Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Why Do The Police Encounter Stories Get So Much Traction?

We are blessed as a society with liberties and freedoms that many around the world only dream of. Yet, even in our great land, watched over by the best law enforcement agencies, staffed by the best officers, things sometimes go wrong. At times, the mistakes are painfully common. Why do the protests have so much traction? Let me offer some personal perspective.

I was blessed to be raised in a solid, stable,  two parent family in the military culture,  trained since birth to stop  and stand for the raising of the Colors,  their retirement,  and every by the book appropriate instance.  I still do. I am an Eagle Scout, West Pointer,  ordained pastor, husband and father.  My wife is the only woman I have kissed with passion or slept with, all within the confines of marriage. I am anal about obeying the speed limit and obeying the law. With those credentials,  EVEN I have been pulled over numerous times and had weapons pulled on me twice, including once on campus,  in seminary when I was seen running from a dorm with a Bible  - an action that was reported as a suspicious Black male running around campus with a dark object in his hand. 

Good home training and possessing a generally calm personality helped me survive those encounters, but 1000 pages of Sowell doesn't explain that away and lets me know that there's a problem. For the majority of Black men I know, and I know a LOT of them, this is the case. That's why this these protests have traction. If I'm having these encounters, and others like me are, some that came close to going wrong,  how much more someone with less breaks than me and less community support?

This does not excuse criminal activity,  disrespect of authority or law breaking,  but when numerous solid,  law abiding citizens are themselves having close calls when going about daily business,  concern is warranted and the reporting of such encounters is highly believable.

Let's all work together to lessen these close calls and enable freedom to ring unencumbered by controversy and missteps.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Let Freedom Ring!

"Freedom" is an American feel-good word. It is comfort food for the American Soul.  It is used with force and conviction in political rallies and civic classes.  Freedom echoes through American hallways and rings through its valleys as the hallmark of American life and the embodiment of the American way.   

I am aware of my great fortune to possess citizenship in a country that values freedom as such a normal fabric of our nation's existence, that two citizens are able to boldly and publicly express their pleasure or displeasure with the nation, without fear of governmental intervention or federal punishment.  THIS reality is a precious gift,  bought with the blood, sweat and tears not just of those who have served in the Armed Forces, but those ancestors who have built the nation for us, whether by choice or servitude.  

These numerous contributions in the securing of our inalienable rights have been provided not only the marching of soldiers, but also the marching of dissenters,  the marching of contingents of the First Americans on Trails of Tears, and the relentless marching along history's path by an unending parade of sacrifice that has made America the Land of the Free. The ranks of this parade have been filled by laborers, artisans, farmers, professionals and citizens of every sector of American society.  For this reason, this country belongs to every American and we must never forget not only the sacrifices of those who hav defended America, we must remember the contributions of those who have sustained her as well. All Americans are within their rights to express their opinions on matters of social importance - or not - whatever their station in life, from the poorest to the richest; from the most successful to the ever-failing; from the most popular to the most despised.  EVERY American has the right to express themselves.  

Of course, there are no guarantees that one's expression will be liked, appreciated or embraced by anyone else.  Our heroes of history were often the pariah of their own day, braving withering social pressure to stand for well-accepted, popular practices we now call injustice.  Sometimes, even the government that heralds those rights, attempts to stifle them when the heat of the day is just too intense.  Nevertheless, even in the face of powerful opposition, in America, freedom ultimately rings.  

For that reason, wherever one's opinion falls with respect to displaying dissent during the National Anthem, do not lose the beauty of our freedom in the fog of disagreement. Very few nations in the world could stand the strain of allowing dirty national laundry to be aired in the midst of singing the national song. America's greatness lies in its invitation to love it, not in any coercion to do so. For me, who proudly stands as the Colors are flown and the Song is sung, the presence of other Americans who choose to kneel shows in the most vivid manner possible, that Liberty continues to be proclaimed throughout the Land, and those who have contributed to the red stripes on Old Glory, indeed did not die in vain. Let Freedom Ring!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

And So It Begins - Middle School and the Initiation Of Racialized Chatter

I remember the junior high/middle school years as a somewhat confusing time of wonder and painful adjustments.  It was during those years that I first formed friendships that I enjoy to this day!  It was also the time that I noticed more overtly, unprovoked racialized behavior amongst my peers.  I saw students of a lighter hue harassed by students of a darker hue for walking in the “wrong part” of a hallway or for “walking too cool for your kind.”  It was also during these years that I heard the “n-word” used regularly as an insult resulting in violent exchanges.  Those types of memories have always made me particularly concerned for my own children, fearing that their middle school experience would be baptisms by fire into the uglier sides of American culture. As of this writing, I am 4 for 4 in seeing my concerns realized in the lives of my daughters.

Victoria is a strong young woman who possesses a keen sense of humor and energetic personality while at the same time, exhibiting traits of deep thought and a contemplative nature.  Very recently, after climbing in the car as I picked her up from school, I could see that there was something on her mind. I assumed it was an academic question or goofy anecdote from school.  It was neither.  She began by sharing the awkward, middle school struggle to find a place to sit, when cliques are beginning to form and suddenly who sits next to whom becomes a greater concern.  Finding “friends” she recognized, she sat down and began to eat.

As she consumed her lunch, one “friend”, out of the blue, launches into a rant, proclaiming in bold terms a ridiculous, negative generalization about people of African descent.  Victoria listened unbelievingly.  Others at the table, also stunned, cautioned this individual by reminding them that Victoria was at the table.  The friend responded, “I don’t care!” and continued with her racially charged words.  Victoria quietly at her lunch, and kept the incident to herself until she came home and shared the happening with us.

