Hope rising from the pain

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.

Galatians 6:7-8

 

If we sow violence, we reap violence. If we sow finger-pointing, we reap finger-pointing. If we sow anger, that’s what we reap. If we sow peace, we receive peace (in the Spirit, if not in practice).

We don’t get this. If we raise a Bible outside (or inside) a church, we think God is automatically on our side. If we defend every lifestyle under the sun, we think that defines love.

If we actually opened our Bibles and tried to understand its meaning, we’d see that both sides have missed the point.

All is not lost, however. Many of us do get it.

Especially in the past week or so. As George Floyd is laid to rest, we as a nation are taking a collective breath.

Perhaps for the first time since the Civil Rights Act was passed after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, we are learning to listen to each other. Equality, justice and mutual respect are gaining traction, but we still have a long way to go. A very long way.

We see violence on cell phone and store camera videos, but racism goes much deeper than that. An offhand comment here. A derogatory word there. A promotion not received. Educational disparities. Housing discrimination. A look in a donut shop or grocery store.

listening 5

I attended a listening event last week in my city, where I heard about two dozen people share stories, many stories, including young people facing racism from peers, teachers and administrators at school; parents who did not receive justice in the courthouse next door; people who suffered silently from random events around town …

I’ve heard stories from friends with a different skin color than mine, people who are successful in life, people full of caring hearts and kind words. Even they have stories. I had no idea.

Recent stories. Current stories.

We have such a long way to go.

We focus on institutional changes, and those need to happen. Accountability in our police departments. Changes to our educational systems. Prosecution of looters and vandals – and how to prevent those people from showing up at future demonstrations and riots. Hires and promotions earned regardless of skin color.

These are big-picture, long-term issues that our nation must address.

We reap what we sow.

And yet … we cannot legislate morality. Changing laws will do only so much.

 

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new!

2 Corinthians 5:16-17

 

Even more than new (or better) laws, we need new (or better) hearts.

The human point of view is selfish, me first, I’m right and know what’s best. This goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Every human, man and woman, who has ever lived understands this. Myself included. Every time I run a red (or pink) light I’m saying that my values and purpose are more important than society’s values, that the light has to turn green for someone else and I have to stop and wait while other drivers pass through the intersection.

I roll my eyes, get impatient. Especially when traffic clears and the light stays red.

Selfishness is that easy. I need a heart change.

Time to breathe.

Society does not revolve around me. I have to keep reminding myself of that, and still I don’t learn.

We wave the Bible in public, making a mockery of God’s written word because we won’t open the pages and actually read what’s inside it.

Those who condemn our president’s recent Bible-toting photo op in front of a Washington, D.C., church often aren’t modeling Christian values either.

There’s plenty of anger and finger-pointing on both sides. The anger and, yes, hatred on both sides have simmered for years; George Floyd’s horrific death was the lightning rod that triggered our hearts to act on our anger.

Righteous anger? Yes, far too often.

As a white man, it’s not up to me to analyze what’s going on and decide how to fix it.

White men have run this country since it was formed. Let’s be honest. In all other societies throughout history, the only way a minority group takes power is by force – figuring out how to overthrow the ruling oppressors.

We in the United States are working to share leadership, power and authority. It’s not natural, and it’s certainly not coming easily.

It requires a heart change. We can’t legislate morality. We can write in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal …” but until we actually treat each other that way, such statements are nothing more than pipe dreams.

This requires humility. The willingness to listen. To let others lead. To respect opinions and decisions different than ours.

None of that happens without a heart change.

I am encouraged. In the midst of police brutality and destruction of small businesses despite our not-quite-over-yet isolation from COVID-19, I see many people listening. I see police chiefs and officers marching with protesters, not against them. I see many people helping clean up broken windows and stores. I see blacks, whites, Asians and others talking, listening, meeting together, seeking to find similarities instead of differences.

In the midst of struggle and pain, I see hope.

We have such a long way to go.

But we have to start somewhere.

Will history look back at this moment as a turning point in our country?

This is my prayer.  Let’s make it happen.

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.

Truth is discovered, not inherited

“I’m really not interested in bipartisan or reaching-across-the-aisle politics. The world is divided right now, and I’m OK with it, because the truth is, I feel like I’m on the right side.”

