Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sticks, stones and the unsustainable hostility plaguing the United States of America

Common ground. Common interests.  The common good.  These three elements of commonality are difficult to identify and seemingly impossible to secure in today’s America.  Somehow the promotion of “the general welfare” and the securing of “the blessings of liberty” have been subdued by name-calling and extreme rhetoric that refuses to acknowledge any pain, suffering and turmoil that does not closely resemble our own. We hear labels like deplorables, arrogant elitists, racists, bleeding hearts, fascists, socialists, and endless other varieties of intended insults wielded with unrestrained abandon.  I wonder how many people who are hurling these terms with such gusto, could actually define the terms if pressed with an on-the-spot pop quiz regarding their meaning? 

I find this incessant rhetoric almost unbearable.  As an Army Brat, I was raised in an environment that brought people together from backgrounds that might fit any number of these hurtful categorizations.  My family has built lifelong friendships that surpass familial ties with types of people I have heard called deplorable and others considered arrogant elitists.  I know numerous individuals from the corners of the country who have been pigeonholed as racists based on a voting stance, who have defended me and stood for me when others I might have expected to stand for me, didn’t.  I have seen people labeled as “elitists” who humble themselves in selfless service to others totally unconcerned with receiving acclaim for their actions who have stood for others on a variety of fronts called traitors because of their political affiliations.

I know Hillbillies and Blue Bloods.  I have deep friendships with “good ol’ boys” and “soul brothers.”  I have invaluable friendships with “Hard noses” and “easy touches.” I love them all and I am grieved that for reasons that are a challenge to pin down, very few seem able to talk to people of an opposing view without the conversations quickly degrading into a mindless, nasty slugfest devoid of meaningful communication.  Such exchanges are difficult to watch.

What is the problem?  A friend posted a conversation between two children that capsulizes the problem currently facing our nation:
Child A: You are a bad person!
B: Why?
A: Because I said so, and if I say so, then it is true!
B: But why did you decide I am a bad person?
A: Because you didn't do what I want!

I saw this exchange and in it discerned the heart of what is dividing us.  In our various perspectives, we have reached a point of such supreme self-importance and smugness regarding our own points of view, that we have become convinced that anyone who disagrees with us isn’t just wrong – they are evil.  We are not willing to consider that uncertainties and fears have set us on edge and given us such a level of angst that we as a people are ascribing motives and intent beyond reasonability to our own harm and undoing.  We have lost the ability to admit that all people – even very good people – have the capability to be wrong on an issue or a system of thought, without their wrongness necessarily making them inherently wicked.  

At the same time, we refuse to acknowledge that others may make a decision from a place of pain and discontent that is so acute, that the power of suffering may drive them to do something beyond our ability to understand it simply because “they can’t take anymore” not because they necessarily desire to harm us.  Of course, there are always those present who will take such a situation as an opportunity to plant discord and to rile up those who are indeed possessed by the angels of our lesser nature.  Nevertheless, there remain a significant number of others who are simply trying to navigate the waters of life along a treacherous path and are reaching out for what they consider a possible lifeline of hope.

I share these thoughts with the hope that Americans will take a step back, put their broad brushes down, tone down the ugly rhetoric and stop making sweeping assumptions about those who are viewing current events differently from themselves.  Differences can fester into divisions and divisions can transform into oppositions of such ferocity that name calling will eventually give way to the wielding of sticks, stones and even more harmful weapons.  Perhaps there is still time to right ourselves and to return to a place of respect, consideration and stability in our disagreements.  If there is, let us not be complacent but be intentional in re-establishing dialogue, discussion and respectful engagement because the time for reason appears to be short.  God, save the Republic!

Always hopeful but sober-minded,


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Election Ahead! - Don't worry! Get Peace!

The uncertainties related to the upcoming US election are somewhat unsettling.  The debate has not alleviated my concerns in the slightest.  As a result, I am finding it easy to lapse into worry about a matter that is very important and that does call for my engagement of it, yet the outcome of which is beyond my ultimate control.  As I consider the tension of this time, I am reminded of an earlier life situation when, on a faith mission, I found myself in a moment of great pressure.

In the midst of an outreach mission outside of the United States, our team leader and host stopped the vehicle turned to all of us on his team and said, "I don't know if you believed me in my correspondence to you, but we could be misunderstood, attacked and killed here.  If we are attacked, and I'm killed, don’t stay for my body. Escape and carry on with the mission. It's of more importance than me! But, if this is too difficult for any of you to handle, anyone who feels so inclined can stop here and now and head back to safety. But the mission will continue with those of us who are willing!"

The safety of non-engagement was very tempting!  While it might have preserved my temporary angst, it wouldn’t have abated my worry or solved the long-term problems we were seeking to address.  The Bible has advice for these types of situations that helps to dispel the paralysis of worry and fear:   Philippians 4:6 and 7 says, “…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  That verse gave me confidence to proceed in that time of potential danger in Christian service and it gives me peace now in the uncertainty of a national election. 

I have experienced God's peace in other times of uncertainty and it is available to all that will seek Him now as well. I will do my best to work for the the good and to pray about everything, including the election, knowing that God’s peace is available to me whatever the outcome.  After all, in the words of perhaps my favorite childhood church song, “He’s got the whole world in His hands - including the good ol' USA and its elections!” 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Man Called Sulemana - An African-American Story

A few days ago, I participated in a comment string that discussed the use of the term “African-American” by Americans who are considered “Black” in the United States.  Arriving at a descriptive term for the descendants of Africans on the American continent has been an ever-changing exercise, reflecting different the values and mores of the epochs in which the terms were used.  In my own lifetime, based on the cultural prevalence of the times in which I have lived, I have been called “colored”, “negro”, “Afro-American”, “Black”, “African-American” and of course the ubiquitous and shameful “N-word.”  There are other various terms that have been used, both positively and negatively, but these are the dominant ones. 

Why can’t we seem to arrive at a common place of satisfaction regarding what the descendants of enslaved Africans should be called?  History is helpful.  We must remember that slaves were often intentionally separated from others who shared tribal or regional connections and amalgamated with others of differing language and cultural ties.  This separation made efforts to secretly unite for insurrection and escape much more difficult and forged a “pan-West African melting pot” that blended many diverse people groups into a singular one untied in bondage.  This involuntary stripping of identity has left a void of self-awareness that lingers among Black Americans to varying degrees individually and corporately. 

For that reason, there is no consensus among American Blacks regarding what we should be called or how we should view ourselves in terms of specific identifiers in America.  Some are convinced that we are Americans first and foremost and should distance ourselves from attempts to identify us in any other way.  Others have a strong desire to connect with the roots of Africa from whence we come and believe those roots should be acknowledged in some way.  In my personal journey, my experiences have made me “proud to be an American” and have also endued me with a sense of cultural identity that allow me to “Say it loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud!”  Nevertheless, over the last few years I have been using the term “African-American” more frequently than others.  Some eschew that term, reasoning that there is a great deal of distance and experience between those of us who are descendants of enslaved Africans and Africans themselves.  While the reference “Black” is the one that is most comfortable to me and most emotionally familiar for me, I am not averse to using the “African-American” designation.  Perhaps the following personal account explains my comfort with the latest cultural descriptor. 

