Tag Archives: compassion

Why Does #Furgeson Matter?

 On November 26, 2014 a post that I was invited to write was featured on The Marin Foundation’s Patheos blog.  It was a great honor to be asked to share my thoughts and perspective on the current unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.  The full text of my post is here.  I hope you’ll read it with an open heart. Thanks!


 

If I matter to you then #Ferguson should matter to you. #BlackLivesMatter illustration by Darren CalhounGrowing up black in America informs my experience with bridge building and compassion in some unique ways.  In attempting to connect with, understand others as well as being understood and contribute to positive change, I’m constantly faced with the reality that being a person of color in this country presents me with a different experience than if I were white.  When major news items come up in the media, I can look at my Facebook newsfeed and see a divide where my friends who are minorities may be consumed with a topic and my white friends may not have even heard about it – or I might be the only one on their newsfeed to mention it.

In Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was shot to death by Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white police officer. News of the shooting seemed to immediately go viral on the social media sites I follow.  Just as quickly as the news spread, questions were raised as to what took place that resulted in this fate for Michael Brown. As the accounts of eye-witnesses began to be shared via video and telephone interviews, it became apparent that the all too familiar story :a  an unarmed black man had been killed by a white police officer. This, of course, was coupled with the presumption that the police would not handle the case properly and this suspicion was further supported with the camera phone images of Officer Wilson standing over Brown’s lifeless body that remained in the street for hours after his death.

I realize for many who may be reading this, the scenario of an unarmed youth being shot to death may not be something you hear about commonly, but as a black man in America I was raised with never ending reminders that police will treat people like me differently because of the color of my skin. This reality is so common in black communities that much of it is simply ‘understood’ and we discuss it to help the next generation be prepared for it.  However, I haven’t spent the majority of my life in exclusively black spaces.  In spaces that are mixed or mostly white, I’m often reminded that my white friends have a very different experience.

One evening while riding home in a car with friends from a Living In The Tension gathering, the topic of getting pulled over by police came up.  There were five of us in the vehicle : two white females, two white males, and myself.  For the first few minutes we talked about being ‘harassed’ by police – them pulling us over for seemingly nothing, or going only one mile over the speed limit. I resonated with this, but the response to the police was where I suddenly had my eyes opened to just how different our experiences were. They all seemed to have stories of taking the officer to task for the inconvenience of being stopped.  The conversation shifted into tales of how badge numbers had been demanded and how even in their teen years ‘standing up for themselves’ got them out of a ticket – or at the very least, better treatment from the officer.  They even shared stories of friends who had been defiant, used profanity with officers, or been flippant. I was shocked because I couldn’t recall a single incident with a police officer where I didn’t fear my personal safety and that I would somehow be carted off to jail.  I don’t think any of them had ever been described as a suspect in a robbery or stopped only to be asked where they were going with no other reason given for the stop.  I was taken aback because my experiences were informed by a very different reality. I was repeatedly taught that during a police stop I MUST move slowly, keep my hands on the steering wheel, announce every move I’m going to make, speak in a very slow and calm tone, use my most proper speech, try to appear as non-threatening as possible… and so on.  I realized that for my white friends they had never been presumed to be a threat to the lives of officers while for blacks it had been the presumption from the moment the police engaged us. 

These observations aren’t just anecdotal. There is data collected by police and regularly reported to the FBI that shows people of color being stopped far more than whites.  In Ferguson, MO, where Michael Brown was killed, 2013 data from the Missouri Attorney General shows that 92 percent of searches and 86 percent of car stops involved blacks but only 67 percent of the town’s population is black.  Of that number 34 percent of searches of white suspects found contraband, versus only 22 for black suspects.  It’s with realities like this, which are common across the US, that black people face the news of Michael Brown’s shooting and now the news that Officer Wilson wasn’t indicted on any charges of wrong-doing in this case.

As someone who is committed to reconciliation I ‘get it’ when people (of any race) don’t understand the unrest around the situation in Ferguson.  If nothing in your experience immediately connects to that kind of radicalized oppression, I see why you may think of the news as over-hyped and the reactions as inappropriate.  However, too often judgments are made about  the character of the people involved that isn’t informed by a sense of compassion or understanding for an experience that may be very different from your own.

But why does that matter?

