Minding What Matters

Two weeks ago today, my family and I moved into a new parsonage in a new community. Moving a family of seven and Grandma (my mother), who will be staying with us for a few weeks until her nearby independent living senior apartment is ready, not to mention our dog and two cats, was no easy feat. It took many weeks to get prepared logistically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to move; it will take a few months or more to get settled into a new place as well. We have had very good help and support all along the way though, for which I am very grateful.

I can’t say that the past two weeks have been completely smooth and uneventful, but they have been blessed with the presence of God manifested in God’s people. As I am writing this right now, I am waiting for a phone call from a mother who just lost her 65 year old son, who passed away at a Hospice facility yesterday, to plan a funeral for Thursday morning. This will be my second funeral since we moved here two weeks ago.

The first was of a beloved 95 year old woman who fell in her carport after a trip to the grocery store. She crushed her hip in the fall and was not able to call for help. She laid there in the carport using a roll of toilet paper for a pillow for too many hours for her frail body and weak heart to recover. I went to the hospital to pray for her on Wednesday, the day after we moved in. But before I could pray for her, she expressed a prayer for me. After I introduced myself, she said, with joy on her face in spite of the pain and discomfort pulsating through her body, “I pray that you have a fruitful ministry at Clarksbury church.” She went on to be with the Lord the next day. I led her funeral service last Tuesday, a week ago today, which was a few days before my first Sunday in the pulpit at Clarksbury Church. Indeed, may God answer her prayer in abundance.

Last Thursday I drove my 15 year old daughter, Grace, back to the area we had moved from, so she could attend the birthday party of a close friend from her old high school, a young African American kid, in Gastonia. It was well over an hour drive. Many of the same kids in attendance were at Grace’s birthday and end of school party at our house a few weeks before. Her circle of close friends also included a girl from a Buddhist Chinese family, two brown skinned young men, one of them Filipino, the other Mexican American, a beautiful young lady from Puerto Rico, her white girl friends, two Southern Baptists, the other Pentecostal, and a white boy, nicknamed Pinto. 13646678_1387636964584961_211382524_o

When I dropped Grace off for the party at her friend Aramis’ house, I pulled in behind Dave, a conservative white Southern Baptist police officer who was dropping his daughter off for the party as well. Dave and I went in to speak with Keisha, Aramis’ mother, about when would be back to pick up the kids.

After that I dropped my son, Ian, off a few miles up the road at Raj and Abhi’s, his two dark skinned Hindu friends from his old middle school. They all enjoy playing basketball and video games together. My son knows that he can respect their beliefs without denying his own, and that they can still be friends.

After I dropped Ian off, I went to run a few errands and stopped by a book store for a cup of coffee and to go over my first sermon for Clarksbury church before picking Grace and Ian up a few hours later.

Later that evening when I got home I was winding down for the evening but happened to catch the sniper attack on police officers in Dallas, TX on the news as I was exercising my thumb. I’ve been quite busy over the past few weeks, but I had seen a few reports of a black man who  was killed by police in Louisiana. I had also heard something about an incident in Minneapolis, but not enough to know exactly what had happened. I had seen a few posts on social media suggesting, if not explicitly declaring, that police had “murdered” black men “senselessly” because of racism. Many of the posts were coming from liberal clergy colleagues. It was all very similar to what had happened immediately after the incident in Ferguson, Missouri. Lots of quick condemnation and accusations before anyone really knew all of the facts. In that case a long investigation proved that many of the early accusations were simply false, yet even then it did not stop some from continuing with the narrative that it was a case in point of black men being “senselessly murdered” and just “mowed down” in the streets by police.

When I saw what happened to the police officers who were working the protests in Dallas, with my smart phone in my hand, I posted the following on Facebook:

“We are living on a powder keg. Yes, black lives matter. Police lives matter too. Lord, have mercy. The devil is stoking the fire to turn people against each other more than they already are. Don’t take the bait. Pray against the enemy of all people for whom Christ died. Lord, deliver us from evil, in the name of Jesus.”

For that I was lambasted by some of my progressive friends for not saying anything when the black men were killed by police earlier in the week. I was accused of being racist and not really caring about black lives.

The reason I didn’t say anything about the other incidents is because I refuse to jump to the conclusions that the political left wants us to jump to when it comes to white police officers’ engagement with black men. I think police officers, white people in general, and “the system”, the American culture and system of governance and jurisprudence those on the left are so quick to condemn, need to be given  the same courtesy that the political left rightly insists must be given to the Muslim community and Islam when a Muslim man commits acts of terrorism. I think American police officers, no matter their color or ethnicity, should be given the same courtesy I saw some of my liberal/progressive friends and the director of Homeland Security and the President ask for the Black Lives Matter movement after Micah Johnson murdered 5 Dallas police officers. Everyone involved in that movement should not be condemned based on the actions of one man. Neither should police officers and the entire American “system” be condemned based on individual incidents, especially not when they involve police responding to a call from a citizen who says he was threatened by the suspect with a gun, who when confronted resisted arrest and wrestled with police officers who thought he was reaching for his gun.

It is not racist to not jump immediately on the bandwagon and lend support to irresponsible, rhetoric, and hasty condemnations when all of the facts are not known, and certainly when the facts that are known don’t support the narrative of white police officers simply “mowing down” or even “murdering” black men for purely racist reasons. While some condemned the actions of the Dallas sniper, others also sympathized with him saying they understood why he did it. Disturbingly, someone even said, “Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it does make it even!” I heard a progressive black activist, Richard Fowler, say last night that someone overseas told him blacks were being advised not to come to America because police are “mowing down” black men in the streets. Fowler seemed to be trying to proffer this as “proof” for how bad things really are, rather than how the media/social media has falsely portrayed things to be.

