I Pledge Allegiance to the Christian Flag…

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It’s a pledge many Christians have never cited or memorized:

I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, and to its Savior, for whose Kingdom it stands; One brotherhood, uniting all true Christians in service and in love.”

It’s a flag that represents not an earthly country with manmade borders but an eternal kingdom that will exist long after the earth and its kingdoms are destroyed.  It’s a flag that recognizes a people bound by a heavenly citizenship that isn’t subject to limitations, temporary visas or naturalization. It’s an emblem that is common to Americans, as well as Asians, Hispanics, Africans, blacks, whites, young and old with belief in Jesus Christ and brotherly love as its only criteria.  It is my flag and I love all it represents.

Yesterday was a shamefully divisive day among Christians and non-Christians alike as we witnessed a sport we all love and anticipate in the Fall of each year become a necessary platform as players and owners alike showed solidarity on some form of protest against not a country they hate, as some believe and wrongly accuse, but a country they love who in many documented cases, has not been fair in it’s distribution of equality and justice for all.  How I wish that any other platform had been chosen but football, but alas, here we are, millions of people being made aware of continued and systematic pockets of racial prejudice, yes even in 2017, and forced to acknowledge its evil exisstence. It is not something that all whites are guilty of, nor is it something all blacks are victims of, but if few are affected, all are. The chosen protest is a perceived lack of respect for a country and it’s flag, as well as all who fought for its freedoms.  To say it’s a touchy subject is a severe under-exaggeration. My opinion is not popular among many people.

The argument as to whether players are on company time as salaried employees will be left up to others to debate.  My concern is not over rights, but over where our true allegiance should lie as Christians.  I thank God daily that I was born into a country of rights and freedoms and I’m genuinely grateful to be born American.  But my birth was not by my choosing but only by God’s providence.  I could have just as easily been born in Nigeria or Afghanistan or Myanmar, point being I had nothing to do with my birth origin. I honor our flag and all those who fought so bravely to assure my freedom, many paying the highest cost of their lives-I aknowledge that. I participate whole-heartedly in July 4th activities and festivals celebrating our freedom and uniqueness and yes, greatness as a country.  But at the end of the day, or quite literally, at the end of days, I will exist as a Believer and one of the elect, not as an American or any other nationality.

God caused the seas to divide the land, according the the creation story in Genesis.  It is man, however, who divided, conquered, plundered in some cases, and ultimately created the borders used to define countries as we know them today, creating laws and limits as to who can cross, who can benefit, who can be referred to as its citizens and share in its freedoms. When God refers to nations it is usually a reference to a people of common origin, not a people defined by borders.  Jesus clearly pointed this out when he was asked about paying taxes in  a scheme to trick Him.  His answer, give to God what is God’s and to a government what is the government’s, is self-explanatory-one does not necessarily belong to the other. What and who belongs to God is not determined by borders or restrictions established by man.

So what is my response as a follower of Christ?  Holy scripture assures me I will be judged on how I loved and treated my fellow brother, ala sheep and goats. I will not be judged on how patriotic I was to a country that on Judgment day will not be in existence. I will be judged on whether I practiced true religion as defined in the New testament, not whether I stood or kneeled during a song about a country.  Did I speak out against injustices when I witnessed or was made aware of them? Did I treat my brothers according to the Golden Rule? Did I classify men by their skin color or Nationality?  Did I pray for my enemies and all those out of my reach who are daily persecuted for their faith, not their allegiance to a country?  Will I receive a robe of red, white and blue on that glorious day or a robe of pure white with neither spots or wrinkles?

There is nothing wrong with showing love and patriotism for the country you were destined to be born into.  But when patriotism becomes instead nationalism, an idol has been erected and a very defined scriptural line has been crossed. Philipians is clear that Christian brothers and sisters are aliens to this world and no longer its citizens, but citizens of a heavenly kingdom anticipating the return of our supreme commander-in-chief, Christ. With that in mind, as much as one may love their country, the kingdom of God and it’s mandated treatment of its people, along with awareness and assistance for all those who are hungry, hurting, homeless, orphaned and widowed, i.e. true religion, “Trump’s” all other allegiances.  While it is possible to be both patriotic and Christian, as soon as one contradicts the other, Christianity must rule as absolute law.  We who are treated unjustly or are made aware of and stand, or kneel with others of our brothers who are, are not “sons of bitches”, but sons of God. We need to be sure the flag of Christ flies above the flag of country in our hearts and in our actions. Beleivers truly have no alternative response but that of Christ’s own words, love God and love others over yourselves.

I’m proud to be American, but I’m humbled, grateful and blessed to be Christian.  I will honor our national anthem, but I will shed tears of privilege with my fce to the ground over Amazing Grace, my eternal anthem.  Love and peace to my readers.

