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.

From Dust to Dust, A Short Lenten Reflection

“From dust we came…to dust we will return.”

There is a lot I wish would return to dust quickly:

Injustice

Systemic racism; actually—any form of racism

White privilege

White supremacy

Punitive legal system

Death penalty

Abortion

War

Hatred

And then I realize that Lent is not (necessarily) about eradicating all that is unholy and sinful in the world.

Lent is about eradicating all that is unholy and sinful within me.

How have I contributed to, benefitted from, or ignored all those evils I already listed? How have I victimized others by my actions? How have I victimized myself?

This is only the fourth year I have participated in Lent. It has been a powerful experience before me. Yet this year, I am doing something different. I am not intentionally fasting or giving something up.

Instead, I am going to sit in silence. No agenda. No plan. No action.

Just silence.

Because there is so much pain and sin and hatred in the world. And in me.

And sometimes I just need to sit with it.

And pray that it all turns back to dust.

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On Sunday, February 22, we will be hosting a candlelight vigil on the 3 month anniversary of Tamir Rice’s death. Tamir was a young child shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer for playing with a toy. We have lost too many children (and adults) to violence. We will meet this Sunday and pray for peace and justice and nonviolence. We will pray for our systems to change. We will pray for a better world for our children to inherit.

It is appropriate this prayer vigil (taking place in 22 cities) is occurring during Lent. Lent is a season of reflection. Lent is a season of repentance. Lent leads us to something better. It is my prayer that we as a society reflect, repent, and move towards something better.

Please join us at Freedom Fellowship, 941 Chestnut St. in Abilene, TX, this Sunday at 7:00 P.M.

Community Building Challenge: Participate and Share!

I mentioned in my blog post earlier this week that I will be giving a new challenge on the first Saturday of each month during 2015. (Yes, I know this is the second Saturday of January!)

These challenges have three purposes:

Increase Awareness

Grow Community

Build Relationships

If we are going to achieve justice and equality, if we are going to overcome systemic racism, if we are going to attain racial reconciliation, if we are going to admit and push back against our privilege, then we need to be in the business of building relationships. The challenges I present this year have that purpose in mind.

So for the month of January, here is your challenge:

Invite someone into your home who has never been in your home before.

Simple. Just invite someone over. It can be for dinner, dessert and coffee, a movie/game night, or just to sit and talk. But invite someone who has never been in your house before. Sit and talk. Get to know them. Allow them to tell you their story and share your story with them.

This is where it begins. We build relationships by building relationships.

Please participate in these challenges with me this year. Share this challenge with everyone you know. Share your stories! You can talk about them here or on facebook or twitter. But share your stories. Let us learn together how we can successfully create and sustain community.

The Truth Hurts

“I could hate slavery, but I didn’t know what to do with the slave right in front of me.” The Invention of Wings.

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When working with clients, they often face some uncomfortable truths. Sometimes, they are being victimized by someone they love and they need to stand up for themselves. Other times, they are creating a problem and are coming to realize they need to change their own behavior.

Either way, they experience discomfort. Truth is often not easy.

At times, it is more difficult because the person is doing something they know is wrong, but they have convinced themselves they need to do it. A person may hate dishonesty yet keep secrets from their partner in order to spare his or her feelings. Someone may hate insulting speech yet they often utilize sarcastic cut-downs as an attempt at humor to defuse a tense situation.

Not only do they need to be confronted with what they are doing that is causing pain, they need to acknowledge that their actions do not line up with their beliefs.

This is prevalent in 12 Step groups, as well. Most addicts hate using substances. Yet they cannot stop. They do not enjoy lying to their families, stealing to pay for their drug of choice, or destroying their bodies. But the need for satiating their desire is greater than the need to change behavior.

Again: they experience discomfort. Truth is often not easy.

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In The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd tells the tale of Sarah Grimke and Hetty “Handful” Grimke, set in early 19th century Charleston, SC. Sarah is given the slave, Handful, as a gift for her 11th birthday. From a young age, Sarah hates the institution of slavery. She hates that Handful has been given to her as property. Yet she cannot free her no matter how hard she tries.

Throughout her life, she tries to figure out the best ways to treat Handful. In a particularly poignant scene in the novel, Sarah is looking at Handful and says to herself, “I could hate slavery, but I didn’t know what to do with the slave right in front of me.”