In the mid-1990’s, I was privileged to have the opportunity to travel to Ghana, West Africa.  It was an opportunity I eagerly seized, seeing it for the ministry possibilities and hoping to gain some perspective on my own heritage as the descendant of Africans enslaved many years before from this region. When I went to Ghana on a mission, I learned that slavery remains a major problem within West African culture itself that has never ceased to exist. The Ghanaian government itself acknowledged this fact in the 1990’s and voiced that there was a shared responsibility for slavery and opined that without a West African cultural predisposition to slave holding, the slave trade would not have been nearly as pervasive as it eventually became for the 300 plus years it thrived. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that joint responsibility does not mean that the descendants of those taken captive should not acknowledge their continental origins or that they should somehow distance themselves from their West African heritage. As the “Roots” saga demonstrated, the desire to acknowledge the ties that bind American Blacks to Africa have remained on both sides of the Atlantic, especially on the part of those who were taken and those related to them – something I also observed on my trip to Ghana.

The trip was filled with new experiences and very powerful events all along our journey.  None was more dramatic for me than when we visited a paramount chief – a chief of chiefs who was the leader of more people than the heads of state of the three nations in the region we were serving.  The American and Ghanaian missionaries who were leading us went out of their way to arrange for us to meet with this chief and made a special effort to mention I was a descendant of one of the “Taken Ones.” When the chief learned of my heritage, he made a gracious effort to reach out to me. After a time of pleasant exchanges and inquiries, he gave me a new name (the name of one who had been taken more than 100 years before), had a song played in my honor that had been written for that taken one, and for my benefit, showed me a tree that had been planted in memory of that same person!

The Northern Ghanaian name he bestowed upon me is the name of the one taken into slavery many years ago.  It is the name, “Sulemana.” I was stunned and moved to the point of speechlessness and numbness.  The experience of being re-named connected me with a common history (I was able to tread the very path where those sold into slavery had trod, even beholding the slave castle dungeons and the Door of no Return.) and forever influenced how I saw myself and my personal life’s journey. If I thought the saga had ended, there was another surprise awaiting me and my family once I arrived stateside.  As I shared my experience with Luz, she gasped when I mentioned the new name I had been given.  Her mouth and eyes were wide with surprise and she covered her face in disbelief.  When I asked her “What’s wrong Sweetheart?” she lowered her hands and responded almost in a trance-like state “Honey, your name means something in my language – it means, ‘Heritage Restored!’”

With that confluence of events, how could I not readily welcome a phrase that reignited a heritage that was exposed to me by circumstances totally beyond my control?  For me, the term African-American is a reminder of the strength and perseverance of an unknown ancestor, who survived and pressed on through a hopeless situation, passing on life to subsequent generations to the point that I was able to receive a “heritage restored” that honors that ancestor and all the others who survived and perished so long ago.  For that reason, I can say loud – I’m African-American and proud!

By the tree planted in Sulemana's memory. Taken in Northern Ghana.

The "Slave Rocks" used as a geographic marker and rallying point to transport slaves from Northern Ghana to ships on the Southern Coast.

Standing in the Dungeon of Cape Coast Castle where slaves were held just before embarking onto ships. The floors were not cemented - I am standing on petrified human waste!

One of the last views of Africa seen by slaves as they prepared to be put on small boats to be placed in the bottom of the slave ships. From Cape Coast Castle in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. 

A Memorial Marker in Memory of Enslaved Ancestors

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Myth of Popular Protest

As we drive along the thoroughfare of history, heroes are clearly seen for their heroism as we leave them behind in the rear view mirror. In the context of the times in which they lived, however, they were seldom viewed with universal magnanimity.

Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand during the playing of the National Anthem at the beginning of football games is not only criticized, it is compared to the efforts of others and seen as inferior in purpose and appropriateness. Among the individuals mentioned is the iconic Reverend Doctor, Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am just old enough to remember how Dr. King was viewed in the context of the times in which he lived. During his lifetime, a number of people and institutions who now sing his praises and cite him as the standard of reason and acceptability, considered him a rabble rousing troublemaker who needed to be silenced. Their wish was granted and his demise was even celebrated at institutions I have since had the experience of attending. Even securing a holiday in his memory was a great point of national contention, with every shortcoming displayed during his life presented as "proof" that he was not "deserving" of a holiday in spite of the enormity of his work for good. Thankfully,  his work spoke for itself and a remembrance was established, yet that recognition was no easy undertaking.

I am also old enough to remember when Nelson Mandela was viewed with great suspicion by many mainstream Americans. Those same Americans predicted the proliferation of chaos and mayhem should Mandela be elevated to power.  The facts of history expose the ignorance of that perspective.

I am not claiming that Mt. Kaepernick is a King or Mandela. I am, however,  pointing out that in the context of their times, these now iconic heroes were not viewed as benign,  Santa-like Teddy Bears.  Their views were seen as dangerous and disruptive and cost them their freedom and one, his life.

No matter how reasoned or peaceful,  dissenting voices will be seen as a nuisance. It is part of the journey for those who dare to speak out and it is a hefty portion of the price of freedom...and it is not popular.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Courage to Sit - The Conviction to Stand

After an extended time of consideration, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick came to a point of personal dissatisfaction and decided to remain seated during the playing of the National Anthem for these stated reasons: “‘I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,’ Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. ‘To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.’”

Initially, the “Army” in me stirred me to want to simply take Mr. Kaepernick to task for his actions, which from my background and culture as an Army Man, are generally considered disrespectful and outrageous.  Then, I thought it might be worth taking a deeper look into the matter. In general, taking a stand in protest– or a seat - for one’s principles is an admirable undertaking.  ESPN reported that while Kaepernick is ethnically bi-racial and adopted and raised by a white family, he has personally been stirred and touched by many contemporary racially charged events and has felt moved to do something.  ESPN stated further that Kaepernick is seeking to learn more and to grow in his understanding of the issues of race and culture that have captured his attention.

Taking the time to listen to the ESPN piece was helpful to me in trying to sort through Kaepernick’s thinking.  The life he has enjoyed and continues to enjoy because of the blessings of a compassionate family and strong personal aptitudes has placed him in a unique yet awkward position.  On the one hand, he has enjoyed the very best that the nation has to offer – compassionate people, moved to meet a need have embraced him, sealed him with their own identity and afforded him benefits that have propelled him and his talent to extremely lofty heights.  At the same time, I imagine there are days that he might wonder, “Why am I so fortunate?  Why have I made it?”  What if things hadn’t turned out right for me?” 

I seem to remember a biblical account of a man who was raised as a child of privilege and in his adulthood, realized that while he flourished, others who shared his ethnic identity suffered.  His first attempts to bring about justice for his oppressed people were not only ill-advised, they were disastrous – in fact, they were murderous.  Yet, after 40 years of reflection in the wilderness, this man discovered His God and matured to the point that he was then able, in senior years, to not only act wisely, but actually lead his people to a better place and God’s full purpose for their lives – and his.