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Hatred and Rejection, a Love Deficiency

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As I witnessed the events of the Virginia Riots this weekend, coupled with issues I’m dealing with on a personal level, I am left with an overwhelming sorrow at the realization of a world where proactive and unconditional love are becoming as outdated as hand-written letters and leather-bound Bibles. My heart aches at the display of violence and hatred based solely on a person’s melanin or what country they were born in or who and how they worship.  Who are these people that they would hijack an entire ethnic group and claim supremacy as if they accurately represent us all?  The widespread wounds of racism will never heal because of the radical ideology of a relative few, but a few too many.

My stomach turns when I hear the term Christian Nazi or I see KKK members carrying the cross of my Savior as if He would ever endorse such hatred or twisted theology. You absolutely can not hate your neighbor, your brother, your ex, your boss, a nation or an administration and wear the sash of Christianity!  It is inconsistent with all we believe and all the words left behind by Him whose name we bear.  If you are marching for any movement claiming superiority over any other group based on skin color, gender, religion or nationality while claiming Christianity, STOP IT-you are a liar and are deceiving yourself.  And if you are endorsing such hatred, either actively or passively by non-action, then you too need to check yourself.  Christians are called to abhor all evil, hatred and injustice.  “To he who knows to do right but does it not., it’s a sin”.

Perhaps it’s hitting a bit close to home because I know the pain of rejection, when those who should love you suddenly reject and turn away from you.  Pure, unadulterated love is such a precious commodity in this age. Loving just because, loving others especially when they are somehow different, honoring vows meant for a lifetime are not stories that make headlines.  Whether you have been rejected by a spouse, a parent, someone of a different color or anyone close to you, the hole left in the heart knows no bottom. When I see these violent protests, or lonely people on the street I see a complete deficiency of love.  Love eradicates hate-love gives comfort to a lonely heart-love frees the soul held captive by evil ideology-love truly can conquer anything, if and where it exists.  Sadly, in too many situations, the perfect love that casts out fear is being crushed and compacted by the overwhelming weight of a dark heart doing the bidding of an evil ruler bent on our destruction by way of starvation and deficiency. When a person or a group of people have been beat down so many times their will to fight back eventually becomes compromised and the light of their love lamps so desperately needed is soon extinguished.  What are we doing to each other? It ought not to be this way.

I may or may not be around for any long period of time-only my Maker knows for sure. But when my time comes, I want to be remembered as someone who loved, someone in whom no hate was found or in any way manifested. I want to know I did something positive or left something behind for my kids and grandkids that showed them love still wins out and is not something to be feared but rather embraced. There will be a day, whether you choose to believe it or not, when we will have to stand before the author and the perfector of love and give an account on how we distributed the sacrifice of love He freely provided us.  Every word, deed, action of lack thereof will be recalled and an explanation will be demanded.  If you count yourself among any hate group, I fear for you on that terrible day. Scripture says that many will say “Lord, Lord” but will be turned away.  If you claim a cross but carry a Nazi flag, God have mercy on you!  If you claim the name of Christ but hide behind a sheet or a hood, Lord have mercy. If you take up space behind a pulpit but shout hate against your brother or sister, there will be a special place reserved for you.  If you claim righteousness but have hatred for anyone, you can not take part in any eternal reward or kingdom.

I wish with all I have that love always won, that love always lasted, that rejection and abandonment never existed, that differences could be celebrated and not marched against.  I wish my heart was not so heavy at the reality of hurt, of fear, of loneliness, of being isolated because you are for any reason not worthy of love. I wish I could hold all those who feel as I do just to say, “me too”.  I wish I had the power to stop hatred dead in its tracks and reverse the damage done when any one person is rejected by any other person.  But all I have are my words, this small platform, a few faithful followers who for whatever reason choose to read my musings each week. So I will use that which I have to disavow myself from any appearance of hatred on any level and I encourage you to do the same. God sees the brokenhearted and hears their cries and heals all their wounds. Let our will be to be used as a healing instrument in His hands whenever and wherever hatred is rampant.

A House Divided

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At no other time is the division of the church more apparent than during the heated and passionate weeks leading up to a Presidential election. But politics in general is just an umbrella label that covers several very controversial and divisive issues that separate the church, some to the point of drawing lines in the sand against brothers and sisters of the faith.  As free moral agents God equipped each of us with the ability to reason and form opinions.  Those opinions may be based on several factors including life experience, demographics and upbringing. Thank God for diversity of thought lest we be zombie-like followers void of any uniqueness. However, are we as believers afforded the option to differ over basic tenets of Biblically doctrine?  What are some of the hot-button topics the enemy is using to divide the church?  With much trepidation, I want to examine just a few, in no particular order.

