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.

The messenger matters more than the message

“Life was teaching me that progress and change happen slowly. Not in two years, four years, or even a lifetime. We were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.”

Faith takes time

I claim a strong Christian faith, but I’m not one to beat you over the head with it. I’ll probe here and there, make a comment, give you a look, write one or two sentences, engage in a respectful conversation if you’d like, and let it go at that.

My faith is a lifestyle, not just a list of rules and regulations to follow or not follow. So, it (hopefully) permeates most of what I write and how I talk and act, even if I’m not explicitly mentioning God by name.

Planting seeds, Christians like to say. Or, maybe watering seeds that someone else has planted.

God gives the growth. God changes hearts. I do not.

I will not change your mind about anything. I know this.

If I want to plant seeds of change, I must learn how to listen first. Because that’s all I can do: Plant seeds.

The fruit belongs to the living God.

The fruit of mentoring is …

When I connect with a young person through school or church, I’m giving my time, and not much more. In formal mentoring programs, I’ve eaten lunch with a youth for up to a year, perhaps played a game or two that he enjoys. We talk about his life.

I’m not allowed to discuss my faith, unless he brings it up first. That’s OK. I’ll listen to his story, because his story matters – whether I can relate to it or not.

Is that planting seeds of change? I’ll never know, actually. One year with the student, then he’s gone. Or, I’m gone. Or, the program is gone.

I’ve experienced all three scenarios.

One student moved to Arizona after the school year ended to be with his dad. Another time, I accepted a job out of state and had to leave a wonderful situation where I was reading one-on-one with students during class. Twice, the mentoring program itself ended – one with no notice at all, the other with a formal letter.

Did any of those young men gain anything through the time we spent together? Only God knows.

If no one else watered the seeds, or if I didn’t plant deep enough or water enough, perhaps not. But that is in the living God’s hands, not mine.

I donate blood regularly. I never learn who receives my blood; it’s done anonymously. They tell me the process saves lives; I take their word for it. That’s in God’s hands too.

That’s enough for me.

What seeds are you planting?

Societal change

During this time of COVID-19, we are seeing many changes. The virus is a silent killer, pervasive and unseen. It attacks certain people more readily than others, but not uniformly – so it’s impossible to predict who will get sick (and potentially die) and who will escape its effects.

Changes happened literally overnight because of the coronavirus. Schools closed. Businesses were shut down. Nursing homes became de-facto prisons – no one in, no one out. Social distancing became the norm. We wear masks and, in certain situations, gloves.

These changes did not happen slowly. Perhaps that’s why we’ve fought them so much.

Proportionally, the vast majority of us will not die from COVID-19. Or even get sick. But because it’s very contagious, we might be carriers without knowing it.

This is all old news.

We are gradually opening up our country again. It’s not fast enough for some, but we don’t want the virus to spike. Mass gatherings still won’t happen anytime soon.

The next town over just announced their very popular pool won’t open at all this summer. There’s no way to enforce social distancing and keep the pool and surrounding areas clean and sanitized, city leaders said.

The return to normal will take time. We must be patient. Americans have trouble with this. We are a fast-paced, immediate gratification society. We drive fast. We work long hours. We’re all about production and measurable results. We eat on the run, and pay for it with obesity and other health issues. We love our concerts and ballgames.

COVID-19 feeds on all of that.

We are forced to slow down. To be patient. To cook at home. To think of the health of others before ourselves.

I hope we don’t lose these lessons as we ramp up this summer and beyond.

We are seeing the best of our society during these days, and the worst of society too.

We deliver groceries for neighbors. Make and deliver masks. Call, text and/or Zoom with people we can’t visit right now, some of whom we haven’t contacted in quite awhile.

Since this also is a presidential election year, we’ve retreated to our social media platforms and dug in. I have friends on both sides of the political aisle, and I’ve had to un-follow several of them because of the vitriol they keep posting.

Political patience

Progress and change happen slowly. In the political arena, are they happening at all?

I think so, yes.

Extremists run both political parties now. But most Americans live somewhere in the middle. Most of us, I’d say, lean one way or the other, but we’re providing for our families, working and living life in our communities, not basing our day-to-day decisions on the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling or tweet from the President or bill passed by the state Legislature.

Our governments should serve the people, not the other way around. Government, especially at the federal level, these days seems to be about selectively restricting who it serves – keeping immigrants out and reducing welfare programs, while allowing abortion clinics and gun shops to remain open.

Are there seeds of change we can plant politically? Can we learn to get along with each other, despite our differences?

Well, let’s see. I haven’t told you yet who said the quote I began this blog with. Actually, I read it in a book. I didn’t want to tell you right away, because a certain segment of you would dismiss it and not read this blog just because of who wrote it.

The messenger matters more than the message.

That’s how judgmental we’ve become.

Planting seeds of change means listening even to people we think we don’t like. No one on earth is the Devil personified. Truly. There’s good (and evil) in each one of us. You and I included.

I wish we not only understood this, but lived like we understood it.

That quote about progress, change and patience was written by Michelle Obama in her book, “Becoming.” Page 370. If anyone understands those concepts, it’s the former First Lady. She’s lived them, and continues to live them.

