Privilege…

 

I have been struck recently by these two images–and the responses to them.

The one on the left is of Colin Kaepernick, a former football player who is African-American, quietly taking a knee during the national anthem to protest the systemic racism that has long been a part of American life. He took this action not because he is anti-American or anti-military. Instead, he took it to try to draw attention to the problems so many African-Americans face when they simply try to live their lives in America.

He was vilified for that action…and has not played football for a couple of years because no team has been willing to sign him. The fact that he visited with a former Navy Seal…and that they had a good discussion about the concerns and were willing to listen to each other…has been negated.

The picture on the right is a recent one of some of those who protested the stay-at-home orders of the Michigan governor. They were part of a large group who were in the Michigan legislature, many of them armed.

I can only imagine what would have happened if their skin color had been different…because it’s happened before. There would have been immediate police action…arrests…calls for them to have been locked up for years…comments about how inappropriate it was for them to have carried guns in a threatening way around legislators.

But these men were white.

They have received support…including support from the president. In many areas they have been seen as “heroes.”

It doesn’t seem to matter that the actions they are protesting have been taken in an attempt to keep people safe. They want their “freedom” to do what they want, regardless of how it impacts others.

If you are tired of hearing talk about “white privilege”…if you don’t think it exists…I ask you to simply think about how these two different protests have been viewed. If Kaepernick’s skin was white, would we have thought differently about his protest? If the Michigan protestors’ skin was dark, would we have responded with anger at their actions?

Privilege exists. It is real.

Random musings…

Like many, I watched the Super Bowl. I’m a Chiefs fan–and I love the way that they’ve never given up, even when conventional wisdom has counted them out. They believe in themselves…encourage each other…and find ways to accomplish their task.

I also watched the halftime show. There has been lots of talk about the show–pro and con. I think the show has triggered some important discussions…about sexuality…about women’s choices…about culture.

I’m not a fan of skimpy outfits on performers or cheerleaders, regardless of sex, race, or culture. But what bothers me more than the outfits (or lack thereof) are overt simulations of sex…or grinding against each other…of crotch shots.

I’m glad there was a celebration of Latino culture, and I’m grateful for those who have taken the time to provide some context and education about what was being celebrated during the show.

And then there was the State of the Union address. While I have often not agreed with an administration, I have appreciated how previous presidents have used this time to try to find ways to pull the country together.

But this did not. In fact, it seemed designed to continue to pit us against each other…to divide.

I will freely admit, I have never liked Rush Limbaugh. I think he is one of the most divisive radio personalities we have had. I am sorry for his recent diagnosis–but I do not believe that is cause to give him a medal that in the past has been a recognition of someone who has done service to the country–not spouting off misogynistic, racist, and sexually demeaning commentary.

I am also disappointed in the behavior of those who should be setting examples of civil behavior.

I wonder if we will ever be able find common cause again…if we will be able to listen to and talk with each other. Will we be able to pull together to solve the significant challenges that face not just us but our world?

Or are we doomed to deepen the divide that has been on display recently?

For the sake of the future of our children and grandchildren, I hope it’s the former.

“I threw the world away…”

hands throwing globe

Recently I was playing catch with my 6-year-old granddaughter. She was using a ball with a map of the world stamped on it.

As is often the case with youngsters, the rules of the game are flexible and quick to change, along with the number of participants. At one point, the rule became that the ball could not touch the ground as we tossed it back and forth.

When it did, Ladybug decided she was out of the game…but one of the other participants tossed the ball back to her. As it came towards her, she said, “I threw the world away…but someone threw it back to me.”

That’s a simple phrase, but it also struck me as quite a profound one.

How many times have I thrown the world away because I’ve been mad at somebody or something?

How many times have we thrown the world away…because of our lack of care for her? because we decided that what we wanted was more important? because we didn’t know better?

And how many times has someone thrown it back to us for another chance?

I’m grateful that someone has cared enough to give me another chance…has cared enough to give all of us another chance. But I also find myself wondering…how many more times can we throw the world away before someone quits throwing it back to us?

 

 

I’m tired…

I am tired…emotionally and spiritually. And it’s not the kind of tiredness that can be resolved by a good night’s sleep.

It’s a tiredness that is deep in my soul.

I’m tired of our refusal to acknowledge our part in creating the hostile and violent environments that many people are fleeing, hoping to find a better future for themselves and their children…only to be met here with violence and separation.

I’m tired of all the gun violence. I’m tired of the news opening up with how many murders have taken place overnight…

I’m tired of wondering when the next mass shooting is going to take place…how many people will die…how many families will be destroyed.