So often when discussion of topics of race, gender, orientation, economic status, and the varying experiences of people across these classes comes up, I simply sit and listen.  I listen to see who is saying something damaging, who is searching for answers, and who is showing themselves as an ally to the more vulnerable party.  This isn’t so I can judge someone as right or wrong, it’s actually to see where I can be a support, and where I may be able to find support later.  What I really want to know is “do you care?”.  I believe there are powerful connections to be made when people care for and understand each other.

My life has been enriched by people who have gone beyond our differences to see me and affirm how they connect with my story.  The opposite has also been true – I’ve been wounded by people who – because they couldn’t understand me or because they didn’t care – have said and done some of the most hurtful and isolating things in my life.

We all have the potential to uplift or to tear one another down with our words and actions.  When we show love by caring about the plight of the other, I believe we can begin to restore the humanity in all of us that is created in the image and likeness of God.  When we show compassion and concern for things like the system of racism that creates situations like the one in Ferguson, or for the struggle of LGBTQ people to find love, safety, and acceptance in the world and in church, we can send powerful messages to people around us that say ‘I care.’

This is not to say that we always have to agree on these issues but rather to love the other person despite our differences or disagreements.  So in your conversations, your comments on blogs and social media – in what you say from pulpits and soap boxes, in the way you respond to what you see presented on TV or as you walk down your street, please let love lead and communicate in word and action that people matter.

“We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

Time To Get Personal: “Leave” by Michael W. Smith



LEAVE by MichaelWSmith

I first heard this song a few weeks ago when Michael W. Smith came to Willow Creek to do a Concert / Service for Labor Day weekend.  Before sharing the song, Smith shared with us some insight as to what prompted him to write the piece.  I remember being quite moved and encouraged because I feel that too often church has become a place where perfect problem-less people come together and praise God.  It felt good to know that Smith realized he may receive some flack about the song, but that he felt that Willow Creek was a place where the song would be well received.

In recent weeks the news has seemed to overflow with stories of young people committing suicide, church leaders standing accused of moral and ethical misconduct, and other stories of gross injustice.  I’ve been disheartened to hear people in the media being referenced as Christians but unable to offer more than short-sighted, shallow, and super-spiritualized responses to these situations.  I’m not advocating that Christians should have all the answers… I am saying that we as a body need to come a LONG way when it comes to authenticity about the human experience.  There are staggering numbers of people hurting inside and outside of the church and it is my hope that we grow a sincere compassion -to suffer with– those who are hurting and to offer the hope that is our Gospel.

The topic of this song is a heavy one – abuse.  Check it out and share any thoughts in the comment section. (Lyrics below) Continue reading Time To Get Personal: “Leave” by Michael W. Smith

Commission of Comfort II: A Message of Hope

In part one I reflected on a scripture from 2 Corinthians Chapter 1 where we lean how God is the God of All Comfort. I belive that it’s part of our commission as the church to reach out and comfort those who are hurting.  Specifically I belive that those with same-sex attractions as well as the self-identified Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community, should able to come to the church for comforting and healing.

Now I’m looking again at God’s message of Hope to all people. It’s a message that reminds us that if we use our free-will to choose HIS WAYS that there is hope for these hopelessly human lives that we now live. I’m challenging us as the Chruch to find ways to open God’s real-life love to people who live in our current soceity.

This is God’s message to his people concerning those who choose to come to Him:

“Make sure no outsider who now follows GOD ever has occasion to say, “GOD put me in second-class.  I don’t really belong.’   And make sure no physically mutilated person  is ever made to think, “I’m damaged goods.  I don’t really belong.'” (Isaiah 56:3 The Message)

God who looks out for everyone addresses those who are already ‘his people’… this could be looked at as the Church today.  He wants the ‘outsider’ not to feel like ‘an outsider’ when they are among us.  I’m not saying that this is an easy task.  But who is going to minister to the mutilated? So often we talk about people with tatoos, with extreme piercings, and even the transgendered… and we do so with such disgust… but how will we make them feel that they could ever have a place in the church?  Some changes are permanant– they are mutilated if you will (for the sake of the scripture).  But God says that these too should be made to feel they belong.

I’m challenging myself to ask these hard questions because it forces me to confront myself in how I view people.

In my previous post, some were concerned about the issue of repentance.  I believe it’s clear that God does call all of humanity to repent, to turn away from sin… this is a process that is prompted in our hearts by God, but we RESPOND to him with our decisions.

