can find fault with me rather easily, and a few of you do. I could find fault with you as well if I wanted to look at you that way.

How do we break that cycle?

Only by following God’s example.

He sees the good in each of us, and wants to draw that out. He offers “salvation” as a gift.

But it’s not a gift until we accept it.

I can offer you a Christmas present, but if you return it to the store, you’ve rejected it. So, it’s not a gift.

God doesn’t do that. He offers us “salvation” even though we don’t deserve it.

Then, we spend the rest of our lives getting to know Him better.

It’s worth the effort.