Perhaps sitting down during the national anthem isn’t the wisest way for a conscientious NFL quarterback to initiate a discussion of the racial issues of the day. Nevertheless, it is a way for those close to him to begin to seek opportunities to advise and educate him –  and he has indicated he desires to be educated in such matters. Perhaps a great start would be helping him to look back at the contributions of Americans like the Tuskegee Airmen, or the trailblazers of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Triple Nickel” or the women being highlighted in the contemporary movie “Hidden Figures” who provided critical brain power to launch NASA’s efforts to conquer space.  Perhaps knowledge of these types of figures who found ways to excel when even basic rights like using a public bathroom were denied, might help him to reevaluate his approach and focus on pathways to produce, rather than platforms to protest. 

Protests have their place and every American has a right to exercise their freedom to protest as they believe a situation warrants.  Nevertheless, as Mr. Kaepernick takes his seat for justice, those with experience and know-how might encourage him to consider some other paths to create awareness, and challenge him to take a stand for the future that remains ahead of us, seeking to lift up others to stand with him in the process.  If his heart is in the right place – and the information indicates that it probably is – this situation can lead to some powerful and productive actions towards solutions.  I know that I am a lifelong learner and I remain thankful to those who have walked alongside me as I continue to sort out the critical issues of life.  I hope the same for Mr. Kaepernick.

The Tuskegee Airmen

The Triple Nickel
NASA's Human Computer Project - The Women of "Hidden Figures"

Sam and Sam Jackson

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Respuestas Reales para el debate Racial

Los conflictos raciales y culturales han sido parte de la experiencia americana hasta ya que gente primero habitaron el continente americano. Esas tensiones crecieron más intensa y costosa como la diversidad de intereses en los continentes creció y diferentes personas llegaron con sus propias perspectivas de lo que la vida idílica en las Américas debe ser. Millones de personas han muerto en la historia secular de esta vasta y gran tierra. Sigue muriendo gente en el día de hoy. La violencia continua que experimentamos es el feo residuo de las luchas pasadas y presentes deficiencias. Estas manchas empañar el sueño americano y dejar que aquellos de nosotros que permanecen vivas con una carga para entender y explicar cómo estas tragedias y convulsiones ocurren, incluso como el progreso y las mejoras son experimentados y logrado.  

John Perkins, un ministro cristiano dedicado al trabajo hacia esfuerzos restaurativa entre personas en conflicto racial, considera que un obstáculo importante a la curación y el progreso es el cambio perpetuo de la culpa y la culpabilidad.  Estoy de acuerdo. Si uno mira las noticias en la televisión o sigue los medios sociales puestos, no hay falta de presentaciones estadísticas "demostrar" de quién es la culpa de los problemas raciales. Cuando se utilizan a los efectos de la asignación de la culpa o de culpar, las estadísticas no son útiles ni las referencias anecdóticas de agravios cometidos de un pueblo a otro. Estoy seguro de que como estoy escribiendo estos pensamientos, alguien de una determinada raza ha ofendido alguien de otra raza. También estoy seguro de que, al mismo tiempo, otros de diversas razas están haciendo trabajo fenomenal para ayudar a muchos tipos diferentes de personas. Mientras tanto, muchos de nosotros estamos procesando duele reales percibidos por un surtido de personas - algunos como nosotros, otros no - como nos reflexionamos también acerca de haber sido ayudado y bendecido en nuestras historias personales, por una variedad de personas que pueden o no compartir nuestra misma identidad y antecedentes.  

Mi punto es sencillo. Hay mucha culpa para compartir y mucha culpa propia. Sin embargo, si nos permitimos ser paralizada por interminables discusiones de la culpabilidad y la culpa, nunca podremos hacer progresos en experimentar el arrepentimiento, el perdón, la restauración, la curación y el progreso. Para lograr estos resultados, que pasemos el sentimiento de culpa y debemos actuar.  Las acciones necesarias para hacer una diferencia son fáciles de entender, pero costoso y arriesgado. Estas medidas requieren un compromiso a largo plazo con los procesos y la plena participación en la vida de las personas que no tienen garantizado ganancias o resultados. Estas acciones están construidas sobre una base de amor y llame para aquellos que realmente deseen ver y lograr el cambio para el mejor perder su vida al servicio de los demás. Es una llamada para el cambio de estilo de vida, el desafío continuo y perpetuo. Implica acciones como el voluntariado, padres adoptivos, mentores, ayudando, sosteniendo, moldeo, viajar y permanecer despierto por la noche, el asesoramiento que se molesta cuando no le gusta ser molestado-ing, y un sinnúmero de otras acciones de la vida real que están a nuestro alcance para participar.

Estas acciones podrán invitar a las posibilidades de sufrimiento, decepción, duele, frustraciones y retrocesos. Ellos también se abrirá la puerta a las posibilidades de transformación, el alivio, la alegría, la satisfacción, la comodidad y las victorias.  En la realidad de esta mezcla de victorias y derrotas, quienes son verdaderamente valiente debe sacudir la niebla del letargo virtual. Permítanos elegir sino estimularnos unos a otros a participar en la vida real las oportunidades y aplicar nuestras energías a hacer diferencias reales en las vidas de la gente real. Ese chico sin papá que asiste a la iglesia cada semana - ayude a él. Usted es un padre con hijos adultos  – considere a ser padres adoptivos o la adopción. Usted está consternado por la miseria que ve en el vecindario que pasan cada día en el camino al trabajo - póngase en contacto con su oficina local de la ciudad y pregunte cómo puede ser parte de algo positivo para comenzar a hacer una diferencia de al menos una parte de esa comunidad. Comenza a buscar lo que se puede hacer en lugar de quejarse de lo que no está pasando. No podemos cambiar todo, pero podemos hacer una diferencia! Simplemente no podemos hacerlo sin ningún esfuerzo o de forma gratuita.

Moving Beyond Blame and Guilt - Action Rather Than Arguments

Moving Beyond Blame and Guilt – Action Rather Than Arguments

Racial and cultural conflicts have been a part of the American experience since people first inhabited the American continents.  Those tensions grew more intense and costly as the diversity of interests in the continents grew and different people arrived with their own perspectives of what an idyllic life in the Americas should be.  Millions have died in the centuries long history of this vast and great land.  People continue to die today.  The continued deaths and violence we experience are the ugly residue of past struggles and present short-comings.  These blemishes tarnish the American dream and leave those of us who remain alive with a burden to understand and explain just how these tragedies and upheavals occur, even as progress and improvements are experienced and achieved. 

