Thursday, October 12, 2017

a parable of honor and dishonor

Suppose a wealthy man had a son whom he loved.

He nurtured his son and raised him to be self-reliant and told him he was special. He took him hunting, gave him an allowance for chores, co-signed for a car loan when he turned sixteen, and connected him with people who might be able to further his career as he grew older. And even though the son didn’t always see eye-to-eye with his father, he knew deep down he was loved and safe in his father’s house.

When his son was in the second grade, the father contracted with a foster-child program and brought home a seven-year old to live in the home. But it was not an altruistic act; as a matter of fact, the father mistreated the child and taught him early on that he was not as bright and clever as his son. He kept him out of school and forced him to work long days in his factory without paying a penny.

The boy ate and slept on the floor of the tool shed in the backyard and could see the television flickering through the curtains of the house and hear the father and son laughing over the latest sitcom. Often the father beat him with a leather belt for the slightest infractions. He was promised nothing as he grew older and for many years after he was old enough to leave home, the father made arrangements with employers in the city to not hire the young man…or at the very least, limit his choices to the least of jobs. He even ensured that city council pass laws to keep the foster son from appealing for any change that might assist him. Deep down, the father was fearful of anything that might encroach on his own son’s benefits.

When the father died, his bereaved son had a large shiny plaque placed in the town square boasting of his father’s generosity and kindness. And because the father was well-known and well-connected, the son petitioned the city council to celebrate his father’s birthday each year, with special songs sung about him along with beer and whiskey toasts.

And though the foster child was invited to sing praises, he declined. The many years of abuse, neglect and shame had obviously not engendered the same warmth or gratefulness. The men of the town were appalled at the foster son’s shunning of the special day and how unappreciative he was. And when the foster son was brought before the council, he brashly told them that passing by the town square on the bus each day to work only reminded him of the suffering he had endured at the hands of a cruel and abusive man. There was no memory of generosity or kindness, only scars and remembrances of lonely nights. The plaque served only as a reminder of pain and degradation.

Is it any wonder that our brothers and sisters of color don’t have the same visceral enjoyment of the symbols that bring remembrances of forefathers and freedoms that they never experienced in century-after-century of slavery and ill-intentioned “separate-but-equal” laws? If slavery is America’s original sin, how is it that the privileged fail to see any disconnect between unabashed patriotism and the abusive parent? And when there is talk of “taking America back”, what do you think they feel? Even the days of “Leave It To Beaver” were not a great era for people of color. Empathy demands that we wrestle with that instead of simply dismissing it as unpatriotic.

So help me understand how a statue glorifying a rebellion—a traitorous movement resulting in a bloody war that killed more Americans than both World Wars in order to protect a state’s right to legally own black people—was ever a step in the right moral direction? Do we really want to honor that?

I’m no theologian, but I don’t think our current reluctance or even denial to honestly deal with our history resonates with the Founder of the movement I belong to who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

[I don’t normally blog here, but instead at…though posts there are typically geared toward church leadership.]

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

the pain of dismissal

Imagine you have a daughter who is the light of your life.

And then comes the day you drop her off at a college two time zones away; you sit in her empty room and feel as though a part of you has been torn off as you stare at fading pop star posters, pictures of high school friends pinned to corkboard and a dresser with a few remaining clothes that were “so last year.”

At 4:15 a.m. on a Sunday morning during her second semester, you get a phone call that shatters your world. In between heaving sobs, your daughter sputters that someone slipped something in her drink at a fraternity party and while in a near stupor, several inebriated frat boys raped her.

The following months are a blur for you.

The university does an internal investigation that finds little leads beyond “he said, she said” and offers in-school counseling, eventually dropping the matter all together. Now moving beyond the fellow student-staring shame, your daughter grows angry at not just the young men who raped her, but a system that bears little semblance to the justice she thought the world should afford. And when she discovers multiple other women who were abused and ignored, she began a grassroots student movement via a website called College Girls Are Important Too.

There is, of course, a counter resistance when the president of the University, who has a son on campus as well, felt the group was creating a divisive spirit and drawing too much attention to an infrequent issue that was finding its way on national news programs. In a press release, he stated the university strongly believes that all college students are important…and suddenly frat houses all over campus began displaying posters that decried in bold red letters: All College Students Are Important.

How dismissed do you think your daughter would feel? How misunderstood, ignored and marginalized in her pain? Of course all students are important, but that wasn’t the point she was making. She needed the university, school officials and the student body to understand there was a critical issue unrecognized and the people in power seemed unfazed and apparently not interested in addressing it at a practical level. She wasn’t placing herself “above” anyone else; she simply wanted a wrong acknowledged. Instead of any simple effort of empathy from the school, she was met with a dismissive counter-slogan that refused to even consider her pain.

And how would you feel as her parent?

That, my friends, is how it would be experienced by the young people who first launched the Black Lives Matter movement. In looking for simple acknowledgement and justice from long, simmering systemic racism with roots in three-hundred years of slavery and a hundred years of Jim Crow laws that shattered family systems, emasculated black men, marginalized black women, and created a shadow system of everyday, subtle discrimination, a plea for recognition was simply dismissed with “All Lives Matter.” And when people with power refuse to empathize or at least listen instead of offering defensive dismissals, we miss out on potentially redemptive and reconciliatory moments. Instead, we retreat to our own resentments.

How does that possibly reflect the One who let go of all power to become the servant of all?

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. ~Philippians 2:5-7

[I don’t normally blog here, but instead at…though posts there are typically geared toward church leadership.]

Monday, July 24, 2017

do you like what you're doing now?

Though a fairly faithful blogger since 2006, you may have noticed I haven't posted anything here for quite awhile. Fact is, several months ago I launched a new blog with my comrade Tom Thatcher that's connected with our Elemental Churches website. Though geared toward church leaders, I think most folks will find something helpful there. Please come visit and let's catch upas a matter of fact, this post explains what I'm spending my time on these days

Boatloads of grace, my friends.

ps. And check out this little video that describes what Elemental Churches is all about...