  1. Same Sex Marriage-this is most certainly not a new issue as the early church had to deal with this shortly after the birth of the church. It has only become a hotly contested issue with current legislation that makes it legal for same-sex couples to marry.  As with any good argument, opposing sides seem to be extreme.  Stones are cast with equal velocity by those who view this as the mother of all abominations and by those who “judge not”.  Is it indeed biological, is it a moral choice, is there restoration offered or is restoration required?  As with anything under the sun these answers may be found upon close study of scripture and a sincere seeking of God’s spirit for direction.  One thing is certain-it is dividing the body at the highest of levels.
  2. Racism-perhaps no other issue in modern times has resulted in or been the result of a blasphemous twisting of Holy Scripture.  Slave Owners used passages with slave references to instill fear and obedience in a way that was never intended.  Although we have evolved as a society from those shameful days of hatred, cells of bias still exist in the church that propagate a continued mistrust particularly between black and white Christians.  I have seen and felt this first hand in largely futile attempts at spurring racial dialogue between us.  That level of bias is exhibited even behind many pulpits.  You have on one side a black church body that continues to see and feel discrimination in a system largely lopsided to their disadvantage, resulting in a defensive and sometimes revolutionary posture. On the other side, a white church that knows the evil of bigotry between brothers but is either ill-equipped to properly engage in the battle, or for self-preservation, chooses to stay clear of controversy completely resulting in a complete ineffectiveness in ending racism.  I’m convinced we will never see a complete dissolution of racial hatred in our lifetimes, and it continues to plague the health of the church.
  3. Abortion-the number one reason some will vote for their favorite candidate or abstain from any vote.  More than any other issue, this one affects the voiceless and defenseless innocent.  It has been masked as an anti-government invasion of privacy between a woman and sometimes the biological father.  It has been debated on arguments of life vs. conception, whether pain is experienced by the unborn child, whether or not the fetus is a living soul before birth, whether or not an unborn child is entitled with the same right to life and liberty the living are afforded, etc.  It has been a painful and shameful cancer in the church that tears us asunder much like that of a late term abortion.  It’s ugly, disheartening and continuing. There are solutions to reducing abortion that include education, counseling and yes, birth control.  While I would never sponsor government endorsed contraception in schools, parents need to stop being naïve about sexual activity during teenage years and be active in teaching Biblical precepts regarding sexual intimacy accompanied with practical advice on contraception.  While some would argue that there is no difference in the sin of fornication vs. the sin of abortion, one involves an innocent victim.  Yet the church will look the other way on this topic when voting for their candidate of choice, which leads to the next issue.
  4. Politics-perhaps it has always been this divisive in the body and the popularity of social media simply casts a spotlight and magnifying scope on its existence. That said, the ugliness of partisan political affiliations displayed on posts and threads available for public consumption truly shed a bad light on the body of Christ. At no other time do Christian brothers and sisters hurl such hateful insults at each other than when done over political stances. Core convictions are placed to the side in preference to personal gain and welfare.  Personal responsibilities are discarded in lieu of government intervention and regulations. The custody and control of “do unto others” is surrendered to a largely non-Christian administration, defended by those who cite separation of church and state as if we are personally absolved of considering “the least of these” in light of big government agencies. Believers are highly criticized if they vote red-they are equally criticized for voting blue-they are called un-Christian if they abstain-they are called mindless if they vote third party and even accused of supporting ABC candidate if they vote for XYZ candidate. A temporary man-made form of secular leadership has caused many to overlook our eternal citizenship and relationships to each other long after any two-party system ceases to exist.  And lest I sound like a stuck record, this too is a top (clergy) down situation where even pastors hang their dirty laundry on social media for all to observe.

What ever the issue of the day, the Word is still relevant and has MUCHO to say about divisions in the church.  It plagued the early church just as it does us today.  John the Baptist or Jesus, Paul or Apollos, circumcision or not, foods, rituals, traditions-all divisive then just as our social issues are today.  Consequently, much was recorded for our consideration:

Romans 16:17; “I appeal to you brothers to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to what you have been taught, and to avoid them, for such do not  serve our Lord…”

1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you brothers in the name of Jesus Christ that you agree and that there be no divisions among you but that you be of one mind and judgment. “

Titus 3:9; “Avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law for they are unprofitable and worthless. “

Like 11:17; “But He, knowing their thoughts said to them ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste and a divided household falls'”.

Our commission is to present through words and our lives a unified gospel of hope, peace, love and forgiveness to a world looking to us for answers.  That can’t be accomplished when there are canyons of division that present anything but unity.  Love has to be a bridge that holds the church together during enemy attacks.  There is but one Holy church, the body of Christ-one savior, and He’s not red or blue but He’s always Right-one Holy Gospel that should be “rightly” divided, not torn into sections to fit preferred lifestyles-one blessed hope that secures eternal communion. How I long for the day when love rules over all evil and the teachings of Christ become our only guiding principle.

