Words Mean Things

Well, thank you for that, Captain Obvious…..

Bear with me on this.   Words mean things.   And the same words don’t mean the same things to all people.   Let me give you some examples……

Economic privilege vs. white privilege.   Let’s take Colin Kapernick as an example.   Colin grew up as an adopted bi-racial son of an upper middle class (maybe even upper, I don’t know) white family.   There have been pictures of his family floating around the internet and they are all definitely white people – except for Colin.

Many people are complaining about Colin’s protests.   In those complaints, the general theme seems to be (generalization – not everyone) that because Colin grew up in an upper middle class white family and is making millions of dollars playing a game, he has no right to protest.   After all, he’s taken advantage of the system he’s protesting, hasn’t he?

That’s where the difference comes in – yes, Colin has taken advantage of the economic privileges that come his way.   That’s not what he’s protesting.   He’s protesting the fact that many black people in the United States are not being treated fairly and are not being given the opportunities to succeed and are being abused by the police.   He’s not protesting economic privilege, he’s protesting white privilege and a LACK of black privilege.

For those who disagree with Mr. Kapernick, keep in mind that just as you have the right to protest against what he’s saying, you have to give Mr. Kapernick the right and the privilege to protest as he sees fit.   Freedom of speech works both ways.

Protesting against a national anthem vs. insulting the military who defend our country and keep us safe.   There’s another example of where words mean things.   Mr. Kapernick and others are protesting the National Anthem because they don’t believe that the government and society that it represents  treats black people as equals to white people. 

But if anyone has found a place where Mr. K has insulted the military or said anything derogatory about the men and women who defend our country, I’d like to know where you found that.   It is possible to protest against certain practices in our government and certain social consequences that remain from the past and still support the military who keeps our America safe.

I see and hear a lot of confusion about these words – white privilege, economic privilege, protest, disloyal to military, First Amendment.   I’d like to end this hopefully clarifying a few things…..

America is a great place – the reason we have to have discussions and conversations about immigration is because people want to live here.

America is not a perfect place – whether you choose to look at economics, racism, poverty, drugs, Congress, there are many places where it is obvious that this country has many things screwed up.

While I don’t like either of the main party political candidates, they both have the right to say what they want.   And so do I.   And so does Colin Kapernick.

Protesting against problems in this country doesn’t mean you don’t love this country any more than reprimanding a misbehaving teenager means you’re going to kick him out of the family home.

The problem with the “All Lives Matter” movement is that not all lives matter the same in the United States of America……

  • Not all black lives matter as much as white lives do.
  • Aborted lives, aborted babies don’t matter.

We have a problem in our country.   That problem has been a bit “under the radar” for most of us for a while.    It’s not any more.   Now it’s front and center.

We don’t treat all of us the same.   Until we do, we need to be open to the protests of others and realize they have the right to their opinions.

Just as you have the right to yours.

And so does Colin.

TJV

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

Straddling Two Worlds

We straddle two worlds.

We can’t ignore either one.

We can’t turn our backs on either one.

It’s a struggle we expected but it has boiled over to be much bigger than we expected.

How do we balance the two?

God put us where we are, because He wants us where we are. But we can’t understand why.

Rather than growing up in a middle class suburb, why didn’t I grow up in the middle of rural Africa?

Rather than attending a Christian private school, why didn’t I have to attend a struggling inner city school where the graduation rate wasn’t nearly as high as the incarceration rate?

Why did I grow up with an active, loving and engaged dad when so many grow up never knowing their dad?

Why could I walk from home to school and back without being afraid of being mugged or accosted by a homeless person?

I.Don’t.Know.

But I’ve seen glimpses of the other side. The other world.

I’ve seen black boys struggling for survival in the streets of Haiti.

I’ve talked to a teacher who has lost 5 of her students to gang warfare before they would have graduated from high school.

I’ve heard stories of black men – well educated, articulate speakers tell stories of being pulled over by cops and having their entire car searched – because they have had a tail light out. Oh and this wasn’t a story on the news, this was at a local church’s service of racial reconciliation. It.Happened.In.West.Michigan.

