The Charleston Murderer Is A Terrorist, But He Is Not The Problem

In Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, I was taught that alcohol was not my problem. It was a symptom of my problem. The true problem ran much deeper than the substance I poured into my body.

A young man walked into one of the most historically significant African-American churches in the South, opened fire, and took the lives of 9 people. Not only are the lives of the families of those 9 people forever altered, an entire community now mourns, and a nation is brought face to face again with the reality of racism in our midst.

But he is not the problem. The problem runs much deeper.

The problem is hate. In a state that still flies a flag that is a symbol of hatred, division, and white supremacy people are actually asking where this young man could have learned to hate black people the way he does.

It is not enough to think we can just ignore our differences and our nation’s history and the result will be our children growing up to be loving and accepting. We must teach love. We must teach appreciation of one another’s cultural differences. We must be examples of this in the ways we speak and the ways we act. We must set the example in speaking against injustice of any kind. Until we actively teach love and appreciation of our differences, we will face these issues over and over.

The problem is maintenance of the status quo. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. We don’t want anyone to rock the boat. We want to believe that things are okay. Or at the very least that they are better than 50 years ago. We want to believe that if we don’t talk about the problems that exist we can pretend they don’t exist.

The problem is too many white people have allowed the status quo to go unchallenged.

The problem is too many of you are upset with me saying “white people” in my last statement than with the truth of that statement.

As Christians (especially white Christians), we are often unwilling to talk about racism from the pulpit because we are afraid it will make us uncomfortable when we mess with the status quo at church. But nine people had their lives taken from them while they were at church. It’s okay for us to get a little uncomfortable.

“The way things used to be” or “the way things are” is not good enough. The status quo lulls us into a false sense of security. We think we are balanced. But that balance comes at the expense of recognizing those for whom balance is little more than a fantasy. We must wake up to the problems that exist around us. We must acknowledge our role, either explicit or implicit. We must make changes. The simplest way to begin that is build relationships with people who have different experiences than we do. And it must be intentional.

The problem is trying to make excuses instead of facing what the real problem is. Media sources came out yesterday trying to proclaim that this was a religious issue, not a racial one. Many pundits said we would never know what the motive truly was behind what he did. Many people took to social media to say this was not about race and we should quit making everything about race and we are race-baiters for saying this was a racist attack.

Do you know who made this a racial issue? The shooter did. Him and only him. He made this a racial issue when he chose the place he chose; when chose the victims he chose; when he spoke the words he chose: “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

When we refuse acknowledge the real problem we alienate ourselves from those who are truly victims. Racism is still alive and well in our country and when we try to sweep it under the rug or give it a different name or turn a blind eye to it we are telling people of color that we truly don’t care about them or their experiences.

When we acknowledge that racism exists, we can do something about it. When we confront the structures and systems that are infected with the disease of institutional racism we can begin to effect change.

But we cannot change anything until we point to it and say, “This can stand no longer.”

The shooter perpetrated a horrific evil earlier this week. But he is not the problem. The problem runs much deeper.

The problem is the system that allowed him to grow into that hate and the individuals who turned a blind eye and a deaf ear because they thought everything was “good enough.”

Let us work on the real problem.

Can We Actually Learn Anything From McKinney

My youngest son wants to grow up and become a police officer. In fact, the local police chief was willing to sit down with him one day recently and have a conversation about his career goal.

I attend church with and enjoy spending time with several officers on the police force. I have even had email conversations about topics on which we disagree with a couple of them. I look forward to having even more.

I truly feel for the officers who were terrified by the events that occurred in Dallas last night.

But I still think we have a lot to talk about concerning the state of policing in America.

Calling for police reform does not make one an enemy of police.

Saying that police violence is a problem does not mean one hates the police.

Seeking a better system does not mean one does not care when a police officer is hurt, or killed, in the line of duty.

We still need to have some difficult, uncomfortable conversations.

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What we saw on the video from McKinney, TX, this week was awful. There is no way around it: the situation devolved into a mess and one person in particular was caught on tape treating children in a way no child should be treated.