 

“… I have nothing to learn from …”

 

Can you guess the source of each of these quotes?

One came from a person on the “Christian left,” and the other was spoken by an ultra-conservative. Both are responses to anti-lockdown protests outside state Capitol buildings.

Hard to tell who said what, isn’t it? Liberals and conservatives use similar language to promote their ideologies.

Both sides claim they are right and the other side is wrong. Each claims the high road.

The bigger picture

Neither actually travels the high road, though.

gridlock - nbc
Lansing protest. (NBC)

Meshawn Maddock of the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which organized the high-profile April 15 “Operation Gridlock” in Lansing, Mich., spoke the first quote, according to Bridge Magazine (bridgemi.com). The coalition organizes activists fiercely loyal to President Trump, Bridge wrote.

The second quote is a Facebook response to a comment I made on the friend’s page. My friend was making a point following a similar protest at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus.

Both sides are missing the big picture.

The “lockdown,” more gently called stay-in-place orders, was done for a reason.

The orders are hard economically, which means the protesters have a point, too. But by breaking stay-in-place and social distancing rules, the protesters compromised their own message.

There’s an even bigger picture here. Stay-in-place orders, while they are directed at all of us, are not meant to protect all of us. Some of us are more prone to the coronavirus than others are.

In other words, social distancing is not about you. It’s not about me.

It’s about protecting the most vulnerable among us.

The world unites

Politics, by definition, is divisive, as both of these quotes bear out. But COVID-19, the coronavirus that sparked worldwide shutdowns and subsequent protests, doesn’t care.

The shutdowns are attempting to “flatten the curve” – to reduce deaths from the virus. Most people who get the virus won’t die from it, but enough do that it quickly became a worldwide pandemic.

columbus protest - cleveland 19 news
Columbus protest (Cleveland 19 News)

It’s not about you or me. It’s a worldwide pandemic. The entire world is not wrong to make such a big deal of this, as some conspiracy theorists have said.

One in four positive cases in Ohio are prison inmates, The Associated Press reported this week. Other outbreaks are concentrated in nursing homes. There’s a home 10 minutes from my house where at least 66 residents and 20 staff are infected – the largest hotspot in the entire state of Ohio at the moment.

My parents live in an independent living center. They are in lockdown: No one is allowed in and they aren’t supposed to go out, unless for medical needs.

Overreaction, as the protesters claim?

No. If either of my parents contracted the virus, they likely wouldn’t survive it. Dad has medical issues that would compromise him, Mom’s health is good; both are in their 80s.

When was the last time we saw the world come together like this to fight a common enemy? World War II, possibly, but that was still human vs. human. When was the last time the entire world fought an enemy other than ourselves?

Not in my lifetime, at least.

Prevention works

If we ignored the virus and just let it run its course, it might have gone through the world faster, but it would have been much more deadly, as we saw in Italy, which delayed its response by weeks. It also would overwhelm hospitals far beyond their capabilities to serve us.

So now, we wait.

Schools are closed for the rest of the 2019-20 year. Ohio made that official this week. That forced spring sports seasons to get canceled as well. Barber shops, many restaurants, and a host of other “non-essential” businesses remain closed. Thousands of their owners and employees are filing for unemployment and/or are closing permanently.

Thus, the pretense for the protests.

The alternative, however, is more people dying. Many more. And overwhelmed hospitals.

Prevention is working. Social distancing, masks, staying at home … no news is good news. Prevention means nothing happens. That’s a good thing, not a conspiracy theory.

That’s the best thing.

How and when to open up our states and our country are the questions of the day.

But it’s not about us.

I very likely would survive COVID-19 should I contract it, but my parents possibly would not. That’s why I can’t take the chance to even visit them right now – if I was even allowed to, which I’m not.

It’s not about me.

The virus must run its course – or a vaccine must be created to prevent the virus from being so contagious.

Neither of those has happened yet, so we wait.

The higher picture

And we argue, sometimes impatiently, in actual protests and across social media.

“Christian left” is a political term, as is “Christian right.” Is it even possible today to call oneself a Christian, live that way and not get political about it?

I sure hope so.