Are we listening?

 

Photo: Max Wolf spikes plants in a greenhouse of the August-Heyn gardening school on March 17. Berlin’s oldest gardening school has existed for 100 years. Every year it brings nature closer to about 30,000 children. (The Associated Press)

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)

Media is (are) …

Many of you love to criticize the media. But what is the media?

Wrong question, actually. It’s not “media is.” It’s “media are.”

Media are plural.

Media, by definition, refers to more than one form of communication.

Back in the day (not so long ago), media had three forms: newspapers, television and radio. We got our news from one or more of those sources.

I worked in the newspaper business for about three decades. I refer to this often in my blog because it’s a big part of who I was, and still am.

Newspapers

Here’s a story I haven’t shared in awhile. I worked for an Upper Peninsula weekly after graduating from college in 1982. The owners/editors were a father/son (the son still owns and runs the paper); the father was a retired University of Michigan journalism professor, where he taught for more than four decades. He never stopped teaching; that job was like a paid internship for me.

A former board member of the ACLU, Mr. Maurer – as a sign of respect, nobody called him by his first name – had liberal views on life, which many journalists do. But he didn’t force his views on this naïve just-starting-out born-again-Christian reporter.

Instead, he drilled this into me: Believe whatever you like. But tell me why. Defend yourself. Think it through.

That’s a lesson I wish all 330 million of us Americans understood. When I got to The Saginaw (Mich.) News in 1985, where I worked for 24 years, I saw that lesson lived out. We sought other viewpoints. We wanted the views of the common man and woman: When the City Council made a decision, how did it affect the people who live there, who are affected by the decision?

We challenged our readers to think about issues, on our news and editorial pages. Did the Council make the right decision? If not, what options do you as a citizen have?

Our news editor was never satisfied, seeking other viewpoints on every story. He drove us nuts, and worse. But we were good. Oh, were we good.

I don’t think we realized how good until the newspaper fell apart in 2009.

Television

We in the newspaper business liked to critique TV newscasters. Our paper printed around lunchtime, and we accused the local TV station of literally reading our stories on air during their noon news.

TV news offers a different perspective. Back in the day, it could report news as it happened – a house fire, for example, showing video of the flames. The newspaper had deadlines hours away, so we had to do more analysis beyond the immediate fire – cost of damage, effects on the residents and the neighborhood, things like that.

And TV producers knew, and know, their audience: lots of weather and sports. Especially weather, if a storm was brewing. That’s what we talk about.

Radio

I’ve also enjoyed listening to news radio in the morning. In Saginaw, WSGW-AM 790 was, and still is, a great source of news. Here in the Cleveland area, I sometimes listen to WTAM-AM 1100. Especially when I was a driver for a day program that served adults with developmental disabilities, I’d put on WTAM for at least a half-hour to get the morning’s headlines – news, sports and weather.

Radio also offers something else that proves important to commuters and drivers: a traffic report every 10 minutes. Every so often, those reports affected my morning drive. Crashes, backups, wires down, flooding here and there … whatever affected traffic.

Radio, like TV and newspapers, knows its audience and serves its purpose.

So, what happened?

News gets cloudy

The World Wide Web (remember that term?) happened, followed by social media.

Newspapers, TV and radio have kept their missions throughout the media sea change, for the most part anyway. Newspapers have changed the most, adding digital platforms to basically become 24-hour news operations. The newspapers themselves point to a moment in time, with analyses and columns to try to make sense of the day’s events.

Radio hasn’t changed too much in format. Television is all about ratings, and since we love to talk about politics, that’s what the national news networks report on. With bias.

This is where the “news” gets cloudy. If your politics are conservative, you watch FOX. If your politics are liberal, you watch CNN. You might watch the “opposition” just to complain about it – not to learn anything from it.

Social media exaggerates this trend. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, others – we see only what we want to see.

We block people who don’t agree with our politics. We complain – a lot, multiple times a day, using memes that we don’t even write. We refuse to consider other points of view.

Then, we complain the “media” shares only bad news.

Media are, remember?

We choose our media sources

If you’re listening to or reading only one media source, that’s on you. Media proclaim every viewpoint under the sun, depending on the source.

So, what is “news” anymore? Does anybody seek both sides, or multiple sides? When the national debt skyrockets to heights that paralyze the average American, for example, is there anyone who tries to explain what that means?

I see memes blaming people for not taking coronavirus stay-in-place orders seriously. I also see photographs of empty New York City streets. As a nation, I think we’re doing very well. Traffic is minimal on local roads. People in public wear gloves and/or masks frequently.

Public gatherings are nearly non-existent.

Where do we get our news about the virus? Do we seek more than one source?

firedHighres-678x381
Image by Lenny Ghoul/thenewsblender.com

 

Our president either ignores or fires experts – not just medical, but on every issue of consequence – and has done so during his entire presidency. I don’t watch his news conferences. I know the “media” have to, but the true leaders of the virus effort are the nation’s governors, Republican and Democrat.