After the video of Officer Casebolt went viral, he was called out by his own chief.

“Conley emphasized that 11 out of 12 officers on scene ‘performed according to their training.’ He decried those who violated community rules and disrespected authorities during the incident, but also made clear that Casebolt, as a police officer, is held to a higher standard.” Conley also used the terms “indefensible” and “out of control” to describe Casebolt’s actions.

This statement from a highly ranked police officer highlights both positives and negatives.

First, the negative.

Twelve officers responding to teenagers at a pool party? Specifically, black teenagers at a pool party in a mostly white neighborhood?

There is a suspicion of black bodies in our country; especially when they are somewhere “they don’t belong.” This is a difficult concept for many white people to grasp. This is also a difficult concept for white people to hear. But when teenagers in swim suits necessitate 12 police officers, it is legitimate to question the response.

When the child in the video is referred to as “the black girl” or “the girl with the braids” instead of by her name, DaJerria Becton, it is legitimate to think that black bodies are dehumanized.

Have you ever seriously considered why minorities feel targeted by the police? Or have you essentially dismissed their argument with phrases like “Most police officers are good,” or “It’s not the 50s anymore.”? Have you ever delved into the dark history of the treatment of minorities in our country?

Have you ever sat and listened to a POC talk about their experience?

This altercation began when an adult slapped a teenager and then told the group to go back to their Section 8 housing. Our words reveal a lot about what we believe. They also reveal why minority groups feel threatened, excluded, and unwelcome.

When the voices of white, teenaged witnesses are silenced and the voices of white adults who were not present are given airtime, it is another indication that some people are trying to propagate a story they know isn’t true.

This is also revealed when people continue to rush to the defense of a police officer whose actions were deemed indefensible by his own chief. The person in charge said his officer was out of control. Yet still people are standing up justifying his behavior.

Because too many of us don’t want to believe that people we look up to can and do make mistakes. And some professionals must be held to a much higher standard. Body slamming unarmed teenagers in swimsuits is not acceptable.

But there is also a positive.

A police chief called out one of the bad apples. We hear often that those who do bad things are few and far between, and maybe that is true, but when police departments, FOPs, and city officials refuse to call out the bad ones, it appears they are condoning or covering up bad behavior.

The more people in authority stand up and say, “This is unacceptable behavior,” the more trust will grow.

Likewise, we should want to see more videos of other police officers standing in to try and calm down an out of control colleague. If the “bad apples” truly are few and far between, then let us work together to remove them.

Another positive is the fact that the young people present were willing to speak out and tell the truth about what they saw. When teenagers are willing to stand up for truth and justice, we can begin to feel better about the direction our country is headed.

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These are the beginnings of the conversations we need to have. I live in a community that does not have many of the issues between police and community that are present in so many towns and cities across the country. But that does not mean everything is perfect. There are still conversations to be had. Thankfully, our police chief is (usually) willing to have those conversations.

If we want to see relationships improve, we need to actually build relationships. Talk to each other, not past each other. Community forums, cups of coffee, times for people to admit mistakes made. Transparency from civic officials. Work on the local level.

What many people in the dominant culture (yes, meaning white people) fail to understand is that most protestors are not against the police. They are against the overuse of violence by police in disproportionate numbers towards minorities. If we want to being building and improving relationships in our communities, let’s start by acknowledging that. Let’s listen to the experience of those who feel targeted without telling them they are wrong. From those conversations, growth can begin.

Also, we need to dig deeper than community-police relationships. While those are important to build and nurture, there are systemic issues that create much of the tension. There are many unjust laws and systems that create and maintain poverty and discrimination. We must fight to eradicate these. Do you know how difficult it is to find a job or rent an apartment or get an ID or set up a doctor’s appointment when you are poor? Especially when that poverty has been generational and no one has been present to teach you how to navigate the system?

Learn what it is like for people in lower socio-economic classes to do the things you take for granted.