I’m tired of “thoughts and prayers” that aren’t linked to a willingness to have the hard discussions about ways of making weapons less available…of common sense ways of decreasing the violence, even if it doesn’t stop it.

I’m tired of the anti-intellectualism that says that people who have studied areas of science for years somehow really don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m tired of the refusal to make changes that will help our earth heal.

I’m tired of the hatred of “the other”…of anyone who doesn’t look like us…doesn’t speak the same language we do…doesn’t worship the way we do…doesn’t love the way we do.

I’m tired of the ideologies that place one race on a pedestal built on the backs of another race…that says that only one color of people have rights.

I’m tired of women’s health concerns being negated…of others making decisions for them who have no ideas of the struggles they are going through.

I’m tired of the domination of those who call themselves pro-life…but who are comfortable cutting the programs that would help support women during pregnancy…and babies and families after birth.

I’m tired of hearing the God I worship being used to attack others…a God of love who created all of us in God’s image. I’m tired of having my faith misused by those who would claim that “God hates…” (insert any one of a number of groups there).

I’m tired…and sometimes I want to just give up. It seems so difficult to open up any kind of dialogue, because we seem to live in completely contradictory world views that don’t have anything in common.

But I can’t give up. If I give up, then I’m letting the hatred…the division…win. And because I believe in a God who gave us minds to use…a God who wants us to work together to heal the world’s wounds…a God who calls us to be good stewards of what God created…a God who has given me the choice to be a divider or a healer…I have to continue trying to build bridges.

I don’t know if I will succeed. I may never know that. But all I can do is keep trying…because I follow a Carpenter who builds bridges.

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work,” he said.

“Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.”

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day.

The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.

About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.

There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge… a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work handrails and all – and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched.

“You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”

I met God today…

I met God today…and God didn’t look at all like I expected!

God smiled at me…in the guise of a small child playing on the playground.

God asked me for help…as a homeless man standing on the corner of the intersection near my home.

God challenged me…in several disguises:

  • as a protestor challenging unjust policies,
  • as a policeman trying to create a safe environment,
  • as someone at church whose political beliefs are very different from my own,
  • as an immigrant struggling to speak English,
  • as a young woman wearing a hijab,
  • as a drag queen reading stories to children in the library,
  • in an angry person, afraid of losing the privileges they have grown accustomed to,
  • as a white supremacist,
  • as a military veteran.

God needed me to stand with her…as a scared young woman who needed to tell her parents she was gay.

God asked me to share in rejoicing…as a same-sex couple committing themselves to each other in marriage….

God asked me to read other books of scripture in which God has shared Godself…telling me that each book of scripture is incomplete because none of us understand God completely.

God asked me one simple favor…to open my eyes so I can see God in every person, because each is created in God’s image.

 

Treat others like we would like to be treated…?

These last few days I’ve seen a couple of stories that I think have important lessons.

The first ones are deeply disturbing to me…personally as well as a follower of Jesus (who told us to treat others as we would like to be treated!). A Christian homeless shelter in Alaska is suing for the right to deny shelter to a transgender woman. Really?? Yes, they had the right to turn her away under the rules for everyone when she turned up drunk once and after hours another time. But now they are saying that even if she obeys the rules, they would not allow her a safe place from the cold?

Then–as Congress tries to deal with another major stain from our past with the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act–these “followers” are demanding that protections for LGBTQ people be removed from the Act before passage. Really?? As if it isn’t bad enough that over 4,500 people (mostly African-American) were lynched between 1882 and 1968 (that recently!), now this group is saying that another group of minorities who face significant threats of physical danger shouldn’t also be legally protected?

Whatever happened to actually living out beliefs? To actually following the example of the one whose name is being claimed? the one who said that the two most important spiritual laws were to obey God with everything we have in us and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves? If I look at how some of those who say they follow Jesus treat their neighbors, I think they must not love themselves very much.

But then there’s this story. A homeless man–yes, a man who has had run-ins with the legal system–saw people getting stuck on their way to the Chiefs playoff game last weekend. While he and his fiancée are living in his car–a car whose windows were broken and did little to keep out the cold air–he saw people in need and helped them.

What he didn’t know was that one of those he helped pull out was a Chiefs player who was going to be in the game. He wasn’t expecting any response other than a “thank you”…but now, a Chiefs fan who has never been to a game is going to get to go to the Chiefs playoff game against Indianapolis and take his fiancée. And a company that works on car windows has replaced the three broken windows for him.