We straddle both worlds.

I am not a black man. I am a white man. But my son is growing closer and closer to becoming a black man.

I straddle both worlds.

I’m not part of “that world” but I am part of that world.

I hate that I have to tell my son to be careful where he wears the hood on his sweatshirt “up.”

I hate that people I care about still suffer from the scars that are still there from years and years of oppression.

I “get” that people in Baltimore and other places rioted because they lost hope. They reached the snapping point and blew up. How many of us haven’t done that on a smaller scale with our kids?

But I hate that it has to happen. I don’t want it to happen.

And it hurts that there are people I know and care about who don’t see that part of the world.

Who move around and live their lives enjoying the benefits of their middle class life with their middle class upbringing.

Who consider the plight of those who have lost hope as something that is “their fault.”

And it hurts that really good people who put their lives on the line to keep us safe are being “blamed” for the overreactions that others have had to those who lost hope.

When I signed on to being a transracial adoptive parent, I signed on to straddling those two worlds.

And I will.

But the wounds that are showing up are so much deeper and harder to straddle.

This is not the way that Jesus would want it.

And it’s up to all of us to do something about it.

Restore hope.

Restore dignity.

Rebuild understanding and acceptance.

Don’t make the world color blind – because that attempts to ignore the basics of who someone is. Instead, make the world color filled.

Celebrate the differences but work towards acknowledging the value and the worth of everyone.

Whether they grew up with two parents in a white suburb.

Or a homeless street child in the slums of big city America.

People, please, we have to do better.

All of God’s children deserve better.

All of them.

TJV

Ferguson

It’s a place very few of us know even existed until recently.

It’s a place where something bad happened.  

It’s a place where there’s a lot of “he said, he said, she said” stories.    Getting to the truth seems very hard to do.

It’s a town in Missouri.

But it’s so much more.

Ferguson is  a reminder.

Ferguson is a scab that got pulled off.

Ferguson is a sad commentary on today’s world.    No matter what you believe happened, it shows that not all is well with the world.

Cops feel it necessary to use force, most of the time with good reason, but not always.   They are human too……

The  young men in our world are being taught that it’s okay to disrespect authority.    5 minutes reading the rap lyrics of some of the top rappers will show you that.

The young men in our world are being taught that it’s okay to demean the opposite gender and treat them as less than they deserve.   The media is portraying a view of men and women that doesn’t respect either one of them.

Ferguson is a reminder that the civil rights era isn’t that long ago.    In many ways, the civil rights era is right now.

Ferguson is a reminder that if a group of people feel like their government is not protecting their rights, they are going to protest that.    I’ve read a couple of articles that laid out a pretty convincing case that Ferguson was a justified case of the residents of Ferguson saying, “We’ve had enough of the government not  protecting our rights and we’re sick of it.” 

Ferguson has highlighted the fact that the percentage of the population that is black and male is substantially lower than the percentage of the inmate population that is black and male.

Ferguson has poked an uncomfortable finger at those of us who blindly live our lives benefiting from “White Privilege” without even being aware of it.   

Now the question – “So What?”   What does this have to do with the church?  Isn’t this a police force/racism government issue?

This impacts the church in a number of ways:

  • It either shines a light on a church as one that cares about people of all races and colors or one that is very happy living their sheltered white life.
  • It shows that for a church to “love your neighbor as yourself” is a lot harder if the neighbor isn’t white like you are.

Ferguson is an issue of social justice for the church.    Either we, as a church (either an individual church or a worldwide church) need to acknowledge that we aren’t as far as we thought in loving and treating all of our neighbors the way God wants us to – and we need to do something to change that.

Or we send a message to those who aren’t a member of our church – “we don’t really care – if you aren’t “like” us, you can come, but we aren’t going to go out of our way to make you feel a part of our church.”

Jesus said, in Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.”

That means all nations and all colors and all races.    Ferguson reminds us that we’ve got a LOT of work to do yet……..

Do you think Jesus would be happy with Ferguson and what happened there?

I think not.

Tom