How Should We Respond?

Living in two worlds is an interesting proposition……

On the one hand, I live in a suburb in Michigan – predominantly middle class, predominantly white, predominantly stable and “calm” world.

On the other hand, many of my friends and some of my family (and some of my friends who I consider close enough to be family), aren’t white, have family members who aren’t white, who might not be middle class or who live in areas that aren’t middle class and “stable.”

And how do we respond to the events of recent days in both New York and Missouri given that “composition?”    I want to share a couple of thoughts from the Pastors at Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids.    We had the privilege of attending there yesterday and God used them to speak to  me and mine.

How should we respond?   That is something they are really wrestling with.   On Wednesday night of this week, they are having a prayer and discussion meeting about how to respond.   I’m going to be there to learn more about what my response should be.

How should we respond?    When one of our “brothers in Christ” says that Ferguson was a one time episode?  We should respond as brothers in Christ – how you see Ferguson is not indicative of whether you love God or not.

How should we respond?   When we see Ferguson and New York as indications that the system is more broken than we all hoped it was, what do we do?    What does God call us to do in Micah 6:8?   “Do Justice, Love Mercy and walk humbly with your God.”

How should we respond?   6 Million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.   40 Million Africans were murdered in the slave trade.   How do we respond to this injustice?    How do we respond to centuries of oppression that are still ingrained in many parts of our systems?

A lot more questions than answers.    But it’s obvious that a substantial portion of the black community views the incidents in Ferguson and New York as evidence of a wounded system – not isolated incidents.

How do we respond?    How do we make a difference?    How do we push back against the racist sins of the past and forward into a world where God’s people live side by side the way that He wants us to?

I don’t know.   The answers are few, but I know we need to keep asking the questions.

And I plan on continuing to wrestle with it here.

Tom

Standing

I’ve been thinking a lot about standing this week.

No, not that kind of standing.

The standing that takes a lot more energy.  

A lot more strength.

A lot more emotional toll.

As we all watch the events unfolding in New York and in Ferguson, it’s hard to stand by and watch.

It’s also hard to stand on one side or the other because the truth can be very elusive for those who don’t have all of the facts.

It’s also hard to stand because of those who want to spin things to their side.

But I’ve learned some things about standing this week……

I’ve learned that standing up against wrong is hard.   Very hard.

I’ve learned that standing up against a specific wrong is hard.   And it takes a lot of time and energy to determine the truth.    Sometimes the truth is in a gray area and that makes it even harder.

I’ve learned that standing up against the bigger wrongs is hard, but is often easier to see.

Standing up in the Ferguson case is hard – because it’s hard to know what happened and who is right and who is wrong.

But standing up for the rights of black men, black men like my son is becoming is hard – but not because its hard to know right and wrong.   I think we can all agree, at least I hope we can, that there are still substantial times in this country where black men (in particular) get treated differently than white people do.

And we need to stand up and say, “This is wrong.   Whether you are black or white or any other race, you should be treated the same.”

Ferguson and New York showed that we have a lot farther to go on that than we thought we did.

I’ve also thought a lot about standing with children this week.   Kids are cute.  Well, most of them are.  Smile   And it’s easy to say, I stand for the rights of children.   I want every child to grow up safe and in a loving family.

Who would actually say that they wouldn’t want that?

But when you get to the specifics, that’s when standing with children gets hard. 

When you have to talk about evil things happening to children, that’s hard.   That’s sick to your stomach, can’t sleep at night hard.

But when you know something is wrong, you have to take a stand on it.   Either you stand up and say, “Something is wrong.” 

Or you are essentially saying, “Me and my comfort zone trump what I feel is wrong in this situation.”

But the truth can be elusive – unless you are there.

Unless you look into the eyes of the children and hear them tell their story.

Unless you see the marks on a child’s backside from being………

So how do you stand with that?   A couple of thoughts I’ve had this week:

  • You support the people who are on the front lines.    Those who know the truth about the wrongs need to know that they have others backing them up.
  • You encourage them to push for the right.    Encourage them to keep on fighting.   Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and fight the wrongs – for their sake and for the sake of other kids who might be at risk.
  • You extend grace.   Grace to those who are on the front lines.   Grace to those who might seem to be on the “wrong side.” 
  • You stand with knowledge.   Don’t ignore the facts, don’t take the pleasant road, take the road that’s filled with truth – even if that road is bumpy, full of potholes and has alligators waiting in the ditches.    If you know something is wrong, you can’t plead ignorance.
  • God is a God of justice not “just” a God of love.   There are and must be consequences to evil.   And quite often, I believe that God uses His people to stand up to the evil, to expose the evil, to share what they know about the evil so that God’s justice can prevail – not only in the next life but also in the here and now.   That doesn’t mean vigilante justice.   That means speaking out against wrongs, even when it involves exposing very uncomfortable things.

