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.]


  1. The left does in fact love America. The difference is they love America in the same way the abusive drunk loves his wife. He just believes she needs a good beat-down to keep her in-line. Beating up America and those who happened to have white skin is in vogue, it's popular and fully acceptable in society. The truth is we can point to any nation and any peoples and find horrible sinful behaviors. In the end it's "what's the point?" other than making the obvious observation we ALL need Jesus. Yes, yes, yes we can spend our time pointing at "them" and "those people over there" in hopes we appear sensitive and wise, but in the end it's the same sinful DNA from grandpa Adam.

  2. This isn’t a “left/right” issue. Nor is it about appearing “sensitive and wise.” This is about the huge racial divide that has torn our country apart...and about owning our history. When I counseled marriages that were badly broken, it did no good to simply say “let’s just move on” without dealing with the root of the problem. To reconcile is to own your part, or as a 12-stepper might say: “take a fearless moral inventory of my life.” This isn’t “beating up America,” but rather being honest with our past and how it affects our present. And yes, we all need Jesus, but even He can’t heal the stuff in my life that I don’t believe is a problem or won’t admit is an issue. Denial is an ugly, deadly disease...both personally and culturally.

  3. Our unfortunate current racial divide is in large part a "left/right" issue and creation. Clearly the players on both sides demonstrate that reality on the 24 hour news cycle. I often do hear this idea that we have to "own our history". Honestly I don't encounter too many reasonable adults who don't fully recognize and have a good working knowledge of our basic American history. The good, the bad and sometimes embarrassing moments seem to be in almost constant conversation just like we are doing right now. I read an article the other day that suggested the problem was our radically racist police and even our entire American culture that was corrupt and evil from the day it was founded. I don't agree with that. America has never been perfect and blameless but far from the Nazi infested, skin-head led nation some are painting us out to be today. That's a false poltical narrative beyond any reasonable description. Slavery isn't America's exclusive sin, slavery has been apart of man kind for thousands of years and has been practiced by all races and even today. Can we give America an ounce of credit for ending that evil institution with the blood our own sons in a few decades after our birth? If pointing fingers at people who had nothing to do with wrongs of others is "dealing with the root of things" then I must have missed something. I am fully prepared to "admit" people have done others wrong, there is no doubt about it but the wrongs and rights aren't exclusively assigned to skin pigmentation or ethnic group. The soul who sins is the soul who dies. I just wouldn't feel justified to go to Germany today and expect a 36 year old man or woman to feel remorse over what other Germans did who happened to throw 6 million Jews in ovens 75 years ago. I just wouldn't point my finger and ask them to "own" your history just because they have German blood. The history of man is a twisted one, full of evil and sometimes amazingly good and loving things. If the path to healing is "some" must come to terms with history, then I think most reasonable adults are there. On the other hand if the path to healing is an admission we are all human (Romans 3:23)(Jeremiah 17:9)then I think we are on our way. Thanks for the conversation Dave and thanks for your amazing contributions to making this place more bearable until He comes. If you see a giant hole in my reasoning/logic, please feel free to correct it.

    1. Thanks for your comments! I don’t think I see the struggle for racial reconciliation as a “left-right” issue, but a social and moral problem to be wrestled with honestly. The point of the post was questioning why we honor historical figures with statues who actually rebelled against America and cost hundreds of thousands of American lives because of their economic dependence on race-based slavery. To use your Germany analogy, there’s a reason why the German government created numerous Holocaust memorials, museums and even a National Holocaust Remembrance Day. There is a reason there are no statues honoring Himmler, Goebbels or Hitler in Germany. No, we don’t need to point our finger at a contemporary “36 year old (German) man or woman to feel remorse” because we don’t have to—they chose to nationally “own” their history. For instance, can you imagine how a Jew in Germany today—decades after the Holocaust—would feel if everyday they walked past a bronze statue of Hitler in the center of town or in front of a government building? That is what our African-American fellow citizens feel when faced with statues of Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis. This is less about assigning blame as it is exercising a measure of empathy…and removing the stumbling blocks that hinder that.

  4. Thanks Dave. In Germany there are (6) Holocaust memorials, museums dedicated to the Jewish holocaust including their national remembrance day. In contrast in America, have hundreds of Museums, countless monuments dedicated to black history in every city in America including Black history Month. Just here in Cincinnati alone we have the freedom center in the best location in town and several others smaller ones. Washington DC alone has (5) museums. Even the state of Hawaii has one dedicated to American blacks. Even Canada. Check out this list: To say Americans haven't "exercised a measure of empathy" or that we need to do more is something I'm struggling with. Maybe I'm missing something, I'm not sure. But let's step away from that issue for a moment. Let's say everyone in America suddenly and magically had a PhD in black history, suddenly we all became fully aware of the historic plight blacks faced, how would that change the real problems in the black community? As example; 1960, only 22% of black children were raised with only one parent, usually the mother. Thirty years later, over two-thirds or near 80% of black children were being raised without a father present. A recipe for complete economic disaster. How does adding a "measure of empathy" reduce black on black murder in Chicago or Baltimore which is in the hundreds already this year? How does a statue of a civil war charter effect the low graduation rates of black student in Detroit? These are all feel-good things but they don't seems to attack the real issues. I was tempted to post a few video from black writers and leaders who are asking for white America to stop with the sympathy, stop with the white privilege and stop treating us as if we are children in need of empathy and help but rather I'll leaven you with the words of Back in the 19th century Frederick Douglass is said he saw the dangers from well-meaning white folks. He said: “Everybody has asked the question, ‘What shall we do with the Negro?’ I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us.” Amen.