 

 

 

 

 

WORDS-Our Weapon of Choice

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The years was about 1978.  I was working behind a full service meat counter.  A young lady was next and I couldn’t help but notice the entire left side of her face was discolored as if she had just been in a horrible fight. Thinking I was being sympathetic I asked her, “Wow, what happened to your face?”. I will never forget her response and her words when she informed me that it was a birthmark. I don’t know to this day who felt worse over that exchange, her for something she was born with and couldn’t change, or me for being an insensitive jerk and speaking before thinking.

Whoever coined the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never harm me” must have never been insulted, disrespected, bullied, or otherwise verbally assaulted.  Words have ended relationships, landed people in jail and started wars. They can be as deadly as bullets when spoken and released down the barrel of hatred to their intended target.  And just like bullets, once fired you can’t put them back in your weapon; they have already done their damage.

I have been privileged, challenged and exhaustingly enlightened this week to be engaged in several conversations with my black brothers and sisters over the current and never ending racial tensions.  What has impressed me the most deeply is that many views and opinions are formed over ill thought out comments or taped interviews where certain people of both black and white races say the most outrageous things and the opposing side is left speechless by the implied hate and bias being spewed forth.  I can’t even offer a defense to them when I am exposed to an elected white official talking about the lack of contributions by “sub-groups”, or minorities to the success and fabric of our country. These blurtations (yes, I made that up) are harmful, divisive and deadly because so many who hear them accept them as generalized and representative attitudes of the race.  While this may be far from the truth, those who hold to and are not afraid of expressing these prejudiced sentiments and deliver them with the force of a 357 revolver are doing more collateral damage than any assault weapon on the market.  The perception that these extreme views are held in common by all people is preventing many from any attempt at healing and constructive dialogue for peaceful relations, and who can honestly blame them.

As with all things I go to my source, God’s word to see how exactly I am to live and control my tongue(could have used that advice in 1978) when communicating with people.  Where do we start?  I’ll list but a few:

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” Proverbs 18

“Let no corrupt communication proceed from your mouth” Ephesians 4

“The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity that defiles the whole body” James 3

“If any man among you seems religious but can’t hold his tongue, he is deceived and his religion is in vain” James 1

“The tongue can’t be tamed and is evil and full of poison” James 3

“A soft tongue break bones” Proverbs  25

The tongue is the true gauge into the soul of a man. The jokes he tells, the tone of his speech, the actual words he chooses all reveal the inner man like an x-ray machine, open and apparent for all to hear and see. Likewise the words you tweet, the words you blog, text or transmit digitally or virtually not only have immediate impact but are permanently recorded to be further transmitted and easily referenced to maximize the damage.  Why in this age of technology and social media do we not see and understand this?

Yes, I am overtly concerned with things the way they are still to this day between blacks and whites and am on my own personal campaign to do something different, to be something different and to achieve something different. In doing so I have to examine every aspect of those tainted relations to see how and when they were damaged so that in moving forward through much listening and understanding I can be fully aware of how others respond to me, my words and my actions, or inactions so that I can feel at least that I have contributed something positive to the end result of peace and harmony.  I may never see it in my lifetime but I’ll  be damned if I continue on maintaining the current status quo when I know I can be better.  I have been given a small gift with written words.  I pray that I am full cognizant of their impact, both the damage they can do but also the healing they can offer.  God help me to choose correctly at all times so that I’m not forced to taste the bitterness of their improper use.

 

 

Confessions of a 21st Century White Man

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Hello, my name is Joe and I’m white. I’ve been white for, well, almost fifty-five years. I never really thought I had a white problem. I denied being white for many years.  After all, there were people much more white than I was. Then I thought I could control my whiteness by just being white on occasion without going overboard, or that I could quit at anytime. But recent events have convinced me that I have a problem and I’m here to confess.  I’m white and I’m sorry.

This opening statement was not intended to be humorous or offensive, but rather to lay the foundation for what will be a painfully honest and transparent post about the role I have played through apathy in helping to maintain the status quo of poor race relations in our country.  I can’t say for sure why the recent tragedies in MN, LA and Dallas had such a powerful impact on me compared to the hundreds before.  All I can offer is that for some reason this time it caused me to take a hard inward look at myself, to see the real man in the mirror without my color tinted lenses, and I didn’t like what I saw.  I’m remorseful and I need to change in order to be an instrument of change around me.

Let me be clear. I don’t believe I am racist, at least not on the surface.  I grew up in Indy’s West side in a racially mixed neighborhood.  I attended equally mixed schools. I grew up listening and preferring Motown music, wearing clothes that would make most white men blush and most black men jealous. Even now through the modern miracle of social media I count many black brothers and sister as just that, my siblings and I have a diverse list of friends including blacks and Hispanics. I appear to be doing everything right, but am I really?  If I and my white counterparts are truly living bias free, why are we still dealing with race issues in America?  We just last Monday celebrated two hundred and forty years of freedom but are all of us free?  The answer is a painful and resounding No! We are all still shackled by prejudices.  We are still enslaved by generational baises. We are still chained by fears and misunderstandings of the differences that divide us. I was driven to my knees in search of an answer as to why seemingly good and Godly people were having such a minimal effect on racism in our land. And I cringe at the epiphany I received in my soul searching.