The immediate and larger contextual facts don’t support such a narrative. The New York Times reported a study yesterday done by a black Harvard professor, who found, to his surprise, that whites were more likely to be killed by police than blacks, even after controlling for the much larger general white population. He did find that blacks were more likely to be treated roughly by police. Racism to some extent may indeed play a role in that, but there are certainly a whole host of factors that need to be considered before jumping to the conclusion that racism is the sole or even main factor. If it is found that a police officer of any color has indeed killed someone recklessly or maliciously, they should be prosecuted and punished as was the police officer in SC who shot a suspect several times in the back who was running away.

I do agree with the sentiment that black lives matter, although I do not support the official movement by that name because too many seem intent to perpetuate a certain narrative regardless of the facts of individual incidents. This does not mean that I don’t believe blacks lives matter, which Van Jones, a black progressive activist, says should have had the word “too” added to the end for clarity. It also does not mean that I don’t believe that racism is still a problem; It is. Our society has obviously made great strides, but racism still lives in the hearts and minds of many. Yet it is also evident to me that some are intentionally stoking the fires of racial division and looking for and finding racism whether it is there or not. In the second term of America’s first black President, who won both times fairly easily, America should be seeing the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream; instead it looks like we may be more on the verge of fulfilling the “Helter Skelter” nightmare of Charles Manson.

While I do not support the political organization “Black Lives Matter,” black lives do indeed matter to me. The life of my daughter’s friend mattered to me and her enough to drive a very long way for her to celebrate his birthday with him. The life of his mother, Keisha, who has a painting of a black mother cradling her child, in her living room, matters to me enough to get to know her and have Christian fellowship with her as a sister in Christ, knowing and sympathizing with the fact that she may have concerns for her son’s safety that my wife doesn’t have for our sons. The life of my African American roommate and very close friend from many years ago mattered enough to me, as did my life to him, that he was a groomsman in my wedding, and I in his when he married a Mexican American woman, to the chagrin of some in his family and hers. Our lives mattered enough to each other that he invited me and my wife to be there when his new wife gave birth to their first child together for moral and spiritual support. His and his wife’s life mattered enough to me that we treated each others children as our own.

The lives of all black people have mattered to me enough to preach and teach against the evils of racism as being contrary to God’s design in creation and our common redemption in Christ, the gospel which is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed by being brought back together in the family of God, to be one people under one God (Genesis 12; Revelation 7). Every black life matters to me enough to teach my children and my churches that interreligious marriage is a problem condemned in Scripture, NOT interracial marriage, as the Bible actually provides positive examples of the later, but not the former.

When someone in a Bible study warily asked me if I would be okay with my daughter marrying a black man, I without hesitation said yes, as long as he was a good man and a devout believer. And when my oldest daughter, Grace, was asked by a woman, the mother of another student in band, who was driving her to a football game last fall, what I as a minister thought about interracial marriage, Grace, without hesitation, said that I have no problem with it and explained in detail why. Black lives matter to me enough to explain to my children the evils of racism and have long discussions with them about our sordid history in America and the Western world.

Black lives also mattered to me enough to confront racism boldly but as gently and as lovingly as possible any time it has come up in conversation and in the church. They mattered enough to me that I helped an all white church welcome an interracial couple and receive it’s very first black member. I think it is a travesty that we don’t have more churches where blacks and whites and people of other ethnicities worship and minister together, although there are many churches that are like that.  Black lives matter to me enough to take criticism and risk the disapproval of some for preaching and teaching the truth of the multi-colored kingdom of God.

The black lives of the ladies who worked at the group home less than a mile down the road from the church mattered to me enough to visit with them and pray with them and help them and bless them any way I could. When one of their residents, a highly functioning, but very obsessive autistic white woman from their group home joined our church, many of them came with her to worship. One continued to come after she stopped working there, and they were grateful for my ministry and preaching, and they, themselves, could tell you of times when I preached against racism and explained how it is contrary to the very heart of the gospel of the New Covenant, as could any who have been in my churches and who really know me. My life also meant Elizabeth Group Home at Puettenough to them that several of them came together for my last Sunday at that church and blessed me with a gift and a note of appreciation for what I meant to them. They said they were going to drive over an hour to my new church every once in a while because of their appreciation for me. I love them and they love me. We all genuinely matter to each other.

Black lives also mattered to me enough to spend the last two days helping a sister in Christ in Kenya who is in ministry with her husband and trying to care for orphans the best they can get connected with a United Methodist District Superintendent in Kenya to see how they might be able to partner together in ministry with each other and with me. Black lives also matter enough to me to begin praying and planning with my United Methodist brother and fellow clergy and district superintendent in Kenya to help them in their efforts to train more pastors there, both with teaching and fundraising. With God’s help, I will do what I can. Why? Because black lives do matter to me too.

Truth also matters to me. I will support black lives and the lives of all people for whom Christ died any way I can, but I will not lend support to falsehood to further a certain political agenda. I will not support a movement that uses irresponsible rhetoric and pushes a very specific narrative regardless of the facts. I will not support a movement that condemns and convicts police officers before the gun cools down after an incident where someone is resisting arrest. If certain government officials don’t want to jump to conclusions about the motives of the sniper in Dallas, even though he stated clearly what his motives were, they should extend that same courtesy to the police officers engaged in a struggle with someone resisting arrest. As Dallas police chief, David Brown said, “words matter.” May we all use them responsibly and truthfully. I’m praying with him that we do.

Police Chief David Brown gettyimages-545531520
Getty Images

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