The Bible – the non-political version – offers advice like this:

 

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

James 3:17

 

James says God’s standards and the world’s standards are incompatible (James 4:4). That’s painfully obvious to me these days. When we focus on ourselves, we fight. We see life our way, and only our way. The other side is wrong.

But everyone has a reason for living the way he or she does, right or wrong. Who am I to judge? That’s God’s job (James 4:12).

By even commenting on the protests, I’ve made judgments. In some ways, that’s unavoidable.

The motive has to be serving the greater good. The virus is making millions of us sick, sometimes without us even realizing it (because of the lack of testing), and has the potential to kill millions of us as well.

The economy drives our country. We make money and spend it. When those options are taken away from us, what do we have left?

Depends who you ask, doesn’t it?

All of us are affected, of course. Some Americans are having a much harder time weathering the economic storm than others are.

We do need to reopen the economy. But the greater good is preserving life, and preventing as much sickness as possible.

I hope and pray that our leaders are strong, and are making science-based as well as economically-based sound decisions.

I’d love to go to a ballgame again. But not if it kills me. Or you.

It will happen, eventually.

In the meantime, let’s not be so divisive. It’s not about you, and it’s not about me. “Truth” is discovered, not inherited.

Main photo: Wisconsin protest (The Associated Press)

The candidates’ views – in their own words

 

What is truth? Who do you believe?

Those aren’t easy questions to answer in today’s social media-crazed society, where everyone is a journalist and even more of us have an opinion on any issue out there.

In this atmosphere, we will determine the next president of the United States later this year. The primary and caucus season starts in less than two weeks.

President Donald Trump is the incumbent Republican, and as much as I’d like to see a challenger for him in the GOP primary, I don’t see that happening. No one is planning for his impeachment trial to be successful, so let’s just assume he will fill the Republican side of the presidential ballot in November.

So, in preparation for the upcoming primary election and caucus season – beginning with the Democratic caucus in Iowa on Monday, Feb. 3 – let’s take about a week to learn what makes the top candidates tick.

In their own words. Not from debate sound bites only on certain issues. Not from social media supporters or critics.

I researched the six candidates who participated in the last Democratic debate on Jan. 14, and added Michael Bloomberg and Andrew Yang. Those seem to be to be the top eight candidates still in the running.

I spent a little time on each candidate’s campaign web site to find where he or she stands on issues important to him or her – in their own words. Some have exhaustive explanations on numerous issues; some discuss only a few causes. Others offer short discourses on a few issues and lengthy tomes on others he or she is passionate about.

I will highlight the issues in each candidate’s own words. As the editor of this blog, I’ll condense for clarity. If you wish to find further details, I’ll provide the campaign web site for each of them.

Most of the candidates have harsh words for President Trump and for his policies. For this exercise, I’ve eliminated that. Tell me what your plan is. We’ve heard enough rhetoric and criticism. Tell me what you’re going to do about it.

Also, several of the candidates are better preachers than many preachers are. I’ve kept that to a minimum as well. My primary format is bullet points listing the candidates’ stances.

I’ll use an old newspaper technique to remain objective when profiling multiple people: I’ll highlight them in alphabetical order.

So, where does each candidate stand on the issues of our day? Let’s find out. In his or her own words. Each candidate gets his or her day:

 

Joe Biden on Friday, Jan. 24

Michael Bloomberg on Saturday, Jan. 25

Pete Buttigieg on Monday, Jan. 27

Amy Klobuchar on Tuesday, Jan. 28

Bernie Sanders on Wednesday, Jan. 29

Tom Steyer on Thursday, Jan. 30

Elizabeth Warren on Friday, Jan. 31

Andrew Yang on Saturday, Feb. 1

 

I have no idea who I will vote for when the time comes. I lean toward certain candidates; others make me cringe; still others I don’t know much about.

That’s the point of this project. Who, in general, supports the positions you or I support?

Don’t expect any candidate to line up perfectly with all your views. Which issues are non-negotiable for you? Hopefully you don’t have too many of those, or you may have trouble voting for anyone.

Let’s choose our Democratic candidate wisely, with a clear mind and calm heart. After all, that’s how we want our leaders to lead.

Don’t we?