For the average white person to deny the existence of lingering racism they have to be intellectually dishonest or deliberately blind to the world around them. We live in a society designed to be systematically divided, stating at the top and rippling all the way to our homes. We have been duped for generations into electing officials who promise change but disregard their own campaign slogans once in office for the same reason there is no known cure for cancer.  Officials are elected by creating fear in their constituents so they may be viewed as a potential savior. But we have failed to realize that our officials have been running on the same platforms for decades because nothing has changed and they have no intention of bringing about solutions that would give them little else to campaign on. That’s not on them, that’s on us. Two of the biggest contributors to racism in our society are the Republican and Democratic parties. Racism is not going to be eradicated at the government level by electing the right person.  Many of us believed that electing a black POTUS was a sure sign that racism had ended and relations going forward would improve. Recent events have proven that notion to be anything but true.

But I don’t lay our problems at the feet of our elected representatives.  The problem lies much closer to home.  This is where it gets painful. This is what I was forced to see in my search for answers. This on many levels is a church problem, and you and I who are the church are guilty. This past weekend I saw several posts about local churches having urgent prayer services to heal our nation.  The prayers go something like this: God, our country needs you to heal us.  Our country has rejected you and now we beseech you to remove the hatred and heal our land”. On the surface that might seem like a legitimate and sincere petition.  The problem with it for me is that it removes the onus and the blame from the roles I have played in aiding and abetting racism and places the burden of resolution on God and not on me. We are asking God to do something that he already mandated as our responsibility in his Word.  It is not for God to send reconciliation-he already did that when he gave up his Son for our restoration. Consider the often quoted passages, “love your neighbor as yourself”, “love others as Christ loved the church”, “do unto others as you would have them do to you”, “there is neither Greek or Jew, slave or free…”, God is not a respecter of persons”, and on and on.  But for many these have become lifeless words suitable for framing and hanging on a wall in our offices or our homes or a cleverly designed tattoo or piece of jewelry and little more. We have removed their powers by not applying them to our hearts.  They have become as meaningless as a Facebook meme.

We gather each Sunday in the safety and comfort of our local churches and we sing songs like Love Lifted Me or Make Me an Instrument and we each let our lights shine so brightly among our fellow parishioners that it is blinding. We quote from Matthew chapter five that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a city on a hill and we sing and we dance in emotional responses and displays of insincere agreement, high-fiving each other and anointing each other with blessings of favor and prosperity and brotherly love. But as soon as the service ends and we exit through the church doors the slightest breeze of disagreement or trouble immediately snuffs out our light.  The light we are to carry into the world, the light of love and peace and forbearance and unity, is never seen in our schools, our places of work or our communities, because the light doesn’t even remain lit until we reach our homes. Without this light we are attracted to other source of artificial light that skews our thinking and our responses. Without this light we find ways to justify injustices.  We wax indifferent to the loss of life. We as white people respond to misconduct by painting victims as having lengthy records and being less than perfect and somehow deserving of their fate. We are quick to deflect complaints by quoting black on black crime rates.  We are hardened to suggest things would be different if there were more engaged black fathers. We diminish the loss of a young life by pointing out the number of black abortions as if one carries more weight or dismisses the legitimacy of street crime. We as a white people, and specifically as white Christians have lost our ability to be empathetic to the plight of our black brothers and sisters who deal with everyday life on terms none of us could possibly understand. I’m guilty. My heart is broken.

I’m guilty because I haven’t been an active advocate of peace and unity. I’ve simply prayed for peace in the solitude of my prayer closet. I haven’t gotten my hands dirty in the fight. I’m guilty because I approach the debate but become easily distracted or offended when my black brothers try to lay some honesty on me that I receive as a personal attack, so I take my ball and go home to where I’m safe. I’m guilty because the actions I try to take in confronting social injustices I do so in the relative safety behind a computer. I’m guilty because I sing on stage or play with our Worship team but quickly lose my religion on the freeways of Las Vegas.  My light is extinguished by the first driver who cuts me off in traffic. I feel the words of the Apostle Paul. what a wretched man I am.