John Perkins, a Christian minister devoted to working towards restorative efforts between people in racial conflict, believes that a major obstacle to healing and progress is the perpetual exchange of blame and guilt.  I concur.  Whether one watches television news or follows social media posts, there is no lack of statistical presentations “proving” who’s to blame for racial problems or other perceived issues in the nation, and who should feel guilty about them.  When used for the purposes of assigning guilt or placing blame, the statistics are not helpful nor are the anecdotal references to wrongs committed of one people towards another.  I am confident that as I am writing these thoughts, someone of a particular race has wronged someone else of another race.  I am also certain that at the same time, others of various races are doing phenomenal work to help many different types of people. All the while, many of us are processing real hurts levied by an assortment of people – some like us, some not - as we also reflect upon having been helped and blessed in our personal histories by a variety of people who may or may not share our same background and identity. 

My point is straightforward.  There is plenty of blame to share and lots of guilt to own.  However, if we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by endless discussions of guilt and blame, we will never make progress in experiencing repentance, forgiveness, restoration, healing and then progress.  To achieve these outcomes, we move past guilt and blame and we must act.  The actions necessary to make a difference are easy to understand, but costly and risky.  These actions require long-term commitments to processes and full-fledged involvement in the lives of people that have no guaranteed pay-offs or results.  These actions are built upon a foundation of love and call for those who really desire to see and bring about change for the better to lose their lives in the service of others.  It is a call to lifestyle change, continual challenge, and perpetual inconvenience.  It involves actions like volunteering, foster parenting, adopting, mentoring, Big Brother and Big Sister-ing, helping, holding, molding, traveling, staying awake for late night counseling, being bothered when you don’t feel like being bothered-ing, and countless other real-life actions that are within our grasp to engage.

That kid with no dad that you see each week in church – mentor him.  You’re an empty-nester with time and money on your hands and miss the living sounds of children on your floors – consider foster parenting or adoption.  You are appalled by the trouble you see in the neighborhood you pass by each day on the way to work and wish those people would “get it together” – contact your local city office and ask how you might be part of something positive to begin to make a difference for at least a part of that community.  You wonder why those churches “aren’t doing anything” about the problems in the community – become part of one of those crazy new churches who are trying to make inroads in the hard places, but need people with wisdom, resources and expertise to help them.  Begin to seek out what can be done rather than complain about what isn’t getting done. 

These actions will invite possibilities for suffering, disappointment, hurts, frustrations and setbacks.  They will also open the door for possibilities of transformation, relief, joy, satisfaction, comfort and victories.  In the reality of this mixture of victories and losses, those who are truly courageous must shake off the fog of virtual lethargy.  Let us rather choose to encourage each other to engage in real life opportunities and to apply our energies to making real differences in the lives of real people.  We cannot change everything, but we can make a difference!  We just can’t do it with no effort or for free.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Jesús, Nuestro Refugio En Tiempos de Prueba

La Biblia instruye a los seguidores de Jesús a ser "listos para escuchar, y ser lentos para hablar y para enojarse;  pues la ira humana no produce la vida justa que Dios quiere.” Este es nuestro deber en tiempos de estrés y lucha para orar, reflexionar, comprender y responder inteligentemente para que podemos ser verdaderamente agentes de Dios. Tal ejercicio de paciencia y disciplina espiritual conducirá a reflexionar la situación, para orar  y para reflejar el carácter de Dios en lugar de la propia ira e indignación. Esto va a permitir que Dios trabaje en nuestro corazón y que permitirá que podemos dispensar la gracia de Dios para los demás sobre una base consistente. "¿Vives débil y cargado - De cuidados y temor? A Jesús, refugio eterno, dile todo en oración. ¿Te desprecian tus amigos? Cuéntaselo en oración. En sus brazos de amor tierno, Paz tendrá tu corazón." Cuando está agraviado, tome el tiempo para ir a Jesús y permita que él venga a usted. Usted estará facultado para reflejar la belleza y la gloria de Dios en cada situación!

Don't Stop Crawling - The Importance of Perseverance!!

Don't Stop! The importance of Perseverance!
A dear West Point Brother, Peter Vu, led several of us in marveling at the amazing US swim team and the memories their accomplishments have stirred in us of our mandatory swim training at West Point - officially known as "drown proofing."  My own memories are of waters comfortably adjusted to the likes and tastes of polar bears and being told that I swam with the speed and grace of a freighter! 

When the time came for us to face the combat equipment swim test, I remember it as one of my proudest moments! The Cadet in front of me slowed waaaay down the last 10 yards away from the finish and I bumped into him...and then sunk like a stone! Undeterred, I low crawled underneath him - passing him - and crawled those last ten yards on the bottom of the pool bouncing up upon reaching the finish. 

For the only time in my Cadet career, a Department of Physical Education instructor was speechless (the insults and put downs are generally endless.) Much to the dismay of the instructors, I technically completed the task AS INSTRUCTED! I didn't stop. I didn't surface. I didn't walk and I used a literal crawl stroke to complete the task. The instructor mumbled the evaluation in disbelief almost with a question more than an answer, "Passed?" he offered. The senior instructor shrugged and bellowed "Passed!" Yes, I passed! Oh the beauty of the memory of West Point Rock Swimming!! That's my personal swimming best and the emotional equivalent of 21 swimming gold medals!

It's also a reminder that when obstacles slow you down, don't stop trying to press on! Crawl if you have to, but by all means, PRESS ON!


Sam Jackson

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


There several issues at play in the current controversy over the Republican Presidential Nominee’s response to sharp words directed towards him from a Gold Star family. On a broad scale, there is the issue both parties should reconsider regarding parading the loved ones of fallen heroes and the victims of various kinds of suffering for the purpose of political exploitation.  The vulnerability of such people should be protected, not paraded, and these people should not be used to make a point that may not be directly connected to the charges levied at an opposing party.  This parading represents the cheapest of cheap shots and needs to stop on both sides. 

The situation at hand related to a dispute between the Republican nominee Donald Trump and a Gold Star Family, the Kahns, is another issue and allows us to see temperament, maturity and leadership of a Presidential hopeful – or a lack thereof.  Some defend the Republican Nominee by saying that the Kahn family should not have veered into the lane of personal criticism directed towards Mr. Trump, but should have remained in the lane of praising the service of a fallen son and his heroic patriotism.  That may be true, but that utterance is not what has kept the story alive.   

It is the response of the Nominee that has given the issue life and why the discussion of the utterance continues.  1 Corinthians 6:12 comes to my mind, which discusses the issue of personal freedom – the freedom to behave or misbehave as one sees fit.  It says, “I have the right to do anything…but not everything is beneficial…I have the right to do anything—but I will not be mastered by anything.” Both the Kahns and Mr. Trump have the freedom in our nation to say anything they want to say.  The words may not be totally beneficial, but the freedom is there. 

The Kahns are a grieving family and regardless of what one feels about their words, one fact is clear – they are not running for the Presidency of the United States and the expectations of the finesse, poise and wisdom expected of one pursuing that office are not applicable to them.  One can debate other issues about their words, but they are a grieving family caught up in a political storm through the convergence of several circumstances and they are not themselves running for the executive office. 