What the Browns don’t understand

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry taunted an opposing player after scoring a touchdown Sunday, then wouldn’t apologize for it. Nor did his head coach expect him to.

Therein lies the problem with this underachieving team.

As an outsider to the Cleveland area (we moved here almost six years ago from out of state), I find it fascinating – and sometimes hilarious – to see how fans react to the local professional sports teams. I learned very quickly that a synonym for Cleveland is “Browns Town.”

No kidding.

Never mind that the Browns haven’t won an NFL championship since 1964, before the Super Bowl era began. Most of those years across the past half-century, the team hasn’t even been competitive. And 20 years ago, the then-owner moved the team to Baltimore. Many passionate Browns fans still haven’t forgotten that. (Cleveland got an expansion franchise three years later.)

Never mind that there are two other major professional sports teams in Cleveland, both of which actually are (or were) pretty good.

No, this is Browns Town. Clevelanders would rather freeze their fingers off at First Energy Stadium on the shores of Lake Erie than battle mayflies for a week during the summer heat at Progressive Field. The Q, or Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse or whatever they call it these days, has no such outside limitations. Doesn’t matter.

Team sports

Anybody remember who the three Indians starting pitchers were who began the season in the minor leagues, but all played pivotal roles in the baseball team’s push to the postseason (which fell just short)? Didn’t think so. Zack Plesac, Adam Plutko and Aaron Civale provide a bright future for the Indians.

No superstar resumes there, just quality athletes who did their jobs very well.

The Cavaliers basketball team reached the NBA finals four consecutive years, winning one title, all with LeBron James as the cornerstone. When he left before last season, the team fell apart. But the Cavs gave this city the sports championship it was starving for.

I think the Browns are trying to re-create the Cavs’ success using the Cavs’ formula. I’m not a fan.

Basketball, football and baseball are team sports. In basketball sometimes you can get away with stacking a team full of superstars – or, in the Cavs case, one really big superstar – and challenge for the title.

Strong leadership

Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich

But which NBA team has had the most success over the past 20 years? The San Antonio Spurs have won five championships in that time frame – 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2014. They had the same coach for all five: Gregg Popovich.

What’s up with “Pop?” Alone among coaches in the ego-driven NBA, Popovich actually runs his team. He demands that the players fit into his system, not the other way around. Even superstars like David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker – current or future Hall of Famers, all – bought into Popovich’s system. They thrived as individuals, and flourished as teams.

As an alum of Michigan State University, I enjoy following the Spartan basketball program. Coach Tom Izzo – the head coach for 25 years, and an assistant to Jud Heathcote before that – has reached the NCAA Tournament Final Four eight times in those 25 years, more than any other coach.

What’s Izzo’s secret? He doesn’t recruit the five-star one-and-done players that Kentucky and Duke sign. He goes after the next level of players – excellent athletes, perhaps a little under the radar, then keeps them three or four years and develops them. His teams, most years, are veteran teams with a mix of freshmen and sophomores.

He pushes them hard, in practices and during games. He’s not berating them; he’s pushing them to become better players. And better young men.

Tom Izzo, Cassius Winston

They know that. Which is why they submit to his authority.

Izzo knows when to be soft, as well. Over the weekend, the brother of his star player, Cassius Winston, was hit by a train and killed. About 24 hours later, the team played a game.

“I guess if I was to be honest, I expected him not to play, but everyone grieves a different way, and we left it 100 percent up to Cassius,” Izzo said. “His brothers are the world to him. I’ve never seen a kid over my years that was as close with his brothers. Zachary grew up around the team so much. He grew close to all the guys.”

Winston played, and played well in an easy non-conference victory.

Winston is a senior, beginning his fourth season under Izzo’s tutelage. In his first three seasons, he averaged 6.7, 12.6 and 18.8 points per game. That’s the Izzo way. Keep improving, keep getting better, become a leader.

Izzo’s passion for basketball is well-documented. He screams at referees during games. He screams at his own players during timeouts.

Channel the passion

But unlike Jarvis Landry of the Browns, Izzo’s passion is not about himself. He’s challenging his players to reach their full potential, to go beyond what they think they are even capable of. For their own good. For the good of the team.