What was President Trump known for before he became president? “Your fired.” He’s still doing that. Put that on his tombstone.

Oops, I showed my bias in how I consume the news. We all do that, you know.

Our governor has a 2 p.m. news conference every day on https://ohiochannel.org/. I’ve watched a few of those, and they are filled with facts and good information. Our local community college also has a microbiology professor who provides daily updates with graphs and charts, speaking in a homey, down-to-earth manner. He’s great.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rz-l38SmvHU

Don’t just tell me what you believe. Tell me why.

In your own words. Not with a meme, please. Put some thought into it.

 

Cover photo: Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine gives an update Feb. 27 at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland on the state’s preparedness and education efforts to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. (Tony Dejak/The Associated Press)

Priorities unmasked

The novel coronavirus has changed our lives. And the changes keep on coming, daily, almost by the minute.

How to analyze this?

Take a deep breath, and look at the big picture. That seems to be the best approach.

No one wanted the NCAA basketball tournament to get shut down. No one wants restaurants to close, offering only takeout and delivery. No one truly wanted schools to close for an extended period. Worship services, gym classes, libraries … all closed.

Why now? Why not during previous pandemics?

Contagious and deadly

Perhaps the nation wasn’t ready for such a response previously. Or, perhaps, earlier pandemics didn’t have the potential far-reaching consequences. For example, during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic:

 

From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases (range: 43.3-89.3 million), 274,304 hospitalizations (range: 195,086-402,719), and 12,469 deaths (range: 8868-18,306) in the United States due to the (H1N1)pdm09 virus.

https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/2009-h1n1-pandemic.html

 

From what I can tell, the COVID-19 virus is much more contagious and deadly than H1N1. If 60.8 million people get the coronavirus this spring, our hospitals would get overwhelmed, and some people could die waiting for care.

Also, according to the same CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) article, most of the H1N1 sufferers were younger than 65, which “differs greatly from typical seasonal influenza epidemics, during which about 70 percent to 90 percent of deaths are estimated to occur in people 65 years and older.”

The fact that the COVID-19 virus appears to inflict minimal damage on children is crucial. Schools were closed to prevent young people from becoming carriers of the virus to the rest of the population, as well as to keep them from getting it.

Senior citizens older than 70 and those of us with medical conditions are at greatest risk from suffering and/or dying from the new virus. Although I am healthy, I am not allowed to visit my parents, ages 86 and 83, because two weeks ago they moved into a senior living facility in Michigan, which now is under quarantine.

How do I know I’m not a carrier? From what I can tell, we can be carriers for several days, perhaps up to two weeks, before any symptoms show.

This is why nearly all public gatherings – of any size, now – are being canceled. We unknowingly could transmit the virus to each other, spreading it further around the country.

The hope is to isolate the virus, that it will die because it’s not being transmitted anywhere. That’s why we are asked to stay home or practice “social distancing.”

Is this overreaction? Maybe, but probably not. If very few people die in the United States because of all the shutdowns, then it will have worked.

Some will say that would prove the shutdown was overkill. Actually, that proves the opposite. Look at Italy, which did not meet this virus head-on early and is suffering escalating casualties:

 

Italy on Sunday reported 368 new deaths from the coronavirus outbreak as the country’s death toll hit 1,809 while the number of positive cases rose to 24,747 from 21,157 on Saturday, the country’s civil protection authority said.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/spain-france-tighten-curbs-coronavirus-fight-live-updates-200312054153018.html

 

In China, where isolation measures have been implemented, very few new cases are being reported now:

 

Hong Kong (CNN)For the first time since the novel coronavirus was first identified last year, there are now more reported cases outside of mainland China than inside, marking a new milestone in the evolution of the global pandemic.

On Monday, China’s National Health Commission reported 16 new confirmed cases and 14 deaths, as of end of Sunday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 80,860, of which more than 67,000 patients have recovered.

https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/16/world/coronavirus-covid-19-update-intl-hnk/index.html

 

 

This is our hope: By isolating the virus, we can reduce and eventually eliminate its severe impact on society.

Time for …

How long will that take? It’s anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, many of us have a lot of free time on our hands. No NCAA basketball tournament – the best television of the year, in my opinion – means the TV is turned off. I volunteer at a food pantry – it’s closed, because many of the clients (and volunteers) are vulnerable.

canceled

What are our priorities in life? Sports? Politics? Family? Faith?

This virus is testing us, big time. Strip away most of what we do with our lives, and what’s left?

In my regular Bible reading, I’m going through the Old Testament minor prophets these days. Yesterday I read Haggai, both chapters. My study Bible offers this commentary on the prophet’s message:

 

We find ourselves rushing through life, attending to the necessary, the immediate, and the urgent. Too often, the important is left in the dust. Our problem is not the volume of demands or lack of scheduling skills, but values – what truly is important to us.

 

That commentary was copyrighted in 1989. Haggai itself was written in 520 BC. The prophet Haggai chastised the Israelites who had just returned from exile to a destroyed Jerusalem and were building their own houses and living it up while ignoring God’s temple, leaving it in ruins.

Your priorities are wrong, Haggai told the Israelites.