For GOD says:     “To the mutilated who keep my Sabbaths and choose what delights me and keep a firm grip on my covenant…” (Isaiah 56:4 The Message) (Emphasis Added)

Yes, we can choose how we RESPOND to our feelings and desires… EVEN if we didn’t choose to have those desires or feelings.  This isn’t the old message that has been echoed by many of condemnation and rejection.  God is welcoming all people to himself… it’s my prayer that we join in the grand welcoming party in our churches and figure out make that real in our ministries.

I’ll bring them to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.  They’ll be welcome to worship the same as the “insiders,’  to bring burnt offerings and sacrifices to my altar.  Oh yes, my house of worship will be known as a house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:7) (Emphasis Added)

People are hurting and rejected in the very place where they should be healed and accepted. As the Church, we must move beyond REACTIONS to the GLBT demands in the political and social marketplaces, and begin to RESPOND in a way that will welcome people to reconcile their relationships with God and with others.  It is in relationship with God that I belive we find deliverance and change — as God works this out in our lives… in his own timing.  Who could convince you better than God if your sexuality is being expressed in its ideal form?  In openness, honesty, and freedom we find out that God’s grace really is sufficient and that we can become all that God desires for us.

This is a beatuful passage of scripture, please read Isaiah 56 at BibleGateway.com

Again, the comments section is open to thoughtful comments and questions — if you agree or disagree, your views are welcome!   I’m working out my salvation… join me in my journey- we can learn something together!

Saturday March 11, 2006 – 12:55am (CST)

The God of All Comfort

hummm….

Currently there is an uproar that our nation (and our world) is in right now when it comes to rights for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) people. I’m not even prepared to argue the pros and cons of the rights that they are fighting for: including Marriage, Hate-crime protection, and adoption rights; but I do want to address the topic from a standpoint that isn’t often heard:

What is the responsibility of the Church in regard to where things are today? Right now, much of the opposition for these changes in our laws and society is coming from Christian / Faith-based groups. However, I’m wondering if WE as the church are now reacting to the cries of GLBT people rather than responding the needs of hurting people that have been illigitimized and ignored for years.

What happens when we as the church DON’T comfort hurting people?

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. ” (NIV) 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Our God is the God of all comfort… as believers, he comforts us in all of the troubles of life… so that we can comfort others out of a personal understanding. I believe this to be a key part of our commission to the world… that we extend the love and comfort that God provides to a hurting people.

However, right or wrong, GLBT people have not been comforted (for the most part) by the church. Most of us have had the experience of ignoring something only to have it manifest in greater form later down the line. The fear, shame, and rejection that these people have faced in our society have forced them to organize, unite their individual power, and force their voices to be heard– by everyone.

It’s my belief that homosexuality stems from family and societal imbalances that as we grow up form in us a desire for the same sex. I believe that these are real and godly desires being expressed in ways that aren’t God’s intention for humanity. I believe that just as with anything else, we have a choice to act on those desires or not. But I also believe that finding healing and wholeness is a family and societal matter in much the same way that the issue originated.

When I read the Bible, I see God showing love and compassion for a hopelessly MESSED UP (read sinful) humanity… full of all kinds of situations that are less than his ideal for us. But just as we value our free-will, God upholds this gift in us but still gives us the option (through Jesus) to choose a different path– one leading to the original design. In his justice, he pays the price for sin through Jesus, and in his love he redeems us to our original design – the abundant, God-shaped life.

My hope right now is that we as the church take on the commission of compassion … that we be vigilant in offering hope and resources for two under-served groups: 1) Those who have same-sex desires, but believe change is possible or are seeking change and 2) for those who are self-identified as GLBT and are seeking to know Christ. I classify these groups differently even though some may fall into both categories. Jesus came to reconcile us to relationship with the Heavenly Father. If we’re going to stand in opposition of the rights that GLBT groups are fighting for, then we MUST provide alternatives and real support for those who these rights would benefit.

This isn’t a popular view-point, but it’s mine. One thing that I certainly have learned from the GLBT community is that it’s ok to be different and to speak your mind! (lol) So it’s my prayer that we begin to seriously consider how we can allow God to use us to reconcile relationships and restore people in the context of a society where GLBT isn’t going away anytime soon (at least not before Jesus’ return).

Agree or disagree, I hope to hear thoughtful response to any issues raised from this post. Thanks.

Friday March 10, 2006 – 01:23am (CST)