Thoughts from an Ordinary Guy

This journey through life is never boring......

Month: July 2016

Think it Doesn’t Happen Here?

The names and locations have been changed to protect privacy…….

So, in a suburb of one of the 100 largest cities in the United States, a dad took his kids to the library.

No big deal right?

Dad is white.

Kids are black.  Adopted.  Teenagers.

“Dad, I can’t find my library card!”

“We don’t have a lot of time, we’ll just put them on my library card, okay?”

A bit later…..

“Dad, I’ve got my books…..”

“Okay, let’s go check out and go home and grill hamburgers for supper, sound good?”

“Can I help who’s next?”

“I’d like to check out these books but I can’t find my card so I’m going to put them on my dad’s card.”

Dad puts library card on the counter.

Looking at Dad, library clerk says, “Does he have his card number?”  (He – teenage son – is 2 feet away)

Dad looks at son, “Do you know the number?”  “No.”

“Does he know what happened to the card?”  Once again he is 2 feet away.

Dad – “Not sure, can you look it up with my license, I’m on his card?   Otherwise just put them on mine.”

Clerk – “I’ll look it up.”

Tick tock, a couple of minutes pass.

Clerk – “I can’t find his record, are you okay with putting his books on your account?”  

Dad – “Yes I am.”

So, ask yourself, what happened here?

It seems to me that there’s one of two possible explanations for the clerk choosing to speak to the Dad and ignore the black teenage son even though they were the son’s books and he was standing right there:

The clerk is uncomfortable talking to teenagers.   If that is true, then the clerk shouldn’t be employed in a position where she has to talk to kids and teenagers.

The clerk is uncomfortable talking to black teenage boys.  She wouldn’t look at the son, she wouldn’t talk to the son and he was standing right there.

The black son wasn’t in danger, wasn’t acting out, he was just being a typical tired teenager.  The Caucasian library clerk obviously felt very uncomfortable and didn’t want to talk to him.

Think it doesn’t happen here?

Think again.

TJV

A Bubble

I grew up in a bubble.

And that’s okay.   It wasn’t my parents fault.

It wasn’t my school’s fault.

It wasn’t my neighbor’s fault.

None of them consciously tried to put my brothers and I in a bubble.

But we were.  We lived in a world where everyone, or almost everyone, looked like we did.

Where almost everyone had blond hair and blue eyes like the Dutch boys did.

That’s just the way it was.   We thought.

We didn’t know about the rest of the world.   

The world didn’t have instantaneous news so we could hear about things happening in South Sudan before they were done and the bodies were buried.   

The world didn’t have cell phone videos that could broadcast episodes of violence literally as they were happening from inside the car.

Then I went to college and spent summers working in a factory.   It was my first real exposure to people who didn’t look like me, who weren’t Dutch like me.  I worked outside of the bubble and it wasn’t a big deal.

In 2003, my wife and I went to Haiti for the first time.   I remember standing in the airport and looking around and saying to my wife, “Look hon, we are in the minority.”   For the first time, ever.

Since then, we’ve learned more and more about the bubble that we live in.

And we’ve taken steps to poke holes in that bubble.

And I’ve learned a couple of things about that bubble……

That bubble seems okay from the inside but it’s hard to be outside of that bubble.   Life is more difficult there.

That bubble takes a couple of different forms……

There’s the governmental bubble – unfortunately many of the policies that our government has enacted over the last 100 years have strengthened the bubble for those inside the bubble.

There’s the personal bubble – people make decisions and are impacted by their family, their friends, their location that either make it easier to walk through the bubble or harder to get out.

But I’ve seen too much, I’ve read too much

I’ve heard too much.

The Bubble is not okay.  The Bubble builds walls and alienates neighbors.

The Bubble needs to have doors in it.   Doors that swing both ways.   Doors that welcome people from all sides.  

Doors that show God’s love to everyone.

We all have our own bubbles.  

Does your bubble have doors in it?

That’s the way God wants it.

Tom

A Cry for Significance

It has been a difficult weekend for many.

It’s been a horrible week for many.

It’s been a week that will change the lives and families of many forever.

I’ve spent a good bit of time this weekend talking to people.

White friends and relatives.

White friends with adopted black children.

Black friends

And I’ve done a lot of reading of people who I would call “influential.”   Members of Congress (at least one who was a personal friend many years ago), ministers, writers, football players (if you haven’t read Benjamin Watson before, you should) and bloggers.

What have I learned through it all?

A couple of things come to mind……

Some people absolutely refuse to admit or even consider a position other than the one they hold.   This is what they believe about _______ and no one is going to change their mind.

Most people are very good at seeing the problem “over there” but aren’t willing to look at the problem that is “right here.”   

When you can find a friend who at first glance has ideas that are directly opposed to your views but both of you are able to keep dialoguing and going back and forth with respect and thoughtfulness AND you find out that in the end, you really are on the same page just reading from opposite sides of the page, then you have a thing of beauty and a valuable relationship.

This problem is a problem on many levels – but predominantly on a spiritual and an intrinsic value level.

Too many people in our country (of many colors) no longer (or they never did) have it in their hearts that God has made all people equal and therefore we should all be treated as such.   There needs to be a change off heart and a change of minds on many levels and of many people if we’re going to heal the wounds that are literally ripping this country apart.