They got the message and rebuilt the temple.

How about us? What are our priorities? We may not have to rebuild a temple, but are there family or friends we should reconnect with?

Crisis shows our heart

This is not about politics, but real life. President Trump hasn’t done much to stop the spread of the virus, but the governor of my state of Ohio – also a Republican – has. Indeed, Mike DeWine was first in the nation to close public schools, and was first in the nation to close bars and restaurants (except for takeout and delivery).

Are DeWine’s orders extreme? Maybe, but other states are following suit quickly. So, perhaps he’s just being proactive.

DeWine has no desire to shut down the state of Ohio. He does have the desire to halt the spread of COVID-19. His top public health official is a medical doctor, and she’s playing an active role in state policy.

The sooner public gatherings are stopped, hopefully, the sooner they can resume – without a huge number of illnesses and deaths. This is the goal.

It’s not politics. It’s real life.

Rather than fight it, we need to respond to it. Schools and pantries are closed – how will children and families get fed? How will parents go to work when their children, normally in school, now are home? How will bartenders and waitresses, gym workers and others provide for their own daily needs without a paycheck?

We are at war with a deadly and very contagious virus. Each of us must play our part in fighting this battle.

When we come out the other side, I think we will be a better country for it.

We find out what our true values are in a crisis. We’re in one now.

We often form opinions without thinking them through

Garth Brooks helped expose the true heart of our country.

Not by his music, but by the T-shirt he wore.

He donned a Barry Sanders jersey during a Feb. 22 concert at Ford Field in Detroit. That shouldn’t have been controversial: Barry Sanders is the best football player ever to wear a Detroit Lions uniform.

Those of us with strong ties to the state of Michigan know this, even if we aren’t diehard football fans. Apparently many people outside of Michigan are clueless.

We assume, wrongly

Instead of researching who wore No. 20 on the Detroit Lions, many people on social media assumed something else – and then wrongly judged the country singer for wearing a “Sanders 20” jersey.

Thankfully, Barry Sanders and Garth Brooks – both Oklahoma State University alumni – had fun where others had hatred. Sanders tweeted to Brooks: “Hey @garthbrooks, want to be my VP? #20For2020.”

Brooks tweeted back: “I would run any race with you! #Number20for2020 HA!!!”

The reference, of course, is to Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist seeking his party’s nomination for the U.S. presidency.

The source of our divide

Why are we so divided politically these days? This is a relatively recent phenomenon. We used to get along with each other, at least tolerating each other even when we disagreed. As a newspaper copy editor, I often disagreed with the political views of many of my co-workers, but I didn’t hate them for it – and vice versa. In fact, I’ve never seen better teamwork, before or since, than I did in that mid-Michigan newsroom for the two decades-plus I worked there.

We had a common goal: Put out the best product we possibly could, every single day, weekends and holidays included. We were good, and our circulation figures showed that.

Until the Internet came along and took away the bulk of the newspaper industry’s income. The newspaper where I once worked now is a shell of what it once was.

Social media, in the minds and pocketbooks of many, has replaced newspapers as the primary news source.

The “media” is us

Not only that, everyone now thinks he or she is a journalist. And every one of us has a platform – often multiple platforms – to display our work.

Except that you’re not a journalist. You aren’t. Expressing an uninformed, judgmental opinion without researching or thinking the issue through is not journalism.

Far too many of you hated on Garth Brooks without knowing what you were writing about.

That’s what this country has lost with the decimation of newspapers.

Polls routinely show that most of you distrust “the media” today. “Media” has many platforms. “Media” is you.

Yes, you. We like to say there’s no such thing as government money; it’s taxpayer money, which is your money and mine. Same thing with “media.” The media you hate is created by you.

The newspaper media, which continues to shrink in volume and influence, isn’t around much anymore to ask the tough questions, to play the watchdog role on local (city, township, school board), state and federal leaders. Our politicians can say whatever they want with few repercussions.

So can you.

What’s to stop you?

Only the truth.

A little research goes a long way

News flash: Barry Sanders and Bernie Sanders are two different people. Barry Sanders wore No. 20 in a Lions’ football uniform. Bernie Sanders is running for president in 2020.

Why is this rocket science? Have we become that illiterate?

We judge everyone and everything far too quickly these days. Our political narrowness has even entered the sports world.

Referees are judged. Rather than try to let them do their jobs, we judge everything they do. Video evidence many times is inconclusive, especially in NFL games – which means the reviews last several minutes and still can’t figure out the correct answer. We’re judging inches for a first down. And pass interference. Seriously?

Getting sick over a virus

News flash: NFL refereeing is not an exact science. We are ruining the game by trying to make it one.

And we are ruining the country trying to turn all of life into one big science experiment.

And we, on our social media platforms, can’t even get science right.

We panic over the coronavirus because we think it’s out to get us, that it’s going to take over the world. Travel and tourism are disrupted. The stock market just had its worst week since 2008. Any human being of Asian descent is suspected of carrying the virus.

Wash your hands, people. We’ll get through this. Don’t be so quick to go into panic mode, judgmental mode.