    1. Thanks, Anonymous. I agree: empathy is not an end in itself. And it’s not just the knowledge of our history of centuries of slavery (and it was race-based) or the one-hundred years of Jim Crow laws following and the encoded racial/caste systems, it’s the long term destructive effects it has had on our society and the cultural and legal reengineering that must take place. As a pastor, I sat with people in my office who fifty years later were still struggling with serious issues of intimacy in relationships after being sexually abused as a child. Empathy was important, but they needed more than that. Now imagine an entire racial culture that was ingrained with inferiority and barred from opportunity; do we think that wouldn’t have generational effects? Empathy can take us to the door of reconciliation, but real action must follow. Of course fatherless families is a serious issue in the black community; the question is: what is the root cause? You can give a man a fish, and better, you can teach him to fish, but if he’s been blocked from the river for a long, long time, you’re going to have systemic issues. And until white people engage in serious, empathetic conversations with leaders of color, I’m afraid we’re going to be stuck. That’s at least where empathy starts.

      In my book, “The Outward Focused Life”, I wrote: “It’s not as simple as just saying ‘Let’s forgive and forget and move on now.’ We can forgive but racism will still be evident. One interviewee in the book Divided by Faith offered this insight: John Perkins uses the analogy of a baseball game that’s twenty to nothing in the seventh inning. Then you find out the winning team has been cheating the whole game. They say, ‘We’re really sorry. Now let’s go finish the game.’ But they’re already up twenty points. The legacy is hanging over it. We can have ‘relationship-reconciliation’ now but the systemic issues are not really being tackled. It just can’t be ‘I forgive you’ and it’s over. It’s not that simple.”

      Btw, “Divided By Faith” is a great book for Christians. I would also suggest, “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander. Or even the classics: “Race Matters” by Cornel West and “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin. And practically anything by current writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is worth checking out.

      And you’re right: there are a good number of slavery-education museums. The problem is: the audience that most needs to visit probably won’t. At the very least, and I mean at the very least, we can start by removing the statues that honor their pro-slavery heroes, in the same way there are no statues honoring Hitler in Berlin. And any resistance to something as simple as that tells me the problem is deep. Skin-deep.

  5. Thanks Dave,
    I applaude your efforts to heal this divide. I hope you know I'm not trying to be critical
    of your efforts/opinions/thoughts on this matter. I really want to understand. I've actually taken part in so-called "conversations about race" several times. Those turned out to be more listening than speaking. I really want to know and I'm trying really hard to understand those who may have a different point of view.

    I notice you said "Until white people engage in serious, empathetic conversations with leaders of color, I'm afraid we're going to be stuck". EOG

    I would have three questions regarding your statement.

    1) What "white people" should do these empathetic conversations? In other words do we ask a 2nd generation farmer in Iowa who's family came to America in 1954 from Czechoslovakia
    fleeing the communist? Or a "white looking" Jew living in Manhattan who's family saw the worse days of the holocaust? Or the decendants of an Irishman who stepped off on Ellis Island in 1903? What about people who are half black like our former President? It seems odd to me asking "white people" in general to have these conversations of empathy when (just guessing) 99.999% of "white people" had nothing to do with slavery, Jim Crow laws and would never dream of holding back or showing racism to a person of color. I would venture to say the extreme majority of white are appauld with racism in any way. Does it exist, yes but it also exist within the black community as well. There are good and bad in every single race.

    2) Black Leaders: The obvious question here is to ask which black leader?. Black people are just not some single dimensional group all united under one leadership theme. They are just as diverse and varied as white people. I'm always amazed when I hear statements that say something like "black people think this" or "white people do that" etc. We are far more complex and varied than just that. I hope you get my point.
    Black leadership truly spams the gamut. We see those who are on the left like Rev. Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama and those on the right. So how do we know which black leadership to turn to?
    Some on the left suggest white people should give or will to black families their homes, their IRA etc. to make things equeal. They suggest that white "skin pigmentation" holds you guilty and you owe a debt to darker skinned peoples.
    Some on the right give a different message. The great black writer Walter Williams who is also a veteran, a professor of economics at George Mason University, a syndicated columnist ssaid the following.
    Walter Williams: What's just has been debated for centuries, but let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn. Do you disagree? Well, then, tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you - and why?
    Here’s Williams’ roadmap out of poverty: Complete high school; get a job, any kind of a job; get married before having children; and be a law-abiding citizen. Among both black and white Americans so described, the poverty rate is a single digit.

  6. Dave how I miss hearing you preach. I have moved all over the country seeking a church with leaders that possess half as much humility as you. It was refreshing to find your blog, and here you are still representing the ways of Jesus. Thank you.

  7. Credit your spirit of the post, but rape and Black Lives Matter not even close bro.