We have to be better than this-protests, marches, movements, boycotts and yes, even prayer alone have not proven effective in providing healing to the festering wounds and visible scars of evil and hatred that has plagued us since the beginning of our country. But what do we as a people do?  I heard some well intentioned commentators speak about finding common ground between blacks and whites so we can build on something. But at the core level, that notion in itself is divisive. Common ground? The fact is there is very little uncommon about us. If I need a new heart I can receive one from a blood typed black brother. If they need a kidney they wouldn’t want one of mine, but any white man with healthy kidneys could just as easily be their donor.  We are not from different planets that we have to search for commonality in order to progress past prejudices. We are created in the image of God, unique but the same, individual but bonded as one bride to Christ.  We have much in common and any suggestion otherwise only exasperates the issue.

How can I as a white man be a conduit of real and lasting change and reconciliation to my black brothers?  I can only offer my humble thoughts.  This has to begin first and foremost with taking an honest personal inventory of each of our lives to see if through deliberate action or through inaction, or worse, gross negligence we have contributed to the cancerous racial tensions in our communities. We have to pray that God will not change our country but our individual hearts, to remove the blinders that keep us from seeing the reality of the situation, to get beyond our standard white defenses. Once God through his spirit has opened our eyes and empowered us with resolve, we then have to take it to the streets. We have to come to the table of peace, blacks and whites alike and deliberate and reason together a solution.  For me as a white man, this means I have to become vulnerable, remorseful, to drop my guard and to leave my bullet proof vest at the door.  I have to be willing to sit and endure the valid complaints and everyday challenges young black men face through a designed social system without feeling offended, without firing back with the latest crime statistics or meaningless arguments of justification.  I have to, perhaps for the first time in y life, really listen to the complaints being lodged without retort.  Only by honestly identifying the ugliness of the issue and the centuries old evil schemes we have fallen for in further perpetrating injustices in our world can we develop the appropriate treatment and response. You can’t vaccinate against a disease until you have properly identified it so the correct vaccines can be administered. The vaccine for hate is love.  The vaccine for bias is understanding. The vaccine for social injustice is acknowledgement. And our black brothers, although they may feel it useless because they have been at the table of peace before, have to come back one more time and engage us in dialogue.  These efforts should be instituted in our local church assemblies first, but not limited to the office of the local clergy. I am the light of the world-you are the light of the world. When light is introduced into darkness, the darkness fades.

I’m genuinely fearful for the world we are leaving behind to our children and our grandchildren if we don’t take action once and for all to fight the dark forces at work to cause our destruction.  I want better than that for them.  I want a world where a white man can see a black woman and without a second thought say to himself “dayum, what a fine looking woman. Gots to meet her!”. I want to live in a world where a black woman can view a white man and think to herself ” he looks like marriage material, like someone who would treat me like a queen”. I want to live in a world where a white son can bring home his black girlfriend  and have his parents say ” if our son loves you, that’s good enough for us. Sit down and have some quiche”. I want to live in a world where a black girl is not reluctant to introduce her white boyfriend to her parents and to hear her parents say “welcome into our home young man. Have some chicken and waffles”. I want to live in a society where police officers are well trained and not fearful for their lives simply by doing their job, so they can go home at the end of their shift. I want to see a society where young black men are not afraid of being shot over minor traffic violations. I want to live in a society where hateful people are prosecuted for crimes against their brothers, and where there exist no blue code but a human code.  I want to see a world where racism is not instilled into us by a government dependent on minority voter support so they can live a lifestyle their constituents can never realize. And I want to live in a world where our lights shine brightly beyond the four walls of our churches, where we are not content because we have a black or white friend or two. I want to live in a world where my black brothers are not tired of the same shit different day lives they lead, and a world where whites are not despised because of our negligent and historic approach to the disease of racism. I don’t know if I can make a difference but I sincerely want to try this time. This is the confession of but one white man, a confession that is bound to cost me a few friends but one I feel is worth the risk if I am to ever be the good Samaritan I am called to be outside of my local church.

Dear Father of us all, place in me forever the burden of confronting my fears, my biases and my inaction so that I can have a positive impact on the world around me. Bring me to tears over the things that break your heart and help me God not to hide behind the veil of my faith in combatting evil but rather spur me to greater works in being instrumental in ushering in a movement of change and peace in my community until that day when peoples of every tribe and every tongue will bow at your throne to worship in unity the creator and lover of us all.

Thou Shalt Love thy Neighbor,,,Unless

black-white-love-pretty-quotes-quote-Favim.com-599971

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I expect too much. Maybe I’m too idealistic, or as my black brothers have often implied, I just don’t get it because I’m white. So I went to the local Christian bookstore to buy the White Bible.  Couldn’t find it-maybe they were just out of stock,  So I looked instead for the Black Bible. Same thing. I asked the clerk to check stock for me and she laughed at me. “I’ve never heard of the Black or White Bible”, she exclaimed. “Why would you believe there was such a thing”, she asked. “There has to be”, I replied. “We aren’t all reading the same thing”.