For example, just a little research on the virus, from Live Science, reveals this:

 

Coronavirus is a large family of viruses that includes many different diseases. SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the disease COVID-19, which is the current scare), does share similarities with other coronaviruses, four of which can cause the common cold. All five viruses have spiky projections on their surfaces and utilize so-called spike proteins to infect host cells. However, the four cold coronaviruses — named 229E, NL63, OC43 and HKU1 — all utilize humans as their primary hosts. SARS-CoV-2 shares about 90% of its genetic material with coronaviruses that infect bats, which suggests that the virus originated in bats and later hopped to humans

https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-myths.html

 

I learned a few things just from that paragraph. There are many coronavirus viruses, and it appears the current scare originated in bats. And while the death rate from COVID-19 (2.3 percent, subject to change as more research is done) is higher than from the flu (0.1 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), it’s still not worthy of panic mode.

Precautions, yes. Panic, no.

Not all of life is science

When we react to science, sporting events and a Garth Brooks concert in the same way – well, Houston, we have a problem.

Sports should be – and once were – an escape from real life. Concerts also are a time to lift our spirits and enjoy an emotional high. Illness is real life, with scientists doing their best to find real-life solutions.

Anger, finger-pointing and panic are not appropriate responses in any of those arenas. We’ve lost our moral compass.

You may not agree with me, but a big part of that moral compass came from newspaper reporters and editors. We kept your emotions in check by pursuing facts that our 50,000 readers, including you, could judge for themselves.

That moral compass is nearly gone. With it the moral compass of our country is fading, replaced by the vitriolity of social media.

I’m not sure how to solve this one. But of this I am pretty sure: The solution won’t be found on the Internet.

Trump, the man, the politician and the nation’s deep divide over him

We don’t discuss politics at home, and that’s a good thing.

I do talk politics in this blog on occasion, however. Responses typically are strong.

The goal of a blog is to spark discussion – to get you, the reader, to ask yourself what you believe, and why.

But with politics, we – nearly all of us – put our blinders on and mindlessly point out how I am right and you are wrong. We all quote “facts” to support our position, and label the other side’s “facts” as “fake news.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned from social media this year, it’s that.

A deep divide

I wrote a blog last week that said President Trump mocks the Christian faith, then followed up a few days later by re-posting a story saying Trump could be the loneliest man in America.

Common sense says we shouldn’t talk about politics or religion in polite society. Talk about both at the same time, and I was playing with fire – and not from an Advent candle.

The flames hurt. Two days before Christmas.

I addressed a deep dividing line among evangelical Christians, of which I count myself as one. Close friends and people I respect tremendously came down on the other side of the line I drew.

God’s choice?

Trump is God’s choice, they told me. If Trump is God’s choice, then so was former President Obama, I responded. And so was every president we’ve ever had, from George Washington forward.

Trump promotes several values and viewpoints that evangelicals defend vociferously. Pro-life/anti-abortion. Appointing conservative judges. Opposing illegal immigration. Removing our troops from war zones where we don’t have a local interest. A tough stance on trade with China. Supporting Israel. Gun rights.

Trump is upholding the GOP platform, which previous GOP leaders haven’t had the guts, or gall, to do.

Our president is a bull in a china shop, and many evangelicals are ecstatic.

Is that what it takes to run a country?

Donald Trump, Melania Trump

He ignores his own experts, often tweeting behind their backs. He’s been married three times (two of them became naturalized citizens while married to Trump), so he’s not the best with personal relationships either. If you disagree with him, he ridicules you, fires you or divorces you.

Is that what it takes to run a country?

No compromise

Whatever happened to the art of compromise? Oh right, Congress forgot how to do that years ago. That’s why Trump got elected in the first place. Congress was immobile and ineffective.

It’s our own fault Trump is president. We asked for him.

In 2016, Republicans understood the nation’s frustration with politics as usual. I’m not sure Democrats still understand.

So, the lines in the sand are drawn.

Jesus’ prayer for unity

Jesus talked about humility and loving others, including the poor and outcasts. He lived that message too. Yet Jesus did not compromise His message when talking with the religious/political leaders of His day, who sought the status quo to protect their positions, and they crucified Him for it.

The very last words of Jesus before He was killed were these:

 

“I ask … on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one … so that the world may believe that you have sent me …”

John 17:20-21

 

This is why my blog last week cut so deeply among so many of us. Jesus’ last words were a prayer of unity for us (those who will believe, future tense). Because we aren’t unified, Jesus’ message “that the world may believe that you have sent me” gets lost in the debate.

Two days before Christmas. Perhaps that was not a coincidence.

War at Christmas

Christmas is not a warm fuzzy story of a baby, “no crying he makes,” in a manger with animals all around. Christmas is God’s declaration of war on sin, nothing less. God the Father sent His Son to this earth to fight, and defeat, sin. To do it, He had to become fully human, as well as remain fully God. Words cannot adequately explain how this works. But that’s the story of Christmas, and the story of our Christian faith.

Donald Trump

If President Trump forces us to take a stand on our faith, then that’s a good thing.