That is what the Cleveland Browns do not understand.

What is the culture of the Browns? How does an organization develop a winning attitude?

Browns Football

Owner Jimmy Haslam has to decide this, then hire and draft employees who will buy into his system. Head Coach Freddie Kitchens doesn’t know what the culture is. Jarvis Landry is allowed to run the team, basically, and set his own culture.

Landry needs to grow up. He is part of a team, and it does not revolve around him.

Passion is a good thing. I’m not suggesting he muzzle his passion.

However, he must channel that passion into positive plays. Taunting an opponent, which cost his team an extra point (it could have cost his team the game), is unacceptable. Landry must fuel that passion between the white lines, while the clock is ticking. Catching passes. Blocking for his teammates. Doing whatever else his coaches ask him to do to help the team win.

My wife and I raised three boys. They could have gotten into all kinds of mischief. But we didn’t let them get destructive. We didn’t crush their spirits; we re-focused them in positive directions.

Sports offers a great outlet for male aggression. But it has to be done correctly. You’re not helping your team if all you do is cause penalties and do things to get ejected from games. Channel that energy. Work with your own talent. Get better at what you do. Make yourself better, and make your team better.

A winning plan

The Cleveland Browns will never come close to winning a Super Bowl until they understand this. Fans can scream and offer advice til they are blue in the face, but none of it matters, really.

Cut the noise. Focus on what’s important.

Develop the individual. For the good of the team.

If the individual won’t play that game, keep him off the roster, no matter how much talent he has. Find players who will.

Just ask Gregg Popovich or Tom Izzo. Both are winners, for a reason.

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.

Re-thinking church in an inner city

I’ve never been involved in a church plant before. There’s plenty of hope and excitement, but we don’t even know all the challenges we will face.

Our multi-campus church is planning to open a new campus in Lorain, Ohio, a self-described “international city” of about 63,000 people on the shores of Lake Erie about 30 miles west of Cleveland. As of 2016, whites comprised 51.7 percent of the city’s population, Hispanics 29.1 percent, blacks 14.5 percent and “two or more races” 3.1 percent.

http://www.city-data.com/city/Lorain-Ohio.html

I’m interested in this because my wife and I raised our three sons at an inner-city church in Saginaw, Michigan, with similar demographics to Lorain. Now that they are grown and on their own, I have more time to devote to this.

To learn more about planting a multi-ethnic church, the Lorain campus pastor and I attended a three-day conference on the topic in Chicago. It was eye-opening.

As a former newspaper guy, I took lots of notes. Here is a summary from the plenary speakers and workshop leaders I heard:

Church and society

If we want to be a multi-ethnic church, then the dominant culture cannot be more than 80 percent of the church. Research shows that if visitors see at least 20 percent of people in their ethnic group attending, then they feel like “members” and not “visitors.”  We should be strategic about seeking 20 percent of an ethnic group if we truly want to be multi-ethnic.

For some people, society does not work – economically, medically, socially, religiously, etc. These people do not trust any institutions. Church plants will take a long time for these people to trust. They may reject institutionalism, even if they hunger for God. To reach them, we might need to change the way we do church – why 11 a.m. services? Why does communion happen weekly or monthly? Etc. These are not wrong, but they are not in the Bible. What’s Biblical, and what’s cultural?

The new national divide is achiever vs. non-achiever. Achievers value the individual; non-achievers value the society. Most non-whites (as well as whites) are achievers. Achievers are mainstream; non-achievers live in the sub-culture.

Doing church

One speaker said white pastors are excellent at “three-point sermons with seven sub-points.” That’s fine, but that’s not how black preachers preach. If we want to reach black people, this might become an issue. Another example: Hispanics will show up late, then they will stay late. That’s their culture. We might need to re-think the way we do church.

moody4

The traditional church model: Meet Jesus, attend church, connect/serve/give, go into the world. This isn’t working; it’s too shallow.

The new model: Meet Jesus, attend church, deep change, go into the world.

How to accomplish deep change? We need to meet emotional, social, intellectual, physical and spiritual needs – all of them.  Which means all of those needs in my life, as a leader, must be met as well, or I will not be an effective leader. The Mary-Martha struggle: When are we focused on our actions at the expense of spending time with Jesus?