We must ask why so many churches are silent on issues of social justice. Church, we need to stop being afraid to say things that are deemed political; many issues are not truly political, although they have been politicized. We must still speak truth and justice into those issues. We must not only be preaching and calling for justice from the pulpit, we must be in our neighborhoods-daily-seeking ways to help heal the hurt that exists.

One way to do this? Walk the streets of your neighborhood. Pray for each house and each person living in that house. Knock on the door and ask two simple questions: “Can we pray for you?” “Can we do anything around your house to help you?” Don’t evangelize. Just serve. Build relationships.

We need to have many difficult conversations.

Let’s start talking.

Why I Hate Celebrity Culture, But Stand With Caitlyn Jenner

I really don’t like celebrity culture. I don’t really care who is dating whom or if their current relationship may be on the rocks. I don’t get how some people get caught up in the goings-on of complete strangers. I am baffled at how people are so concerned about the activities of the royal family.

When it comes to gossip, I just don’t care. It is bad enough supermarket tabloids seem to proliferate, but when places that are supposed to be journalistic spend significant portions of time talking about the life and times of celebrities I get discouraged. I think we are too consumed with the lives of others, especially those who are considered to be famous.

There is a part of me that is cynical and jaded when it comes to celebrities. I tend to assume everything they do is a grab for attention or notoriety. I am often suspicious of even good things celebrities do: “They must be about to release something new and they need to garner some goodwill.”

But I do like stories. I like to hear about people’s lives and their experiences. Additionally, I appreciate when someone who has an audience or an influence is willing to share their story in the hopes of aiding others.

So even though I get upset with our culture’s obsession with celebrity, I appreciate when those celebrities are able to provide help, hope, and encouragement for others.

Which brings me to Caitlyn Jenner.

My initial response with anyone associated with the Kardashians is to think it’s all about attention. My initial response when a celebrity does something so drastic is to think they must be trying to get themselves back into the news.

And maybe that’s true. But it doesn’t matter. The reason behind this celebrity doing this thing at this time is irrelevant.

Caitlyn Jenner is going to do good for a lot of people. And chances are you don’t get it. But you don’t need to. You do, however, need to get this:

There are people who are struggling with their gender identity who do not feel safe enough to talk about it. Many of those people internalize their struggle and decide to live a life they know is not honest, but it is what everyone expects of them. Some turn to risky behaviors to find some way to relieve the stress that continues to build up inside. And many turn to suicide because not only can they not reconcile who they are, they have no one to turn to who will listen to them.

So when people post insults on social media, call Caitlyn an “it,” or refuse to acknowledge that Caitlyn is a woman, people who are questioning their own gender identity are learning how dangerous it is to ask their questions out loud.

Which is why I am glad Caitlyn is doing this so publicly. She will be ridiculed. She will be mocked. But she will be talked about. Gender identity will be talked about. Other people, famous or not, will begin to follow her example and speak up about their own experiences. Those who suffer in silence may possibly be encouraged by someone willing to suffer in public.

You may not agree with what Caitlyn Jenner has done. You may not understand the struggle of gender identity. You may be weirded out by this whole story.

And all of that is okay. As long as you remember this: everyone does not have the same story you do. There are people in our schools and in our churches and in our workplaces who are trying to figure out where they land on the gender spectrum and they need to know they have safe places to talk.

The response to the Jenner story has been largely sickening. The insults and disrespect she has been shown are nothing short of dehumanizing. This is especially sad when that response comes from Christians. Jesus, who came to seek and save the lost, would not shut the doors on anyone who is honestly searching what their journey in life should be. Unfortunately, many Christians and churches have essentially shut the door on the people who need us the most. We have done this with our words of insult and exclusion. I pray our words will change and we will be known as a people of refuge.

I don’t like celebrity culture. I think we spend too much time thinking and talking about the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

But I stand with Caitlyn Jenner.

Because I stand with the young people I have talked to who have questioned their own gender identity.

Because I stand with people who are too afraid to speak up about their struggle for fear of being ridiculed and excluded.

Because I stand with all who feel they have no voice and they need someone to speak up for them.