Instead, as I mentioned, we’ve put our blinders on. When I re-posted a report claiming our president might be the loneliest man in America, some of you dismissed the article because of the sources quoted, ignoring the content of the story completely.

Because the sources, several of them, were “liberal,” the authors had an ulterior motive – that Trump isolated himself from the sources, because he disagrees with their viewpoints.

I understand loneliness, at least to a degree. If the president has isolated himself, it’s largely his own fault – because anyone who tries to get close to him gets pushed away or fired. He trusts no one.

As a bull in a china shop, he will not let anyone tame him.

The message that unifies – and divides

I’ve read articles before about loneliness among high-profile actors and actresses, because they live a lifestyle that us common folk cannot relate to. Perhaps this is Trump’s lot in life too.

But no. We reject that line of thinking because we reject the man. We treat him as less than human, because we think he treats us as less than human.

That escalates. We point fingers, accusing the other side of being less human than we are.

This is our country today.

Can we find common ground, somewhere – anywhere?

Jesus knew what He was talking about when He prayed that we might be unified. We justify all kinds of things as Christians. Our message is not unified at all. Faith is messy. Faith is hard. The Bible promises that all believers will suffer for their faith, no exceptions.

Jesus said He did not come to spruce up the traditional Old Testament message; He came to deliver an entirely new one that revolves around His crucifixion and resurrection.

That message should unify, and galvanize, Christians. That message alone.

All the other stuff follows Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Does President Trump have the cross and the empty tomb as the starting point in his life? No, he doesn’t.

That’s why I wrote my blog last week.

And why all of us, myself included, fall off track so easily.

Father, forgive us. Every one of us, for we know not what we do.

President Trump, an unrepentant sinner, mocks Christianity

Finally, the silent wing of evangelical Christianity has a voice.

Perhaps we’re silent because we don’t want to mix politics with our faith, not on a deep level. Perhaps we’re silent because no one on either side – the Democratic left that disdains religion, and the Republican right that claims religion their way is the only correct one – is listening.

Thank you, Christianity Today, for giving us a voice.

And now, my silent evangelical friends, it’s time for us to speak up.

Christianity Today, a conservative Christian magazine written for church leaders and active church members (it’s not intended to be a mainstream publication), wrote an editorial following the impeachment of President Donald Trump. The magazine rarely writes political opinion pieces, but felt an impeached president required comment.

The magazine wrote on President Trump’s morality. Whether he broke legal laws or not is for Congress (and us, as voters) to decide. Morality, however, is a faith issue, which affects our – and his – standing before God.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html?fbclid=IwAR1EIy7ukyJqSWns0z7M1_kDIGnNSto0muAN0DnUBpQhp3lxSAogzLrVUWQ

 

The reason many are not shocked about this (using his political power to attempt to coerce a foreign power to discredit a political opponent) is that this president has dumbed down the idea of morality in his administration. He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals. He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.

 

This is our leader, who holds the most powerful political office in the entire world.

Republicans cannot, and do not, argue this point. President Trump is a horrible representation of who Christ wants us to be as Christians.

His shocking comments about former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., who served in Washington for 59 years – longer than anyone ever has – followed previous comments criticizing former U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Republican – both after they were dead.

To attempt to disgrace Dingell in a speech in Michigan – where Dingell is still respected, and always will be – shows President Trump’s naivety on how to connect with people. Trump claims Dingell is “looking up from hell.” His widow, Debbie Dingell, who holds the congressional seat previously held by her husband, supported his impeachment. She, of course, was hurt by the president’s comments.

Trump intended to hurt her, as she faces her first Christmas without her husband.

This is the man who holds the highest office in the land.

I’m reading a book about former President Harry S Truman, a Democrat who offered this thought in 1947 to his daughter as she launched a singing career:

 

Wish I could go along and smooth all the rough spots – but I can’t and in a career you must learn to overcome the obstacles without blowing up. Always be nice to the people who can’t talk back to you. I can’t stand a man or woman who bawls out underlings to satisfy an ego.

Truman, by David McCullough, p. 569

 

Oh, how far we’ve come, and not in a good way.

To evangelicals who continue to support President Trump, Christianity Today offers this comment:

 

Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency.

 

The magazine was founded by the Rev. Billy Graham, one of the most respected evangelical leaders of the previous century. His own son, Franklin Graham, unwittingly proved the magazine’s point by claiming his father would have defended the president:

https://www.facebook.com/FranklinGraham/posts/2925457574177071

 

Yes, my father Billy Graham founded Christianity Today; but no, he would not agree with their opinion piece. In fact, he would be very disappointed. I have not previously shared who my father voted for in the past election, but because of this article, I feel it is necessary to share it now. My father knew Donald Trump, he believed in Donald Trump, and he voted for Donald Trump. He believed that Donald J. Trump was the man for this hour in history for our nation.

 

Franklin doesn’t know his own father’s views on politics. I voted for Trump for president too, but as the lesser of two evils, not as our nation’s savior. We don’t know Billy Graham’s reasons for voting for Trump.