This type of incident is what keeps those of us who are people of color on guard, even as we “relax” and what keeps those of us who follow Jesus prayed up and prepared.  My gut reaction was one of anger and the words that first came to mind were not edifying in any way.  Nevertheless, I believed that my response would be critical in shaping my daughter’s perspective on herself, her heritage and others who were of different backgrounds.  I swallowed hard, silently prayed hard, and began to share and encourage in what would be a series of discussions on the incident, advising her on reactions to such rants and advising her of when the issue would be considered an escalation worthy of teacher/administrator interaction.

I share this today not for pity, but for perspective.  The day was long enough for all of us as it was, without this extra grenade being tossed in.  Nevertheless, the grenade was thrown and had to be dealt with.  I also share it to remind us as adults that our children hear and repeat the less than righteous things we say.  The content of the rant Victoria heard clearly originated from the home of the person that delivered it.  I know this family and could her the parental voice in my mind that planted the seed.  The thought of such ignorance coming from the mouth of my “friend” was painful and disappointing. 

We don’t have to wonder why our nation is as divided as it is.  For the last few decades it is apparent that for the most part, we have been posturing and play acting that our hearts are for togetherness and our minds are united as one.  Our children, from the university level to middle school, are exposing a different truth.  Brothers sisters and friends, if there is to be any semblance of peace among us, it must begin with us in our own homes.  My recent experience gives me pause and less hope that overcoming progress has been made.  Nevertheless, I am committed to teach the righteousness of love until my dying breath.  I pray you might be convicted to do the same in your homes, amongst your own kindred as well.  One certainty is this.  Our shortcomings in loving others will be ultimately exposed for all to see.  Hatred cannot be forever hidden. May God save us all from ourselves.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Ending The Domination of Toxic Criticsm

Toxic criticism is quickly emerging as the United States' new national pastime.  Distant observers love to criticize others who are actually engaged in trying to make a difference.  If social media posts are to be believed, the United States is a nation of mindless, unfeeling, calloused, inhumane idiots – except for the individuals who write such claims about others - others who are actually attempting to make a difference rather than merely voice a difference of opinion. This prevailing practice of uninvited criticism offered by uninvolved individuals has become even more prominent in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, perhaps the most powerful and destructive hurricane to land on US soil in living memory. 

As it became evident that the storm would be of historic proportions, pundits with years of well-honed skills for criticizing the actions of others under their belts, began harshly assessing the responses of various individuals and entities. These assessments were based on expectations that did not truly appreciate the immensity of the destruction or the human need to assess, adjust and address the situation before engaging in definitive action.  These critiques have been particularly characteristic of how churches have been viewed in their responses to this crisis, and no church has been criticized more than Lakewood Church of Houston, pastored by noted televangelist Joel Osteen. 

In assessing Lakewood’s response to Hurricane Harvey, pundits painted Osteen’s actions as detached, self-centered, lethargic and inadequate.  He was further described as one more concerned about money and comfort than he was about helping those in need and portrayed as one who had no true regard for the city of Houston and its citizens.  The problem with these conclusions are that they are not based on fact.  There is an observable history of Lakewood Church that tells a much different story.  Lakewood was founded by Joel’s father, John Osteen in the late 1950’s.  The senior Osteen was known for preaching an unrelenting message of God’s love and being willing to serve anybody, especially those who were outcasts.  John Osteen led the church through a period when he faced criticisms and violence for opening the doors of the church to all people and refusing to serve in a segregated setting.  Such stands estranged him from other “Bible-believing” ministries of his era, yet Lakewood persisted in following the conviction that Jesus called His people to love all people. 

As the multicultural makeup of Lakewood became accepted by outsiders, the church simultaneously maintained a well-earned reputation for helping the needy and being focused on reaching those who were outcasts. After John Osteen’s passing and Joel’s assumption of Leadership, Lakewood maintained its role as a “go to” resource in times of hardship, serving as a literal shelter from storms in other regional hardships and caring for the vulnerable in numerous emergency situations.  As Hurricane Harvey loomed, Lakewood’s leadership knew they would help, but weren’t sure how they would best assist, knowing they had their own vulnerabilities in terms of the possibility of flooding within the building that serves them.  This self-imposed delay for the sake of sound decision-making and to help prevent Lakewood from becoming a source of trouble rather than help, became fertile ground for every critic of Lakewood in particular and Christianity in general.

The crop of criticism and ridicule that has been produced because of Lakewood’s making more careful assistance decisions has ignored Lakewood’s history, demonstrated ignorance of Lakewood’s core values and applied unrighteous stereotypes to a ministry that while not by any means perfect, makes it a point to serve as a place of refuge and help.  Just because one has an issue with Christians – even when justifiable – does not mean one should feel free to belittle, berate and insult any church within view without taking the time to know the facts. Observe all ministries like one would any entity – with objectivity, fairness and with actual knowledge about what the church stands for and what the church does.  Among agencies who help in times of crisis, churches are often at the very core of the groups that help, and often supply the key players who help as a matter of course in their secular duties. 

While it is true that I do not see eye to eye with Brother Osteen on some matters of doctrine and theology, I have observed him for many years. I take note that he has not forgotten the hallmarks of the faith, and has committed the formidable resources of the ministry he leads for caring for widows, orphans and strangers.  I would invite those who wish to criticize Christians as a matter of sport to know that while you will assuredly find faults at which to take aim, you will also certainly find unrelenting devotion in serving others and excellence in denying self towards which you can strive.  Let us proceed to light more candles and relent of perpetually cursing the darkness.