Mr. Trump is running for the highest office of political service in the United States.  Wisdom, decorum, poise and maturity are a reasonable expectation of one running for such an opportunity of leadership.  Mr. Trump clearly has the freedom to say what he wants to say, but as the Bible passage cited earlier reminds us, that doesn’t mean that his exercising his freedom will produce beneficial results or display a mastery of himself.  If Mr. Trump had simply responded with a word of gratitude and appreciation for Captain Kahn’s service and ignored the rest, the issue would be resolved and aside from a few sound bites of Kahn’s family’s words, everyone else would have moved on.  Mr. Trump’s fixation on “counterpunching” has transformed a delicate situation into a controversy and made him seem petty, or perhaps an unwise dupe who can be easily enticed to self-justification to the point of distraction.  If the Kahn’s bother him this much, how much more a head of state who, knowing his oversensitivity, baits him into a personal war of words to the detriment of exercising sound judgement in the conducting of international affairs? 

Freedom must always be guided by honesty, selflessness and self-control.  Those who lead The Free, must exhibit these character traits to the highest degree.  Unfortunately, this situation provides yet another example that in this presidential race, The Home of the Brave has no such persons on the horizon for Executive Leadership.  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

An Enduring Glimpse of Unity

Today, my Army Brat life caught up with me and left me with a difficult choice. Three dear families called for my presence at huge celebrations honoring togetherness,  friendship and persevering love. The celebrations were geographically distant from each other, giving me no possibility of appearing at all of them.

I love Hanau American High School,  Westover Senior High and the Racine Fil-Am community! My decision was made for me and, in Army fashion, based on seniority. I have been a part of the Hanau American High School family for the longest time and other business called for me to already be in the city in which its festivities were held, so to the reunion Luz and I went.

It was a wonderful event, filled with laughter, tears and the kinds of warmth deep and abiding friendships bring. It was also a reminder of a very special time in my personal history when I was blessed to live in a truly racially reconciled community. Friendships,  courtship, tensions and struggles were not based on race but truly made  according to one's character.  What side of the cafeteria did kids sit on? The same side as their rainbow of friends who just hung out because they wanted to!

The buildings that housed our community have largely been destroyed, yet the bond of unity that was forged during the era known as the Cold War endures. I regret that the rest of the nation cannot enjoy the unity our parents' duty created for us to experience.  If only America could glean the sweetness of togetherness that it dreams of, yet for us remains a reality.

To my Hanau American High School family,  how sweet it is to be loved by you! To the families that I  have since joined and who hold equally dear places in my heart,  I've got plenty of love left to share and look forward to passing it on in the days and years to come!

Your Brother,
Sam Jackson
Hanau American High School Class of 1981

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Peril of Violence

This erupting violence against police officers, if continued, will contribute to the denigrating of our nation. Dr. King laid a foundation that we are beginning to see erode. The unshakable commitment to nonviolence was the high moral ground upon which the first gains of Civil Rights were won. If that foundation is abandoned, this entire nation will suffer. The Bible warns that the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Anger must be sanctified and purified through prayer and reflection and then channeled into productive, restorative and healing action. If we resort to violent acts, we will be consumed and every lash, tear, loss and heartache experienced by our ancestors will be for naught. Put down your weapons and lift up one another. Otherwise, our doom is sure and all the lofty dreams of those who have gone before will die with us.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Continuing to March

The sharing of stories is powerful and helpful. Each one of us has a story. The recent stories of racial struggle have sparked many more that I am thankful are now being shared. I find some commonality in many of the stories I hear, but like every human experience, I find that some elements are unique to my own journey. I am prompted to share more of my own, as I have encountered hurting friends who need to know they are not walking alone.

I am a Brat. The son of a career Airborne NCO who was a 1SG in the 82nd when I entered West Point and promoted to CSM shortly thereafter. 
I was surrounded by positive Black role models and positive examples of humanity from numerous backgrounds during my growing up years. While being a Brat and the son of an Old School English teacher saddled me with the "California, standard, unremarkable English" dialect, I was very well connected to my blackness through Mississippi-born parents, lots of Black friends and numerous challenging encounters borne of being at the leading edge of full-fledged integration.  Nevertheless,  there were enough positive experiences in my life to lull me to the sleep of the naive in my awareness of the pervasiveness of racism in the nation and its systems.

My time at West Point was racially a blend of experiences, ranging from warm acceptance by many to jarring rejections and rude interruptions of reality by a few. The extremes of my experience are best illustrated in two incidents.  As a Plebe, I  was invited to a champagne brunch at the Hotel Thayer by a family friend and general officer whose son was a very close high school friend and a yearling at that time. The brunch was a Plebe's dream and I attempted to engorge myself using the absolute best manners within my powers to display. All was well, until my friend asked a few of his classmates who were also present about a group date the night before. One particularly chatty individual chimed in right away, "Can you believe they stuck me with a Nigger?"  I was beyond stunned. I was the only Plebe at the table and I  am sure that the forces holding me in my chair were years of Army protocol and Jesus. Nevertheless, I could not hide my face. My friend instantly and physically collared his classmate and excused them both. Upon their return, the apologies were plentiful, but the damage was done. My sentiments were best expressed years later by Denzel in the movie Glory when he confronted Andre Brougher's Freeman character about how whites viewed them as soldiers,

"You can speak the white man's English, wear his clothes and sing his songs. But no matter what you say or do, you ain't never gonna  be nothing more to him than an ugly ass a blue suit!"

That sentiment clings to my soul to this day. Nevertheless,  I  press on. Why? There are paths to be cleared forn those who follow. During my Yearling year,  our company,  the F-2 Zoo, was detailed to represent West Point at the last official bicentennial event the nation would hold. As we marched in parade of that upstate town, the crowds were absolutely white. No issues.  As we marched back to the buses, still in our parade configuration and still on the streets there was an eerie silence that surrounded us.- kind of like the artificial town of Rockridge in Blazing Saddles - people seemed to be present, but not moving and totally silent. I had to look.  I glanced over and just at that moment my eyes met those of a young brother and I smiled. We were in the black part of town.  He yelled, "Hey! There's a BROTHER in there!" Someone else yelled, "I see him and there's two more! (Plebes Gaddis and Isom.) The streets erupted into cheering! It was one of my proudest West Point moments. I understood that for my people, my presence matters.

Therefore, we soldier on. We continue to fight the good fight because it matters for all who follow. Our Rockbound Highland Home has issues. We will process those issues differently according to our own personal experiences, but we must walk together as well process. I stand with those who return frequently and with those who choose not to. My love abounds for all and my support is as undying as the long Gray line that has such a powerful grip on us all.

Let us continue to march together as we grip hands through this amazing and challenging journey we call life.

Sam Jackson
USMA 1985

Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

Friday, July 8, 2016

Peace In Our Time

Proverbs 10:19 warns that  "Sin is not ended by multiplying words,but the prudent hold their tongues. "

The events of the last 72 hours have jolted the nation and stir many emotions, priming hearts to produce many words. Realizing that words are both powerful and inadequate in addressing the troubles of our times, I am compelled to share and will likely share many times in the days ahead as we reflect as individuals and collectively as a nation.