My heart aches over the rhetoric of hatred being spewed on both sides of the recent Ferguson shooting. I’m not shocked by the violence of those who don’t live a lifestyle of brotherly love.  Hell, cities burn when a major Sports Championship is won. What saddens me most is how some of the religious leaders have, in lieu of taking a stand against hate and reminding their congregations of the words of Christ, turned their pulpits into platforms that have only served to widen the barriers between races. Love thy neighbor, unless they are a cop, unless they have a different skin color, unless they have more money or drive a nicer car or attend the wrong church or have the wrong political sign in their yard. I’m amazed at the disclaimers we have added to God’s word because surely He must have accidentally left them out.  In many of my dialogues with my black Christian brothers, many of whom are clergy, I have been relegated to an unsympathetic and out of touch white man who couldn’t possibly understand discrimination or challenges because of the color of my skin.  There will always exist an element of racism and hatred because of sin-I can’t deny the ugly existence of racism and I would never intentionally dismiss as foolish the incidents made known to us that display blatant racist behavior. But to dismiss my concerns because I’m too white to understand is by very definition, racist. I too have had my share of issues because of the color of my skin.  While I don’t wish to draw comparisons, allow me to share some of my experiences.

I grew up on the west side of Indianapolis during the onset of bussing kids into school districts for racial balance in the 60’s and 70’s. I was always the tallest white boy in the school, so naturally I became a target to the blacks who wanted to show superiority, especially since I was, well close, to their girlfriends. On a specific day it was made known to me that I was going to “get me ass kicked” after school off premises.  I asked a few of my closer friends to have my back but all declined. True to their word I was jumped about 4 blocks from the school by a gang of black schoolmates wielding bricks, masonry blocks and belts. When the police arrived I was put into the back of the squad car because I appeared to be the aggressor.  I also took the blunt of the punishment by the school because an example of “fairness” to the entire community needed to be displayed.

In High School I was the starting center on our basketball team and third leading scorer. I lived and breathed basketball.  In my Junior year I was cut from the squad and replaced by a black student who couldn’t dribble out the side of his mouth or hit one free throw out of 20 attempts, because the Catholic school needed to show some “diversity” on the squad and to the teams we played on our schedule. I was devastated and to this day remember the feelings of being cut to make room for someone else because of skin color.

In my early adult years I had decided to pursue my dream of becoming a police officer in Indy.  The testing process was hard but I studied and passed the test with flying colors, only to be informed I wasn’t going to be accepted.  Chin up, I took the test again when open hiring was announced. Same scores, same results.  I went through this process one more time only to be told by the recruiting officer that I was wasting my time. Affirmative Action required that racial quotas be established in law enforcement departments and that I, being white, did not stand a chance of being hired as a result. Once again I was discriminated against due to my skin color-sounds familiar.

Upon moving to Las Vegas with my young family we rented an apartment on what turned out to be the wrong side of the city. We always tried to look out for our three sons.  I was informed that there was a drug pusher working the apartments giving out free drugs to kids and teens.  One day I spotted them, just feet from our oldest son and I gave chase to them, a truck load of blacks who in turn fired back at me with loaded handguns. Luckily for me their aim was much like that of many metro officers-they missed.

Most recently as a business owner in Las Vegas dealing with the largest gaming corporations in the world I was once again discriminated against in bidding on large contracts.  Seems just like I experienced in the 80’s, racial diversity needed to be displayed in vendor selection, and even though I had the best products, the best pricing and established relationships, my company was overlooked in favor of minority owned companies. I was too white.

Are these fair comparisons-maybe, maybe not.  What is common is that I was targeted because of the color of my skin and have legitimate reasons to be biased because of that discrimination.  The difference is that I have not let these incidents define me or my character.  Am I just a good Christian-hardly.  Most who know me will say I’m a gentle giant but my wife will tell you I’m an angry and impatient man with many issues. But I can’t escape my knowledge of the things written in scripture that deal with love, hate and true faith. Regardless of your individual life experiences, the Word of God is very straight forward and transparently clear when it comes to love and forgiveness:

1 John 4:20 ESV 

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 3:15 ESV 

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

Leviticus 19:17 ESV 

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

John 13:34-35 ESV 

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

1 John 2:9 ESV 

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness

 

“But Joe, you don’t know what we’ve been through.  You can’t understand how I feel and how I’ve been wronged”.  Well maybe you are right.  All I can do is defer to Scriptures regarding forgiveness.

 

Ephesians 4:32 ESV 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Mark 11:25 ESV 

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

Matthew 6:15 ESV 

But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 18:21-22 ESV 

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Luke 6:27 ESV 

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

Colossians 3:13 ESV 

Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Luke 6:27-36 ESV 

“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

 

Maybe my friends are right about me.  Perhaps I’m too naive in my beliefs that Christians should be the torch bearers that heal racism instead of the fuel that keeps the flames of racism burning bright. Maybe the deep seed of prejudice is just too much for the common man to overcome, even in Christ. And most assuredly there is too much water under the bridge of racism to believe that somehow some way Christians can begin to live in a Kingdom fashion while still inhabitants of earth. But of all the words that have been used to describe me, stubborn stands out.  I will continue to hope for better, pray for better, live for better and speak up for better while it is within me to do so. None of us can play God, but none of us can deny God’s words or His commands because our life experiences justify our disobedience. Christianity isn’t a black or white man’s religion, but God’s word is clearly Black and White. Peace.