Speaking in 1981 about Jerry Falwell and The Moral Majority, which Falwell founded, Billy Graham told Parade magazine this:

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2018/02/billy-graham-warned-mixing-politics-religion/?fbclid=IwAR14WKMkwWfesj1VXcRM2LVFzlFODPeCuoWzqT4fQ58047ek0xWjnkviJyY

 

I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.

 

Billy Graham saw this happening almost 40 years ago, and warned against it. Even his own son has forgotten that.

Many of my Democratic friends mock Christians because so many of them publicly support President Trump, despite his numerous moral failures. But as Billy Graham further states in the article by patheos.com, not all Christians support the hard right.

And as Christianity Today makes clear, President Trump and his evangelical supporters are ruining the Bible’s central message, that faith in Christ is necessary for every man, woman and child.

The hard right cannot pick and choose the parts of Trump they support and brush off the rest, any more than we can pick out Bible verses we like and ignore all the others.

Yes, we’re all sinners, as Trump is. But Trump is an unrepentant sinner, and this mocks the very faith we claim.

That is why I no longer can support the president of the United States.

Christianity Today concluded its editorial this way:

 

To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.

 

A good friend of mine supports the president because he is pro-life. She claims he has taken the strongest anti-abortion stand of any president in history.

But once a child is born, then what? If he or she wasn’t born here, President Trump doesn’t want them here. If, as adults, they oppose him politically, he fires them or ridicules them. President Trump is not pro-life at all. He is pro-Trump, and nothing else.

(When a woman is considering abortion, it’s already too late. What led her to consider an abortion in the first place? Let’s tackle root causes, not the result. The hard right is picking the wrong battle anyway.)

President Trump is using evangelicals to further his political agenda, nothing more.

I wish the Republican Party would find a different candidate for the 2020 election this fall. I’m serious when I say that. The party could find someone who not only talks the talk of Christian values, but who also makes some effort to live by them.

The living God is the ultimate judge of every one of us. Until then, we have to make judgments sometimes here on Earth, and we don’t always do a good job of that.

President Trump mocks the faith he claims. Billy Graham had it right.

Perhaps our national politicians should focus on the debt, infrastructure, a hand up (not a hand out) for the poor, national defense and getting our education system functional again. Back off of divisive social issues. Let’s find common ground on issues that government officials must agree on.

Removing President Trump from office, and finding someone who can reach consensus, would be a good start.

Jesus lived as a refugee

Newly arrived Sudanese refugees in February 2018 wait behind a wire fence at a reception center in Yida, South Sudan. While millions of South Sudanese flee their country in what the United Nations has called the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide, hundreds of thousands of people from neighboring Sudan have found an unlikely haven there from fighting at home. (Sam Mednick/Associated Press file)

 

Jesus Christ was a refugee in every sense of the word.

A refugee is someone forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, refugees cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.

Bosnia Herzegovina War Relief 1993
A Bosnian driver, part of an aid convoy to eastern Bosnia, locks his truck at Sarajevo’s airport in 1993. (Associated Press file)

This definition comes from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a United Nations agency based in Geneva, Switzerland, with the mandate to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people, and assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.

Jesus fled, displaced when he returned

Jesus became a refugee during the time of the wise men, or magi. This happened long after his birth; the wise men do not belong in the manger scene.

When King Herod heard that wise men from the east visited Jerusalem to look for the child born king of the Jews, he was jealous. Herod asked the magi to tell him where Jesus was “so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

Right. When the magi left town without informing Herod about Jesus’ whereabouts, Herod was enraged and killed every child in and around Bethlehem 2 years old and younger. So, Jesus was a toddler when this happened.

But our future Savior was no longer in town. Before Herod’s massacre, an angel of the Lord told his dad, Joseph, to get out of Dodge and flee to Egypt with his young family because of the threat of violence.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph remained in Egypt until Herod died. Even after that, they were afraid to settle in Jesus’ hometown of Bethlehem, so they landed in Nazareth. This story is told in Matthew 2.

I don’t understand why many, if not most, conservative Christians in the United States are so opposed to immigration. Jesus was an immigrant. He and his family were forced to flee their homeland by night to escape persecution and death.

And while they did return to their home country, they did not feel safe in their hometown – which is the definition of a forcibly displaced family, according to UNHCR.

So, Jesus understands perfectly well the plight of immigrants, because he was one.

Refugees face strict scrutiny

Immigration, of course, is not a uniquely United States issue.

Greece Migrants
A man from Afghanistan on Oct. 5 repairs the front door of his makeshift tent after rainfall, at the Moria refugee and migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. At least 12,000 people — more than four times the site’s capacity — are housed in the camp. (Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press)

Two-thirds of all refugees worldwide come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognized as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in his or her home country is well-founded.

https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/what-is-a-refugee/

The United States resettlement program is the largest in the world and the U.S. has been the global leader in resettling refugees since the 1970s – so this is not a new issue at all. Refugee resettlement to the U.S. is traditionally offered to the most vulnerable refugee cases including women and children at risk, women heads of households, the elderly, survivors of violence and torture, and those with acute medical needs.