I’ve also thought a lot about standing with and standing for family this week.   Every day, every week, we are faced with choices.   We are pulled by the world, we are pulled by the devil, we are pulled by greed.

And we need to stand up for our families.   We need to stand up and say,  “This is difficult, but I know this is what we need.”   “While you might not understand, I have to do what is best for my family.”

That standing can involve breaking with traditions.

That standing can involve reevaluating career priorities.

That standing can involve reevaluating worship and church priorities (not IF, but when where and how).

And that is not easy either.

So what have I learned about standing this week?

  • Standing is hard – in almost every situation, it’s hard to stand.    But it’s easy to sit back and go with the flow.
  • Standing is crucial to keeping your balance.   If you don’t look at what’s important to you and what matters to you, you will lose your place in life.   You’ll lose your balance.
  • Standing is important – for the sake of your family, especially if someone in your family has been hurt.   For the sake of those outside of your family who have been hurt.    For the sake of those who are being hurt or might be hurt by faults in “the system.”
  • Standing is important for healing.   To heal the wrongs, to heal the injuries, to heal the wounded souls, you have to stand up and push back.   Standing is important for healing – for you and for others.

It’s been hard to keep standing this week.   It’s been hard to watch many things that are going on – both those in the news and those in much more private situations.

But at the end of the week, I remain convinced that the only way we’re going to make this world a better place is if we take a stand for what we know is right.TheLorax

Tom

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

Waiting–A Season, A Time, A State of Mind

Psalm 130:5  “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope.”

Waiting – it’s a season.   The season of Advent.   We’re waiting for Christmas.   We’re waiting for the experience of celebrating what God has done for us.

Waiting – it’s a time.    Waiting for the kids to come home.   Waiting for graduation.    Waiting for retirement.   Waiting for the plane to come.    Waiting for winter.    Waiting for summer.    Waiting for plans to materialize.    Waiting for doors to open.Clock

Waiting – it’s a state of mind.    A state of mind that says, “I know God is at work.”

I know God has a plan.   

I know His plan is good.

I don’t know what His plan is.  

I don’t even know what “good” means.

Americans don’t like to wait.    They are a “me first” “I want mine NOW” society.

That doesn’t mix well with what God often says.

He made Moses wait 40 years tending sheep in the desert.

He made Abraham and Sarah wait almost 100 years before they had a child.

He anointed David King and then made him wait a LONG time and endure a LOT of trials before he became king.

So we wait.   We wait for Christmas.

But we wait for many other things.

How do we deal with the wait?  How did Moses deal with the wait?   Do you think he was restless and grumpy and failed to find God’s will in his time in Midian?

I don’t know, the Bible doesn’t tell us.  

Waiting isn’t easy.   

Waiting isn’t cheap – sometimes waiting for God and His plan is very difficult and challenging and costly.

But learning to wait for the Lord, learning to wait for His plans is a deeply fulfilling way to be.

Rest in the Lord.

Know that He has a plan.    He’s got it all figured out.

Spend time looking to see what God’s up to.

And follow it.

And while you wait, don’t forget to look up.  

Look up at Jesus.   Look for Him, even in the small and the seemingly insignificant.

Look for Him in the lonely.   The sad, the sorrow filled, the sick, the troubled.

And look around you.   Appreciate the beauty of what God has given you.

Waiting is hard.

Seeing God’s plan is hard.

But when you wait for the Lord, it’s good.

It’s oh so good.

Because you know it’s coming…….

TJV

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Lord,

This is a messed up world we’re living in.

It’s so messed up that if I told you all of the things that are wrong, we’d be here all night.    Anyway, you know all of the wrong things.

You know about disease, you know about evil, you know about violence, you know about corruption.    It seems like there’s a lot more of it this year than normal.

God, what’s up with that?   Why do things seem so bad right now?

What are you trying to teach us?   And why is it so hard for us to learn?