 

Racial Harmony in a World Out of Tune

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble-l Peter 3:8

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Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony
Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?

These are the lyrics to a song written and performed by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder many years ago.  Black and white keys on a keyboard being played together to create amazing sounds and beautiful music not possible if any of the keys were missing.  Sounds like a simplistic approach to the races living together in love, even naive given the recent events making news headlines.  Is racial harmony attainable in our society or are there powers at work to keep us at odds with each other, trapped in the sins of our past?  I wish I knew the answer.

Let us not beat around the bush.  Two weeks ago in Ferguson, MO a black and unarmed youth was shot and killed by a white police officer during an arrest.  While we are still waiting for the facts to come out, we know from the autopsy report that the youth was shot six times resulting in his death.  Not long before that a white officer applied a rear choke hold to a black man, who stated several times that he couldn’t breathe.  The man died of asphyxiation. And in a case in Texas a man with his hands cuffed behind him allegedly shot and killed himself in the chest while in the back seat of a patrol car.  I am in now way attempting to jump on the “white police are looking for black men to shoot” band wagon message being marketed as common practice.  Being a graduate of the local citizens police academy I have much respect for the police department at large who risk their lives everyday and have the right to return to their families at the end of their shifts.  But when these incidents happen, as isolated or exploited by the media as they might be, they serve to open up old wounds that in all honesty, never healed.  And even those who are siblings in our Lord tend to get caught up in the momentum and the new life breathed into the social demons of hate and bigotry.  It’s a cycle that is like a True Blood vampire-it just won’t die!  How do we love our neighbor and promote peace in ignorance of racial history?

In Luke Jesus tells a parable about the man we refer to as the Good Samaritan;

Jesus answered, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “He who showed mercy on him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Samaritan was not only a hated man by most Jews but he was also of a different race.  The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known as The Way of the Blood due to its history of robberies and murders.  Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife traveled this road when they were in the Holy Land.  I love MLK’s synopsis of the travelers.  The first two upon approaching the man in distress must have thought to themselves, “what will happen to me if I assist this man“, while the Samaritan thought ” what will happen to this man if I don’t assist“.  Jesus had just stated that we should love our neighbors and used this story to show that brotherly love extends beyond the races.

I am a white man.  I was born that way.  Many parts of my character and preferences are more black than white but that’s another blog.  But even I have been criticized by many of my black brothers of  “not understanding” or being to white to get it.  My genuinely good intentions of trying to insert Christian love into the solution and response has been summarily dismissed as a “just get over it” attitude, not my personal stance at all.  I firmly believe that when Christians perceive injustices they have not only a right but an obligation to acknowledge and address them, just not in the same way as the hate mongers given our national spotlights do.  In the widely accepted “Love Chapter”, l Corinthians,  it is stated “…love barely notices when it is wronged“.  I know how tall an order that is to the parents of a youth unjustly shot by an officer, or another the victim of a terrible rape or murder.  The indignation that is the human spirit trumps the divine nature of Christ that should be indwelling us at all times.  Our response is always “yes, but”.  Loving our neighbors and those who persecute us is not turning a blind eye, as I have been accused of, but rising above the existence of hate.  Even scripture tells us that if we only love those who love us, how are we different than the world.  Applying Christian love in situations of hate does not mean we don’t peacefully protest, it does not keep us from seeking justice for all, and it does not render us inactive in seeking resolutions to social ills.  However it does compel us to approach these issues with the mind of Christ as His disciples and as a voice of reason and compassion, seeking restoration, not chronicling all history’s sins against mankind and pouring salt in the wounds.

It is high time that the leaders in the church, black and white, come together and raise their voices in harmony against injustice at every level and set the example on a national platform visible to all, tackle the tough and obvious questions, identify the ugly beast and raise the standard of peace as Christian brothers and sisters who are not of this world, and by doing so draw attention to the ultimate peace keeper, Jesus Christ.   I am convinced with all my heart that there is an attainable solution to this once all parties agree to come together, “forgetting what is past and pressing on” to acquire harmony and balance in our earthly domain as we prepare for and wait in eager anticipation of our Heavenly kingdom and reward.  At the throne of judgment there will be sheep and goats.  I wonder if there will also be peacekeepers and and war mongers.  Label me as you will-I will use what little influence I have for peace and pray every day that I will see it manifested in my world.