When he was interviewed about his helping out the Chiefs player as he was helping others, his response was this: “I just looked at him like a normal person. I would hope that he would do the same for me as I did for him.”

So…when Jesus told the story about the Good Samaritan (the man who treated a wounded man after two other religious leaders left the wounded man by the side of the road), he closed it by asking “Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?” To paraphrase it today–which of these stories shows someone being a true neighbor? And which one do each one of us truly relate to?

The indomitable human spirit

I’ve been enjoying watching the 2016 Olympics. Yes, I know there are problems–sometimes very serious ones–that can be found related to the games…from the cost of creating the site to some of the training methods used. But there are also some wonderful stories of the indomitable human spirit. These are some that have impressed me.

  1. The “Final Five”…Not only have each of them been wonderful performers themselves, it’s been clear that they really like and support each other. They have been genuinely delighted when someone on their team has done well–and genuine in their hugs when someone has had a problem with a routine.
  2. Aly Raisman…To watch Aly Raisman come back come back from disappointment four years ago, determined to show that she is one of the best in the world was exciting…and her parents were as much fun to watch as she was! It was easy to sympathize with their concern and nervousness for their daughter, but they way in which they showed it made each of us wonder how we would react in the same situation.
  3. Laurie Hernandez…She just bounces! She looks like she is having so much fun in her routines.
  4. Simone Biles…Who can ignore Simone her?! Her gymnastic ability is incredible–I can’t imagine bouncing as high in the air as she does. But the support of her grandparents (now her parents) through the years is special as well. I can’t imagine the pain of seeing your child lose custody of their children–much less making the decision to adopt them yourselves. But it says a lot about the special relationship they have.
  5. Ellie Downie…Her fall during her floor routine for the all-around qualifying was horrendous! I’m sure that everyone–including her sister–who saw it was scared for her and wondered what the prognosis was. But then to see her come back and insist on doing two vaults so that the team could qualify…and then to see her later do a wonderful repeat of the floor routine was wonderful.
  6. Kohei Uchimura and Oleg Verniaiev…Gymnastic decisions are often close, but the men’s all-around came down to the final performer on the final routine–and a decision of .99 point. Both competitors did wonderful routines and you sometimes wish that there didn’t have to be a winner and everyone else.
  7. 2016 Refugee Team…For the first time the Olympics acknowledged that the world is not a wonderful, peaceful place. Ten athletes are competing under the flag of the Olympics, highlighting the problems of refugees around the world. Just staying alive for some of these refugees makes them gold medal winners, even if they don’t win at the Olympics.
  8. Michael Phelps…Does anything else need to be said? I was delighted to see him come back in a better place than he was after the 2012 Olympics, and to see him delight not only in his own successes but also in the team success.
  9. Joseph Schooling…Each athlete has a hero they look up to. For this young man it was Michael Phelps. I cannot imagine how he felt when he beat Phelps out for a gold in the butterfly.
  10. Katie Ledecky…Does anything else need to be said about her? She absolutely blew everyone else away in the 400-meter freestyle…and she looks like she’s having so much fun as well.
  11. Simone Manuel…This young swimmer tied for gold with the 16-year-old Canadian Penny Oleksiak in the 100-meter freestyle, with both of them breaking the world record in the process. She is the first African-American to win an individual event in Olympic swimming–and the background to her win informed me of some of our racist swimming history, history I had not been aware of because it had not impacted me.
  12. Mo Farah…Who? Not a runner I had ever heard anything about, but his run in the 10,000-meter race was incredible to watch. He started at the back of the pack…took a fall on the second lap…and yet came back to win.
  13. Keri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross…I used to enjoy playing volleyball at church camps, but these two women take it to a whole different level! They are so athletic and manage to pull off almost impossible saves!
  14. Ibtihaj Muhammad…When I was in college I took a class in fencing. I haven’t fenced since, but I remember what a challenge the sport is. At a time when so much hatred has been expressed against Muslims, I am pleased to see a Muslim woman representing the United States.
  15. Adilende Cornelissen…I’ve always loved horses. I don’t understand much about the sport of dressage, but I do know that it requires a close connection between the rider and the horse. Cornelissen was the reigning silver medalist, but when her horse became ill, she put his needs to recover over her own desires to win.

I know there are undoubtedly many more–and will be more before the Olympics are over.

Perhaps one of the major values of the Olympic games is to remind us of the importance of the opportunity to do one’s best…the importance of teamwork…the indomitable human spirit.