The words that come to mind most urgently in this season of tension and pain are these: "Fear not!"  To people of faith, the Scriptures instruct us that while upheavals come, tragedies abound and cataclysms disrupt, we should not live in fear. We are reminded that "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of clear thinking."  When life slams us with the unbearable, we have spiritual resources that allow us to face challenges with strength,  to respond to hatred with love,  and to enter chaos with reason and resolve.

Wisdom dispels the naivete that the world is a safe place. While I am surprised by the specific manifestations of evil we have experienced this week, I am not surprised that evil has surfaced and struck at the heart of the nation. While our nation is great, it is flawed, and our flaws have wrought violence in various forms throughout our history.

We must not allow eruptions of evil to lull us into sentimental mourning or rile us to mindless rage. We must comfort those who have been savagely violated, remember and honor those who have perished in fighting the good fight, and renew our resolve to continue to work for the good and to resist what is evil, as evil will surely manifest itself again as our lives inevitably return to a semblance of normalcy.

I hate the evil of our times, but I am not undone by it. I abhor the hatred and ignorance that have destroyed so many precious lives but I will not be overcome by them. Hate will not be defeated by hate.  Racism will not by destroyed by prejudice. Love conquers all. Love gives courage. Love feeds conviction. Love produces fearless action.

Let us arise from the crushing blows that have been dealt us not with impotent sentimentality or disabling and misplaced rage. Let love lift us to meaningful action in our own corners of the world - action that speaks peace into chaos, reason to ignorance and direction and hope into apathy and hopelessness.

The times are wicked, but God has given me the hope and peace that my Jesus displayed when he faced the ultimate evil on the cross.  He offers that peace to us, and I eagerly embrace it now. May God grant you peace in these troubled days and hope that will renew your strength and lift your spirits enabling you to live now and forever with power, love and clear thinking.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why The Liberty Bell is Cracked

The last words of the American Pledge of Allegiance ring with the promise of goodness and greatness, “…with liberty and justice for all.”  The potential is great for a people who take such lofty ideals to heart. The reality can be even greater when these ideals are truly representative of the dealings and lifestyles of a people in the normal course of life.  However, when the rivers of justice have been diverted by corruption and the streams of righteousness tainted by evil doing, the words of the Pledge ring hollow and the potential promise seems unattainable.

Liberty and justice go hand in hand.  Without liberty, justice cannot be served and without justice, liberty cannot be fully experienced.  In the last few days, we as a nation have witnessed concurrent miscarriages of justice, so bold and brazen, that the reality of the injustice leaves us stunned and wondering what it means for the nation’s future.  The decisions surrounding former Secretary of State Clinton communicate an unquestionable double standard for the “high and mighty.”  The seeming unending deaths of African-American men at the hands of people in authority without the benefit of due process cause those of us who believe in the rule of law and who pray and work for peace to wonder how long a nation can endure under the weight of such disparities of justice.

Proverbs 20:10 says, “A double standard of weights and measures— both are disgusting to the Lord.” Disgust is the appropriate emotion for the manifestations of injustice and evil that are becoming more and more prevalent in the United States.  Perhaps our Liberty Bell cracked at its initial ringing and cracked again after the attempt to repair it as a warning – Liberty cannot fully be experienced without justice.  At our nation’s beginning, we sang of liberty while more than half of our inhabitants remained in chains.  The songs of liberty remain muted by the cacophony of injustice we are seeing in our midst today. 

If liberty has a price, injustice exacts a higher price still.  Should we fail to “proclaim liberty” and renege to “let justice flow down like a river” we will encounter costs more severe than taxation by the British, and chains more oppressive than those that bound the slaves who built the infrastructure of this land over a century ago.   The Liberty Bell remains cracked.  I am now beginning to understand why.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pastor Johnny

The Badjao are a seafaring, tribal people whose home waters span the entire region of Southeast Asia. They are sometimes referred to as "Sea Gypsies" because of their migratory habits, and are famous for having such affection for the sea that they even build their houses on stilts above water, beyond the beach, and connect their communities with a network of bamboo walkways high above the surf.

Like many people groups who carry the moniker "gypsies," the Badjao are not always well-accepted by the land dwellers they encounter in the places they settle and are often known to keep to themselves.  Though I remember seeing a picture in elementary school about the people who built their homes on stilts, I never imagined I would have a connection with them.  All that changed, when my brother-in-law and fellow missionary, Ramon, stumbled across a community of Badjao "by chance," and ventured to get to know them.  To his surprise, he found that there was a small and healthy church in in the midst of the Badjao community in Bohol, and he was fortunate to meet the members and to begin to form a friendship with the Badjao church's leader - Pastor Johnny.

Ramon found that Pastor Johnny wasn't just a church leader amongst the Badjao, but a leader throughout the whole community.  Pastor Johnny is humble, hard working, kind and caring. He leads not only with his words, - he leads with his life! We have been blessed to know this precious man for many years. You may have heard the question, "who heals the healers?" Pastor Johnny is in that number! Once, Luz and I became very upset a few years back when a major outreach seemed to be unraveling,  Pastor Johnny and his wife pastored us with a kindness and encouragement we've never experienced before.  Their taking time for us in the midst of a significant mishap gave us perspective, enabled us to regroup and to carry on the mission successfully.

He also has a great sense of humor. A year ago, we sponsored a special event 3K family run in Tagbilaran, the hub city of Bohol. Because we said it was a special event,  Pastor Johnny and the Badjao came dressed in more formal church wear. Being Badjao,  they all ran anyway and beat many competitors! I don't remember seeing any of them sweating.  Pastor Johnny got the biggest kick when he noticed that a young Badjao mom, in a long dress and flip-flops outran me - carrying her baby! He teased me about that the whole trip!

Pastor Johnny continues to serve the Badjao with his wife and family and a host of up and coming leaders.  He has one of the most effective discipleship ministries I have seen for new Badjao Christians. When someone first comes to faith and asks, "How do I follow Jesus?" Pastor Johnny enrolls them in his school on the spot with two words, "Follow me!" From that moment on, the new Christian will literally follow Pastor Johnny around, observing him in every kind of situation from business dealings, to family dynamics, to dealing with other Christians outside of the Badjao community who are slow runners, slow swimmers and can't navigate by the stars in the open sea, yet think they can "help."

I love Pastor Johnny. Please pray for this special Brother,  his family and the work that they do in an environment that is hard, tough and challenging on even the easiest day. They remain people of the sea - always the sea - but people who are transforming a community all around Southeast Asia with the love of Jesus! I'll be sharing more about Pastor Johnny in the coming times.

Luz, Sam and Pastor Johnny

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Black is Beautiful!