That tremendously captures the human experience. Intellectual assent or opposition is easy. Practical application is hard.

I believe in the value of hard work. But what about people who are unable to work for a variety of reasons?

I believe it is necessary to abide by laws. But what do we do with those people who break the law? Or how do we monitor those who enforce the law?

I believe abortion is wrong. But how should we treat women who have already had abortions? Or how should we treat the children born to women who struggle to provide for their kids?

I believe war is wrong. But how should veterans and active service people be treated?

I believe in looking beyond our differences and sharing community. But how can we still respect and honor different ethnic backgrounds and experiences?

I know what I believe in and what I oppose. But what do I do with the person right in front of me?

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I hate systemic racism.

I hate the denial that systemic racism exists.

I hate the reality of white privilege.

I hate the denial of that reality.

But what do I do with the people right in front of me—the people who I interact with daily that are suffering due to the unfairness and injustice in the systems and structures that are currently in place; as well as the people who think things really aren’t that bad and we all just need to get over it?

I know what I believe and I know what I hate; but what do I do with the person right in front of me?

I can speak up. I can speak out. I can build awareness. I can work for justice and equality.

But all of that must be done in relationship. I must remember that the person right in front of me is exactly that: a person. A beloved child of God. They have worth and value, whether they agree with me or not.

Because I have seen the effects of systemic racism and unchecked white privilege, I will continue advocating for people who have faced the unfairness inherent in the system.

Because I have relationships with people who have not seen the effects of unfairness, I will continue seeking ways to inform them. I will continue seeking ways to have conversations to explore some uncomfortable truths.

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We live in a country that essentially idolizes freedom. Yet many do not want to acknowledge that freedom is limited for a large number of our population.

We must acknowledge that truth; no matter how much it hurts.

So how do we do this? By getting to know people. By listening to other people’s stories. By paying attention to what is going on in our communities.

In other words, we do this by building relationships. We build relationships through dialogue and experience. Over the course of 2015, I will be making one challenge per month. These challenges are intended to increase awareness and build relationship.

There is a lot of negativity today. And much of it actually does need to exist. We need to be made aware of how difficult life is for people who face systemic racism and oppression of many forms.

But we need practical measures to bring about lasting change. I know what I believe. I know what I hate.

But what do I do with the person right in front of me?

I will normally be posting the challenges on the first Saturday of the month, but I will post this month’s challenge here, as well:

During the month of January, invite one person into your home that has never been in your home before. Don’t meet them somewhere for coffee. Don’t choose someone who was in your last place several years ago. Choose someone you have never invited before and ask them to be a guest in your house. It can be for dinner, for dessert, for a game/movie night, or it can just be for a time to visit. But find someone you have not spent time with and invite them to be your guest.

Are you willing to try that?

Let us all look for ways to increase our awareness and grow our community by building relationships.

Voice to the Voiceless

When Israel left Egypt, they were given a Law to follow. Most people know the 10 Commandments. Or at the very least, they know the 10 Commandments exist. Some of those other laws, however, are less known. Because let’s face it: reading a book of numbers, a book of priestly duties, and a book that repeats and summarizes everything in the previous three books can get kind of boring.

(My apologies to all my Old Testament professors for such a poor job of describing Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.)

But when we pay attention, we learn that from the beginning of God’s covenant with God’s people, God was concerned with how the people pushed to the margins were treated. The weak. The defenseless.

The voiceless.

Consider these examples from Exodus:

“Do not wrong or oppress any outsiders living among you, for there was a time when you lived as outsiders in the land of Egypt” (22:21).

“You must not take advantage of any widow or orphan. If you do oppress them and they cry out to Me, I will certainly hear them, and My wrath will be kindled” (22:22-24a).

“Do not deny justice to the poor among you in their disputes” (23:6).

Outsiders (or foreigners; or immigrants). Widows. Orphans. The poor.

These are the voiceless. These are the ones God’s people need to speak for.

Throughout the Law, there are repeated calls to take care of these groups of people. Those calls continue through the Psalms. The Prophetic books detail punishment on God’s people resulting from their failure to watch out for people who were pushed aside. In fact, in Amos goes so far as to say God hates the worship of the Israelite people because they have neglected justice.