This is not a quick fix. It’s hard. It takes time.

Most people in our cities aren’t thinking about repentance, but about where their next meal is coming from. We must disciple them to conversion. We must offer Bible nuggets that people can relate to. “There’s a guy in the Bible who understands what you are going through …” (This means we have to know the Bible well, of course.)

Value in all cultures

Whites frequently will not get involved in a church (or any other organization) unless they lead it. Several speakers made this point. Whites often don’t leave room for other ethnic groups to lead – or if they do, they must follow the examples of whites. We often do this unconsciously.

There is no assimilating into one true culture in heaven. All cultures are good. Faith brings out the best in all of them. Every culture has stories to tell.

How much of church planting is led by whiteness? Most of it. It’s a strange mix of benevolence and oppression. This has become the only story. How do we liberate from whiteness (or any dominant culture)? According to the Bible, we die to it. We are not to assimilate, but to create a new story.

Jesus’ blood is the new story, for all cultures. His death and resurrection is the great equalizer for all of us. Jesus didn’t ask us to become Him. Instead, He became one of us.

Those of us in the dominant culture often forget that we have a culture. Everybody speaks with an accent except me, for example.

Marginalization happens when people are minimized in different ways. Marginalization often leads to oppression, which is defined as sin plus power.

Jesus went to the margins. He was surrounded by sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes and women and children. All of us need to go there, too.

Jesus gave us a table, and all the chairs around it are on the same level. No high chairs and low chairs. Everybody drinks from the same cup, and we share germs. All ethnic groups are equal before God.

History is not over

Blacks’ history is slavery. No other immigrant group can say that. We heard first-person testimonies from several ethnic minorities who have experienced racism in their lifetimes. My wife has a co-worker whose boyfriend is black. He recently was talking with several friends in the parking lot of the apartment complex in Lorain where he lives. Another resident of the apartment complex called the cops on him. His crime? Being black and talking with his friends. It happens still today, even in Lorain.

As white people, we cannot deny that these things happened, and are still happening. If we want to reach this population for Christ, we need to meet them where they are.

Perceptions

lasalle street

Another cultural difference: Whites often see themselves as a collection of individuals. Blacks see themselves as a community. This is crucial to understanding how we communicate differently.

For example, a white police officer in Houston recently killed a black man in his own apartment. Blacks wanted the world to feel his suffering and pain. They wanted pastors to talk about that the following Sunday. Our reaction as whites? We want more facts. Give us the details of what happened before we react.

This is huge. We must understand this difference.

Critique the culture

Cities – with density and proximity – amplify the opposition to the gospel.

There is little social pressure anymore to attend church. There are four basic religious beliefs, but some Americans don’t even have these:

  1. There is a god.
  2. There is moral truth.
  3. There is sin.
  4. There is an afterlife.

How do we evangelize in this setting?

We must critique the culture. The standards our culture offers don’t work. If your career is your primary motivator in life, what happens when – not if, but when – you lose it? If it’s to be a good person, you’ll never be good enough (maybe you haven’t committed adultery, but have you lusted? This is Jesus’ standard.) If it’s freedom, you aren’t, and you know it. If you live for money, you’ll never have enough. If you seek beauty, you’ll never feel beautiful. And on and on.

But if you serve Jesus, you’ll get forgiveness when you fail.

There are no merit-based scholarships in heaven. Only grace.

Also, there is no defense against:

  1. Prayers of the saints.
  2. Love of the saints.
  3. Wise application of the word of God to your concerns.

Am I good enough?

I am not good enough.

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

I am the least in my family.

“I will be with you.”

This is the story of Gideon, starting in Judges 6.

It also is my story.

If I choose to believe it.

An angel of the Lord called Gideon into battle. Instead, he found excuses. He hid. He wanted the angel to choose someone else, I’m sure.

Satan has told me this same lie for years, and I believed it. I’m not good enough. No one cares what I think. No one is listening, so why barge in?

Send someone else, God.

My thoughts don’t matter.

No one has ever actually told me that.

Why do I believe it’s true, then?

Because very few people try to draw me out, to seek my thoughts on an issue. It’s easy to remain unnoticed.