Black is beautiful!  Not a revolutionary declaration,  but an affirmation of value and worth that all people possess as creatures of the Living God! I was able to proclaim a message of Hope 2 days ago to an Aeta Chieftan who leads a tribe of aboriginal Filipinos.  When I shared that I have always been eager to visit an Aeta village because of our similarity in appearance and skin tone,  he matter of factly retorted,  "That's unfortunate,  because we're ugly." I was stunned, but blessed to share with him that my people, for a time, were  similarly misinformed,  but by God's grace have learned that while all have sinned and fall short of God's glory, yet in His sight, all are precious and beautiful for all reflect His handcrafted image! I gently replied, "No Sir. Black is beautiful and YOU are beautiful!" I'm  not certain he was convinced,  but it started some reflection. What a privilege to encourage, help and learn from others!  There's more to share about our visit to this tribe and other work as well!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

It Builds Character! Plebe Boxing at West Point

West Point is defined by many experiences that go unseen by the general public.  One of those experiences is Plebe Boxing.  It is mandatory for all male cadets and every one who enters the hallowed ground of West Point will experience the power and the glory of unarmed conflict in the Ring.  I injured my right shoulder early in my Plebe Year and had to undergo surgery to correct the problem.  Because of the timing of my injury, my boxing class was delayed to my second year as an upperclassman.  That initially caused me some concern, because I could easily imagine the Department of Physical Education (DPE) arranging for upperclassmen to be assigned make up classes with lean, hungry Plebes who would be more than willing to provide quality entertainment to the instructors by pummeling unfortunate yearlings for three action-packed rounds.

Fortunately, even DPE isn’t THAT cruel and I was relieved, to an extent, to see that the class was filled with my own dear classmates.  At one of the early sessions, a very seasoned boxing instructor retained at West Point especially for teaching “the Sweet Science” and one who could have easily taken on the role of “Mighty Mick” in the Rocky series asked us if there were any questions.  One of our classmates ventured to ask a technical question, “Sir, what is the most devastating punch in boxing?” The instructor rubbed his chin thoughtfully and responded with a gleam in his eye, “The Left Hook to the Balls!  Totally illegal, but utterly devastating!!”  “Here we go!” I thought to myself. “Another life-altering experience brought to you by the ‘friendly’ instructors of DPE!”  I had no idea how true that sentiment was!

We were most of the way through the semester with the graded bouts underway.  The adage, “You win some, you lose some” applies with a good dose of grunting, blood and pain added in for good measure.  I had the questionable fortune of gaining the attention of the instructors and being named “Section Marcher” or the person who forms the class and reports attendance.  One instructor in particular, a cowboy type with an easy-going drawl, but the kind of physique and visage that rivaled Hercules, really “liked” me.  I kept my hair “high and tight” meaning "Ranger-style" with very little hair on the sides and back and closely cropped on the top.  I also had a loud voice when it came to certain disciplines that required “sounding off.” "Cowboy" liked that.  When another classmate was initially named section marcher by an officer whose accent identified him as having origins in New York City, "Cowboy" overrode the choice demanding, “Naw Sir!! That’s not the one I want!  I want The Marine!!” The New York DPE instructor responded with a smirk, “Jackson, get your @%^# up here!” I was the new Section Marcher. 

As we battled our way through the semester, I noticed that I was in the same weight class as the most accomplished boxer in our group.  I understood that that was always how things worked at West Point.  If you were Joe Frazier, George Foreman would somehow show up in your boxing section. If you were Superman, your opponent would be supplied with generous doses of Kryptonite - that's just how West Point works.  My suspicions that I would one day face "The Best" were confirmed as “Cowboy” gleefully drawled, “It’s ‘George’ and the Marine!”  I even thought I heard CPT New York utter a “Yee Hah!” at the announcement.  We donned our equipment, touched gloves and we were off!  

Initially, I was encouraged.  I had a jab, and it was connecting. It seemed my right hand was finding a home too. Unfortunately, he had a whole tool box of skills and the shop was opening.  I remember my head suddenly turning uncontrollably and weird noises emitting from my lips as he gave what must have appeared to be a step by step demonstration of a speed bag drill executed on a human head.  He became so at ease moving my head from side to side that he relaxed his guard and I thought I saw an opening.  Seizing my opportunity, I threw what was intended to be a perfectly timed counter left hand when, half-way through the punch a searing pain shot through my left shoulder. My “good” shoulder.  It had somehow come out of socket!  “NOW??” I thought to myself.  I tried to imitate Ali’s ducking and dodging to escape his counter-counter assault, but found myself merely blocking “George’s” punches with my face!  I could hear “Cowboy” and “New York” yelling some expletive-filled instructions, but nothing short of a Claymore Mine could’ve gotten him off of me. Then I saw “it.". A HUGE, nighty-night right hand that surely would have destroyed the walls of Jericho, even without Joshua!  I tried to say “My shoulder’s out!” with my mouthpiece in, but it must’ve sounded like an insult because fractions of a second later, WHAM! Impact!! It was the best right hand that has ever connected to my face in fistic combat!  It lifted me off of the canvas, spun me around and landed me on my left side. 

I didn’t feel any discomfort on my face, because suddenly my newly hurt shoulder was on fire with searing pain.  I looked for my left hand and oddly couldn’t see it!  When I finally found it, I noticed that I hand landed on my left elbow, twisting my arm rapidly and grotesquely over my head and behind my back, much like a sadistic child would twist a dolls arm. I thought wishfully, “Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems.”  Then a dear classmate who ran to comfort me saw my condition – and threw up! The medic on the scene exclaimed, “I’m not touching that!”  Both “Cowboy” and “New York” were beaming with satisfaction! A Ranger-Qualified classmate who had served with the Ranger Regiment boomed, “Best Fight of the day!”  All I was wondering was, “Does this count as a knock-out for ‘George?’” If it did, it meant I’d get an automatic “F” and I’d be reporting for another “fun-filled” adventure in West Point Boxing the following year.  As I wondered, I was put on a stretcher and transported to Killer…I mean, Keller Army Hospital where a new adventure in repairing yet another shoulder would begin! This is West Point Boxing. This is the way character is built as a Cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Wrestling With Sasquatch!

The subject of Climate Change is guaranteed to stir up strong emotions and certain to initiate a rousing, spirited conversation.  Recently, treasured friends who are experts in the field of biochemistry and DNA research and also faithful followers of Jesus, sought feedback on an article that spoke in very blunt terms about people who struggle with scientific research in these areas. The article showed no restraint in castigating those who reject widely held scientific conclusions on these issues, labeling them as “idiots.”  While I share the belief that there are numerous ecological issues that should concern every planetary citizen, I do not believe it is fair to broadly label people who express disagreement concerning the causal effects of these issues as ignorant or dumb.  I believe we should be mindful that it is possible for one to agree that there is a need to better educate our citizens, pursue cleaner fuels, and care for our environment but also have questions about the causes of climate change and the best ways to address the problem.

It is not only important that people be allowed to ask questions concerning the data and conclusions of such issues but it is also appropriate for people to question the credibility of those who claim to be true believers in human induced climate change while their daily lives expose them as Carbon Sasquatches who feel that "the carbon footprint rules" apply to the rank and file of humanity but not to them as a privileged elite. These Carbon Sasquatches talk and write espousing lofty ideas but their true convictions are exposed by their lifestyles. It is this type of duplicity that causes people to ask, "If we're in such a dire position, why aren't all these folks talking about this stuff living out what they believe?”  Such a gap between conviction and action allows for weeds of mistrust and suspicion to grow and damages credibility.