When Jesus began His public ministry, He quoted from Isaiah pronouncing that He would be going to the lost, the poor, the hurting, the lonely, the oppressed.

One of the Apostle Paul’s main objectives on his missionary trips was collecting money from richer Christians (who were often more generous than they were wealthy) to distribute among the poorer Christians. Paul was known as the Apostle to the Gentiles because he spent so much time proclaiming how the Jewish Messiah was the Savior for all people.

In his letter, James wrote that pure religion is that which looks after those who are in need: the widow, the orphan, the poor.

For those who are voiceless, the people of God should be viewed as advocates. The people of God should be looked to as people of refuge, security, and justice. The people of God should be the ones speaking up for those whom no one else will listen to.

So, people of God, I ask us all this question: are we doing it? Are we being a voice to the voiceless? Are we advocating for those with no power? Are we relieving the suffering of the hurting? Are we providing for those who have nothing? Are we giving homes to the homeless? Are we speaking up?

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Stuff has been crazy for the last two weeks.

Do you know what is wrong with that statement?

Primarily this: stuff has been crazy for years. The last two weeks have just highlighted part of that problem.

Ever since the Ferguson grand jury came back with no indictment, social media has exploded. Many have been decrying the system and its inherent weaknesses and injustices. Many have been saying justice was done and everyone just needs to accept it.

Some have attempted to start conversations and some have just yelled. Some Christian leaders have spoken up and others have tried to avoid addressing any current event situation.

Then the Eric Garner grand jury came back with no indictment in spite of the video and the medical examiner ruling the death a homicide. More anger. More yelling. More avoidance of the issues.

Protests keep popping up in cities all across the country and the world. Some observers are supportive and realize the message that is being delivered: we are being disregarded and it needs to stop. Other observers respond with annoyance, rage, and dismissiveness.

What are we missing? How can things be so contentious in 2014?

I believe one of the major problems to be this: those who are in the majority people group (in this case, White people) have failed to truly listen to the voices of the people in the minority people group.

Consider the history of Black people in America: from the 1620s until the 1860s they were treated as a commodity: kidnapped, chained, transported to another country, sold, beaten, bred, worked to near death. They were not even considered fully human. From the 1860s to the 1960s, slavery was no longer allowed, but indentured servanthood was. “Separate but equal” was the rule.

340 years of oppression, suppression, and generally being disregarded. We just celebrated the 50 year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. 340 years is much more than 50. More than 8 generations of oppression followed by just over 1 generation of (supposed) freedom.

Do we really think everything is going to be okay that quickly?

We must listen to the voices of the millions of people in our nation who feel they are treated as less than. We must listen to the voices of the millions of people who are afraid of the people hired to protect us. We must listen to the voices of the millions of people who live in neighborhoods that are financially deprived. We must listen to the voices of the people who are protesting. (Side note: did you realize that the protests have been occurring daily for the past 122 days? They did not start with the grand jury decision; they started the night Michael Brown was killed.)

Are we willing to listen?

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There are people hurting in your communities. They believe they have no voice. Will you be willing to do two things?

First, listen to them. No reply. No explanation. No defensiveness. Just listening. Listen to their stories. Listen to their hurt. If you feel you must ask any questions, make them questions of clarification or explanation. Listen to the experiences people have endured.

Second, only after you have truly listened, lend your voice to theirs. Speak out right along with them. Be bold in what you say. Let people you regularly interact with learn the lessons you have learned. Understand that for voiceless people to have their story heard, people need to listen and then lend their voice.

This will not solve all of our problems. This will not cure all of our society’s ills. But maybe it can short circuit some of the arguing. When people post pictures and make comments that rub you the wrong way, listen to the pain behind the statement. Before you dismiss someone by telling them to get over it consider the past experience that has led to their current pain.

Then, maybe you can share some of those things, as well; pictures like the one at the end of this post. You might upset some people. You might make some people angry. But that’s okay. In order to process our hurts and move to a better place, we will need to move through some discomfort.

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So, people of God, I ask again: will we do it? Will we be a voice to the voiceless? Will we advocate for those with no power? Will we relieve the suffering of the hurting? Will we provide for those who have nothing? Will we give homes to the homeless?

Will we listen?

Will we speak up?

i can't breath