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.

Drivers under the influence of their own arrogance

A local columnist I read recently rightly worries about letting her teen son test for his driver’s learning permit. She tells the story of a driver under the influence of a narcotic who caused a three-vehicle crash not far from their home.

Drivers under the influence of a narcotic aren’t the ones that worry me.

Fright on the freeway

My wife and I late one Friday afternoon were traveling on eastbound I-90. Suddenly, a driver in a black sports car sprinted across three lanes of traffic to reach the I-271 interchange east of Cleveland. I slammed on my brakes and horn at the same time, or I’d have broadsided him – at 60 mph.

Behind me, the driver of a flat-bed semi honked at me for slowing down in the middle of a busy highway. Obviously not paying attention until the last split-second, he swerved to my right, flew past me and cut me off – with his flatbed trailer – then sped on ahead.

This all happened in just a few seconds. I had no time to panic or be afraid.

People die in that situation.

A couple of weeks later, my wife and I were traveling westbound on I-90 approaching the state Route 611 exit not far from our home. Driving in the right-hand lane, we approached a police car with its lights flashing that had stopped a vehicle on the shoulder.

Following state law, I slowed down, since I was unable to move to the left lane due to traffic. A driver in a small car behind me drove up to my bumper. After we passed the police car and traffic lightened a little, he sped around me and jerked in front of me, nearly hitting my vehicle, to get to the 611 exit immediately in front of us.

Seriously?

These are the drivers that scare me. They aren’t under the influence of anything except their own arrogance.

I see them nearly every day. Even though I see police cars all the time, I’ve never seen worse drivers than I have in Northeast Ohio.

I don’t get it.

I have more stories. I bet you could tell some, too.

Cut off in the city

Several times, drivers have swerved past me when I’m in my work van and cut me off just to get to a gas station or convenience store immediately ahead. That unsafe pass saved them three seconds – literally. Do they even know that?

Or, they speed past just to get to the red light a little faster than I do.

I have pity on such drivers. Why are they in such a hurry? Can’t they relax, even a little? Perhaps they need to set their alarm clock five minutes earlier – or actually get out of bed when the alarm goes off.

I drive for a living now. Before I got this job, I enjoyed taking a ride through the countryside just to relax. If I had some down time, I’d put the key in the ignition and go. No agenda, no destination, just a time to see someplace new.

Driving for fun

A few times, instead of the countryside, I toured the city. I visited Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland a couple of times, where my grandparents and uncle are buried. I had a job interview in Sandusky three years ago, and I drove up there a couple of days before the interview just to get a feel for the city and find the building where the interview would take place.

When I graduated college more than 35 years ago, I accepted a job as a reporter/photographer/ad salesman/page designer/newspaper deliverer for a weekly newspaper in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I turned in mileage reimbursement sheets. It wasn’t unusual for me to submit 300 miles of work-related mileage in a week. It was nothing to drive 50 miles round-trip to cover a meeting.

I rarely saw a traffic light up there. Just get in my car and go. Most towns had one – count ’em, one – blinker light.

That was the toughest part about moving downstate to Saginaw, Mich. – traffic. Sharing the road. Stopping at red lights. Construction zone detours.

I learned, because I had to. I’ve never been in a crash, either. It can be done.

It’s called defensive driving. Expect other drivers to do stupid things, so I’m not surprised when they actually happen.

When our three sons learned to drive as teenagers, I impressed upon them the need to get where they were going. No matter how long it takes, get there. Reach your destination. If you’re stuck in a construction zone, for example, be patient. You’ll get through it.

So you think you can merge

Even today, I am amused when construction narrows three lanes to two, or two lanes to one, and drivers think they can beat the system by driving right up to the flashing arrow or orange barrels and hope someone will let them in. We let them in every time, don’t we?

But that slows everyone down. If we all just got in line, that line would flow smoothly – slowly, sure, but smoothly – through the construction zone. Try it sometime.

Chill out, people. Enjoy the ride. Not just for the sake of teens learning to drive, but for the rest of us too.

Whether on the highway or in the city, I don’t appreciate you taking my life in your hands, as well as your own.

(Side note: If you truly liked your car, SUV or truck, you wouldn’t risk damaging it with unsafe driving. Must be nice to have the money to replace your ride often. I don’t. Just so you know.)