Sometimes, I don’t have anything to say. (I pick my battles, far fewer than many people do.)

Other times, I’ve thought about speaking up. Occasionally, I actually do.

But that’s why I write. It’s easier for me to share my thoughts with a keyboard than verbally.

My thoughts frequently are off the wall anyway. They would make you uncomfortable. I’m sure of it.

Iron sharpens iron, they say. But iron is hard. It hurts if someone gets hit with it.

So, like Gideon, I make excuses.

But sometimes, God speaks to me too, as He did to Gideon.

No more excuses, Gideon. I’ve got a plan for you.

Go do it.

“I will be with you.” (Judges 6:16)

Does God have a plan for me?

He does.

God talked with me over the weekend, several times. I attended a men’s retreat with about 40 men from our church.

Actually, it wasn’t a retreat. Our leader called it an “advance.” Men don’t retreat. We move forward.

We advance.

Like Gideon did, despite his low self-esteem.

At one point during the weekend, I watched a Canada goose for 40 minutes. The goose swam peacefully on a small lake for awhile, then came ashore to find some breakfast.

Until one of our men walked past. As he approached, the goose sensed danger and retreated to the safety of the water. When the man continued on and the perceived danger was removed, the goose returned to the shore in search of breakfast.

This happened three times, as three men passed by, one by one.

Men are not supposed to retreat like this goose did. If we perceive danger, we are to face it.

Perhaps the danger is real. Perhaps not.

None of these men had any intention of harming the goose. In fact, all of them ignored it. Didn’t even notice what the goose was doing.

The goose didn’t understand that. It perceived danger, and removed itself.

We are men. God gave us minds and hearts to make sense of the world around us.

We are to live in the moment, not retreat from it.

We are to engage. We just might learn something. Or solve a problem.

Perhaps I might get hurt.

Or, possibly, a man and the goose might help each other. Companionship. Assistance finding breakfast, for example.

How do we know unless we engage?

At another point during the “advance,” God told me I need to change my heart towards two people in particular. A specific challenge.

With one person, I’m not good enough. I misunderstand and I’m misunderstood, because I don’t share my thoughts and feelings nearly enough.

I need to engage much more than I have done.

With the other person – who has developmental disabilities than make him unable to understand life the way I do – I need patience and love. He is an adult physically but not mentally. I should not expect him to respond as an adult should.

It’s hard to treat an adult with respect when he acts like a child. He is a child in an adult’s body.

Patience.

Getting angry hasn’t solved anything yet. Frustration doesn’t work either.

Patience.

One of our “advance” speakers challenged us to say yes to God, even when He asks us to do impossible things. And God will ask us to do impossible things because we are men, and we are given opportunities to glorify God – because we are worth that much to Him.

We are good enough, our speaker said. We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Despite our failures in the past.

This is the God we worship.

“I will be with you.”

On Saturday afternoon, seven of us men descended a couple of hundred steps (I didn’t count them, I’m guessing here) to the top of a beautiful waterfall that emptied into a gorge. We saw some flat rocks in the gorge that we could stand on, so we bushwhacked down the hill to reach them.

No steps or path there. It had rained the day before, so the leaf-covered hill was damp and a little muddy.

And steep.

And slippery.

We descended anyway.

Once the first couple of guys started down the hill, the rest of us followed.

The waterfall was beautiful from down there. We hung out for a little while, enjoying nature’s beauty.

Eventually, we had to climb up. We joked about calling for a helicopter to rescue us, but that was a joke.

Grab a tree branch here and hope it holds my weight. Pull myself up. There’s a big root over there; I grabbed that next. My shoes got muddy and I got a scratch or two, but I made it up to the stairs.

All seven of us did.

It took us a minute to catch our breaths.

On my own, there’s no way I would have trekked that hill. Such a thought never would have crossed my mind. When the steps and the path ended, well, that’s where I stop.

See what men can do when we work together? Encourage each other? Push each other, even?

I’m not good enough.

Oh, yes I am.

Now that the “advance” is over, I need to live the rest of my life that way.

Those men won’t be with me day by day, but the living God is.

“I will be with you.”

I need to say yes to God.

Today. Moment by moment.

Let the adventure begin.