As those of us in America gather for Thanksgiving tomorrow, help us to be really truly thankful.    Thankful for what matters.

Thankful for the ability to love.

Thankful for the ability to care.

Thankful for the ability to make a difference.

Thankful for the opportunity to sit with someone who is hurting.

Thankful for brothers – even when they drive you nuts.

Thankful for sisters – even if they can occasionally go all DQ on you.

Thankful for parents.   For what they have taught, how they have lived and the difference they have made.  

Thankful for being able to look beyond.   Beyond ourselves and into the world around us – and to reach out and do something to make the world a better place for someone there.

Thankful for small steps forward.   Thankful for small and large signs of Your grace.

God, it’s hard to be thankful when so many things seem so bad right now.    Help us to be thankful for you and the fact that even though we don’t know the answers, we know the One who knows the answers.

Help us to be thankful for the things that really matter.   

And help us to bring those things that really matter to a world that is too focused on evil, too focused on the “things” and not enough on the people.

In your name,

Amen

Ferguson, Michael Brown and Now What?

Random thoughts this morning about what is going on and what it might mean……..

First, I don’t know any concrete details in terms of what happened or who did what in Ferguson.    So I’m not going to attempt to express opinions on any of the details on who did what, was it valid, was there a better outcome.   I don’t know.

But I do know that there is substantial evidence that throughout our country that there are significant differences between how people of color are treated compared to white people.

A white teenager wearing a hoodie with headphones in walks into a convenience store shortly before midnight.    No one thinks twice.

A black teenager wearing a hoodie with headphones in walks into a convenience store shortly before midnight.    The clerk puts his hand on the “emergency” button and the other patrons leave as quickly as possible. 

A white man is pulled over for speeding.   After review of registration, insurance and license, he’s given a ticket and sent on his way.

A black man is pulled over for speeding.   After a review of the same documents, the police officer asks the speeder to step out of the car and runs a variety of tests to determine potential alcohol content and examines the inside of the car in more detail.

Does this happen all of the time?   Absolutely not.    But what Ferguson does show is that this is an ongoing problem and it’s a problem that is probably more wide spread than those “in power” would like to admit.

So what does it all mean?    Let me throw a couple of ideas out there:

  • Parents need to have conversations with their children about the importance of treating everyone the same and not drawing conclusions based on race, based on color, based on the type of clothes someone is wearing.
  • Parents of black children, especially black boys, especially teenage black boys, have to have more detailed and unfair conversations with them.   Conversations with them about how they need to hold themselves to a higher standard.   Conversations about how people will draw conclusions about them based on how they dress – and they almost certainly won’t be positive conclusions.   Conversations about how a  black 14 year old with an airsoft gun will be perceived significantly differently if that 14 year old is white.
  • Churches need to be more awake and communicative about the message they send to their community.    Is it a message of inclusion no matter what color, what style of clothes or what music someone listens to?   Or is it a message of exclusivity  – if you aren’t white and you don’t drive a nice car, well………
  • The government – first, I want to say that I have the utmost respect for those who are police and keep our streets safe.     They have to make instant decisions and they put their lives on the line for us every day.   But I think it’s obvious that our government has some work to do yet on training and teaching their people how to make the right decisions and to do it in a more racially equal way.

I’ve read a number of reports that have said that white people who don’t have black friends feel that racism is not a problem.    White people who have black friends feel that racism is still an issue.    Black people feel that racism is still an issue.    In other words, if you don’t see it or experience it, then you don’t know it’s still there.    Not saying that is the fault of the white people who don’t have black friends (though it might be for some).   It’s just the way that it is rightMartin Luther King Jr. now.

And it’s not acceptable.   It shouldn’t be acceptable to the church, it shouldn’t be acceptable to the schools, it shouldn’t be acceptable to the government.

One other thought – why are people burning and looting and being violent in Ferguson?    I’m sure there are some of them who are doing it just to cause trouble.   But what about most of them?

It’s because they have lost faith in “their” government to keep them safe.   They have lost faith in “their” government to protect their “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”    They have lost faith in “their” government to protect “freedom” of speech.  

We need to make changes to restore their faith in our system and our country.

Because Ferguson is more than just the case of what happened to one police officer and one teenager.    Ferguson is the story of what is hidden under a lot of American life.

And what’s hidden underneath is not pretty.

Tom