The process of refugee resettlement to the U.S. is a lengthy and thorough process that takes about two years and involves numerous U.S. governmental agencies.

Refugees do not choose the country in which they would like to live. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, identifies the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement and then makes recommendations to select countries.

Once a refugee is recommended to the U.S. for resettlement, the U.S. government conducts a thorough vetting of each applicant. This process takes between 12 and 24 months and includes:

  • Screening by eight federal agencies including the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the FBI
  • Six security database checks and biometric security checks screened against U.S. federal databases
  • Medical screening
  • Three in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security officers

Since 1975, the U.S. has welcomed more than 3 million refugees from all over the world, and these refugees have built new lives for their families in all 50 states.

Refugees and their families have woven themselves into the fabric of American society. They are our neighbors, our friends and our colleagues. They are teachers, business owners and contribute positively to communities across the country.

https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/usa/

Noteworthy facts by region/country

Central African Republic

  • Since 2013, nearly 1 million men, women and children have fled their homes in desperation, seeking refuge within mosques and churches, as well as in neighboring countries (Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chad and the Republic of the Congo).

Central America

  • In recent years, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have experienced a dramatic escalation in violence by organized criminal groups, locally called maras.
  • Current homicide rates are among the highest ever recorded in the region.
  • The number of people fleeing for their lives from Central America has grown by ten times in the past five years.

Europe

  • The ongoing conflict and violence in Syria, Iraq and other parts of the world is causing large-scale displacement. Refugees are seeking safety beyond the immediate region.
  • Since 2015, more than 1.4 million people have taken their chances aboard unseaworthy boats and dinghies in a desperate attempt to reach Greece, Italy and Spain en route to Europe.

Iraq 

  • More than 3 million Iraqis have been displaced across the country since the start of 2014 and more than 240,000 are refugees in other countries, including Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Germany.

South Sudan

  • Since December 2013, brutal conflict in South Sudan has claimed thousands of lives and driven 3.3 million people from their homes. While an estimated 1.9 million people remain displaced inside the country, 2.2 million have fled as refugees to neighboring countries in a desperate bid to reach safety.
  • Uganda currently hosts the most South Sudanese refugees, having taken in more than 1 million people.

Syria 

  • Lebanon Syrian Refugees
    A Syrian refugee who will stay in Lebanon cries in Beirut Dec. 3 as she says goodbye to a relative who is boarding a bus to take her home to Syria. Lebanon is hosting some 1 million Syrian refugees who fled their country after war broke out eight years ago. (Hussein Malla/The Associated Press)
  • Syrians continue to be the largest forcibly displaced population in the world, with 13 million people at the end of 2018. That’s more than half of the Syrian population.
  • More than 5 million people have fled Syria seeking safety in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and beyond. In Lebanon, where more than 1 million Syrian refugees reside, there are no formal refugee camps and about 70 percent of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line.
  • In Jordan, more than 660,000 Syrian refugees are trapped in exile. About 80 percent of them live outside camps, while more than 140,000 have found sanctuary at the Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps. 93 percent of refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line.

Rohingya Refugee Emergency

  • As of April 2018, an estimated 671,000 Rohingya children, women and men have fled to Bangladesh escaping violence in Myanmar since Aug. 25, 2017.
  • The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. The vast majority of Rohingya refugees are women and children, including newborn babies. Many others are elderly people requiring additional aid and protection.

Ukraine

  • Two and a half years of conflict have left more than 1 million Ukrainians displaced from their homes, including 66,000 people with disabilities.
  • 300,000 others have sought asylum in neighboring countries.

Yemen

  • Fighting in Yemen, already one of the poorest countries in the Middle East, has severely compounded needs arising from long years of poverty and insecurity.
  • Nearly 20 million Yemenis need humanitarian assistance. Those forced to flee their homes are especially at risk. More than 2 million people now languish in desperate conditions, away from home and deprived of basic needs. The situation is so dire that 1 million displaced Yemenis have lost hope and tried to return home, even though it is not yet safe.

https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/statistics/

Brotherhood and sisterhood

This is the life our Lord and Savior lived as a very young child. Jesus overcame that beginning as an outcast to lead the most productive life imaginable.

Today’s immigrants can follow a similar path. Very few are terrorists, which is all conservatives want to talk about. (Most “terrorists” are already in this country, by the way – and aren’t necessarily from other countries.)

I meet displaced people all the time. Most are from Puerto Rico thanks to Hurricane Maria, which isn’t the same as fleeing war or violence, but their homeland is unlivable nonetheless. Many of them are working and trying to better themselves. They just need a helping hand to get started.

That’s how the United States began. We all were immigrants, seeking a better life. It didn’t come easy. It didn’t come quickly. But our forefathers persevered, and here we are.

As did Jesus. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood in a non-traditional family. His dad was a carpenter who wasn’t around when Jesus became an adult. He had half-siblings.

Refugees didn’t have sanctuary or asylum programs in Jesus’ day, but he survived.

As Americans, we can do better. We must do better. We judge others far too quickly, and often wrongly. They are our brothers and sisters.

That’s terminology Christians should understand. If our faith truly means anything, let’s start living it.