Intrinsic value – for centuries, the white man in the United States treated the black man as a piece of property – in other words, of very little intrinsic value.   Abraham LIncoln changed that with the Emmancipation Proclamation where he made all black slave free.   However, the white establishment has, over the last 100+ years put road block after road block in the way of the black people achieving the equality that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke so eloquently of in his “I have a Dream Speech.”

And many people from both the black and white communities believed it.   And many still believe it.  Many of them didn’t want to but they starrted to believe that because the system was stacked against the blacks,  they were of less value than the others.   This caused and continues to cause many problems in the black community – many of which are now being used by white people as a “blame game” against the black people.   Many of the actions that happen in the ghettoes, the crime, the drugs and more are in many ways a cry for significance or a cry of giving up their hope for significance.  

This caused and continues to cause many problems in the white community because of the stereotypes that it promotes, the violence that it encourages and the degrading and racist attitudes that prevent real progress from happening to give not only white people but all people the right to ±life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

The systems set up by the white bureacracy and run predominantly by the white privileged elite are structured in ways that do not allow black people to experience the same intrinsic value that white people do.   This must change.   It must change on a governmental level and it must change on a personal level.

And that means that many white people are going to have to change their thinking about other people.  And they are going to have to change their thinking about themselves.

And many black people are going to have to change their thinking about other people and change their thinking about themselves.   That’s going to be hard to do given years and decades of a system stacked against them and sending them messages that say they are worth less.

And we’re all going to have to realize the significance of all of God’s people and the way the history of this country has in many ways made that significance very very hard to realize and to value.

Is it a big job?   It’s a huge job.   Is it complex?  Unbelievably – the dynamics of all of these woven and broken personal relationships are very hard to believe, to understand let alone to fix.

But we must.

Those of us who are white need to join with efforts to change the systemic issues that hold the black people back from the significance they deserve.  We also need to get involved with organizations that are helping the next generation of black children grow up knowing their significance and their value.

Those of us who are black, well, I’m not black, so I can’t say or suggest what the black people should do but they need to realize that they are significant and they matter as much as anyone else does.

And we all need to work together to make this world a place where all people feel significant and all people feel valued.

How?   Well, start with the small things – what if we all greeted and treated the people you interact with today with a little more kindness and more respect.

More thoughts on this to come, but for now, realize that all people want to be valued…..

TJV

Hope–Lost?

I’ve heard it said that when people resort to violence, it’s because they have lost all hope for a peaceful resolution to their problems.

After centuries of fighting in the Middle East, is that why ISIS has gained in popularity among younger generation Muslims?

Is that why the statistics are stacked against black young men in terms of all sorts of negative things – arrests, jail term length, conviction rates, unemployment rates, shot during routine or minor arrests rates, likelihood to get killed by a cop during a routine traffic stop?

Is that why a former reality TV show host is currently running for President on a platform of anger against the establishment?

Is that why unnecessary and extreme force was used against two black men this week?

Is that why snipers shot and killed police officers in Dallas last night?

Is that why #blacklivesmatter is a movement because too many people have lost hope in the belief that #ALLlivesmatter?   And only  once #blacklivesmatter  will we able to say that NOW #alllivesmatter?

Is that why Britain voted to leave the European Union?   They had lost hope that being part of the EU would give them a better “chance?”

Hope – it is so important to have.

Hope – it’s so hard to see right now.

What can we do?

What should we do?

We all play different roles – how do each of those roles fit into putting hope back in the world?

We are all different – what role is God calling us to as we work to make this a better world?

A world where my son doesn’t have to worry about anything other than a ticket and an unhappy dad if he gets pulled over.

A world where black and white and Asian and Hispanic and…….. can worship together in peace.  

I don’t know in terms of the big picture things – but as one of the people at the Bible Study I attended last night said,  “We all need to work inside our circle to make the world a better place.   To make the world a safer place.  And it needs to start with the church.”

So, as the world swirls in turmoil, what can you do to make your circle a safer place?

What can your church do to make the world a safer place?

Go do something nice for your neighbor.

If you see a police officer today, go out of your way to thank him or her for keeping the peace.

Stand up for the rights of those who struggle.   Reach out to someone today who might  be struggling, especially with all of the events of this week.

Do Justice.

Love Mercy.

Walk Humbly with our God.

TJV

Why?

There are no easy answers.

Discussion in the car on the way to Bible Study – how can you talk about justice in a world like ours?

2 murders of black men by police in 1 day.

3 black kids in the car, one white kid.   The same world, friends.

Yet totally different worlds.  

One can move and live and act with freedom.    The others need to be concerned.

Concerned about what others think.

Concerned about how the world sees them.

And the fact that they might not like what they see.

“But that won’t happen here!”

Oh but it does.   It hasn’t ended in murder here, but it happens here.

Racism isn’t dead.   People are, but racism isn’t.

But hope is hard.

In a world full of evil, hope is hard.

But what do we do, God?  What do we do?

We know this is wrong.  We know the world is full of sin. 

But so many don’t want to acknowledge what is wrong.

So many are filled with anger.   Why?   

Why is anger getting in the way of healing?

What do we do?   How do we move forward?

How do we move towards peace when so many want war and hate and racism?

If change is going to come, it’s going to start with the church.

Nothing else works.

And the church needs to work together.

Why?  

How?

What?

Please God, show us……