As a pastor, I am part of a profession which has become infamously noted for displaying hypocrisy. I am directly affected by any gaps between my preaching and my behavior.   I am also affected by the gaps between the preaching and behavior of other ministers. It is that affectedness that makes me so passionate about the necessity of consistency between one's ideas and one's lifestyle in any area of expertise and especially concerning matters of common concern. 

As one called to instruct others in engaging life’s tough issues, I offer this reminder - let us remember that Jesus came to engage a world filled with ugliness with complete grace and truth in His communication. If we graciously and truthfully present our convictions on matters of substance, it provides room for reasonable people to assess, process and adjust their opinions according to well-presented, insult-free facts.   As we continue to discuss the care of our planet, let each of us be aware of our own “Carbon Sasquatch” hypocritical moments, and seek to represent our convictions in how we live, and to communicate those convictions with grace and truth.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Full Disclosure - Why I Keep writing About Race

The latest happenings at West Point and my comments as the situation developed caused some to ask why do I decide time and time again to write on issues of race?  Why can’t I let such potentially incendiary matters rest?  For this posting, please allow me to expose some experiences I shared in response to an article a friend posted regarding race, housing and schools.  These experiences are examples of why I am compelled to share with greater regularity as the issue of race continues to hold our national attention.

I've come to terms with the fact that dealing with race as a black man is ongoing work, with most struggles occurring out of the sight of others. How does one report the ins and outs of the battle? Does one mention that one's Realtor asks that all family pictures be hidden or removed during a showing or that only one's non-African American spouse deal with a buyer until closing so that chances for a sale are maximized? This was our experience in Cleveland where I was called the N-word every day I went running in my neighborhood. Every day. Do I share that Luz’s fear for my well-being due to those experiences, some quite harrowing is why I still don't run to this day?

In addition, Luz and I are always conscious of the fact that our merely moving into a neighborhood may lower the property values and change the pattern of those to whom real estate in the area is shown.  I should mention that Luz is from a successful business family in the Philippines and is the equivalent of a national merit scholar and I myself have achieved a little bit of learnin’ and refinin’.  Nevertheless, we have experienced fearful reactions and suburban flight in the Ohio and Michigan suburbs in which we have lived. In Ohio, we were the 3rd family of color to move into our community with the first two experiencing cross burnings on their lawns.  Fortunately for us, the sale on matches must have ended by the time we arrived, though we experienced verbal taunting and door hangers from hate groups that shared the message that our neighbors shouldn’t have to live by people like us. In Michigan, the proof of residency drills were so degrading that even Luz and I were pushed to the point of annoyance as we were repeatedly required to endure them when registering our children for school after almost a decade of living in our district not to mention the condescending attitudes of those asking for our credentials.  

Time would fail for me to list the affronts, indignities and insults we have received.  Nevertheless, we are volunteers.  We have intentionally chosen the ministries we have led and we have stepped up to the challenges we have faced believing that if one willfully chooses to serve as a bridge, one is volunteering oneself to be walked on.  Nevertheless, after years of limited exposure, I am convicted that more exposure is needed so that greater understanding might be gained.  Our calling as a bridge remains, however, in light of the challenges I see emerging in the land, the time to be more vocal about traffic patterns has arrived.  I am not bitter. I am not angry. I am deeply affected, highly motivated and determined not to quit.  As God gives me life and strength, I will carry on!  Driving on in love and faith in the midst of a bumpy journey I remain, your friend and Brother,

Sam Jackson

The Jackson Family in Front of our suburban Detroit Home

Processing Anger and Race - The Work Must Continue

As black fists are raised, anger is assumed. A decision is made, and anger actually blooms.  Anger and race have been close partners in the American experience.  More than any other issue in US society, the matters regarding race have gnawed at the soul of the nation.  Curtis Mayfield’s musical declaration that American was undeniably [his] country asks the still pertinent question, “Shall we perish unjust or live equal as a nation?”  Where is the injustice? It is found in freewheeling, undisciplined, unprocessed and ill-placed anger.

The Bible issues many warnings about anger.  It distinguishes between righteous and unrighteous anger – “Be angry, but do not sin” says the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:26.  In James 1:19, 20 followers of Jesus are warned, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” 

In America, one of the most challenging manifestations of human anger is found in conversations and conflicts surrounding the subject of race.  There is minority anger over centuries of injustice that have left a thick residue that coats our landscape in heavy, abundant layers even to the present day.  There is majority anger due to perceived changes that seem to threaten a sense of stability and comfort seen as essential for prosperity and freedom to endure.  These and other related expressions of anger routinely clash, sometimes nearing the precipice of violent conflict as wills collide and misunderstanding thrives.  What can be done?

There must be a recognition that denial of the anger or pretense that every problem has been sorted out are not helpful approaches.  Ownership of one’s emotional state is critical and the processing of one’s emotions is necessary. This usually means venting, reflecting, sorting, and evaluating one’s feelings with trustworthy and wise friends.  Trustworthy and wise friends are essential because these individuals will also assist in the preparation of one’s responses to conflicting ideas, difficult situations or even traumatic occurrences.  One’s responses to conflict are of equal importance to the conflict itself. There must also be an acknowledgement the work of addressing racial issues in the land is never-ending, thankless yet absolutely necessary for the survival of the republic.

Because of the necessity of this work, there must be a commitment to continue to engage it by building lines of communication and seeking to understand even the most perplexing points of view.  Our anger must not lead to ugly ranting or destructive and abusive verbal spewage. Instead, our emotional upheavals should remind each of us of the incredibly personal and important nature of the work of racial healing and the constant need for brave souls to speak up with truth, conviction and love at the risk of being misunderstood, unappreciated or attacked once more.

The persistence of setbacks and painful experiences in pursuit of racial harmony can wear the best people down and cause the most stout-heated individuals to lose hope and to give up the cause in utter frustration. It is at such times that Curtis Mayfield’s refrain speaks powerful truth to our hearts that should quicken the resolve of all who seek to help our land live up to every element of its creed:

Too many have died in protecting my pride
For me to go second class
We’ve survived a hard blow and I want you to know
That you must face us at last
And I know you will give consideration
Shall we perish unjust or live equal as a nation
This is my country.

Remembering the price that has been paid by those who have gone before, we do not allow our anger to define or overwhelm us.  Rather we feel it, process it, purify it, and redirect it into meaningful action that engages the issues at hand, faces any ugliness that might be present and in turn, apply truth, righteousness and beauty to the situation with diligence and persistence, carrying the torch of truth until change comes.  In our anger, let us not sin. Remembering that is is our country, let us face us struggles together, telling the truth in love, sorting through the ugliness, working without restraint to see that righteousness, understanding and beauty prevail.  The results will not be perfect, but we can make some outcomes better.  This is my country and I’ll work towards it’s healing until the day I die!