Friday, December 6, 2019

Race and Fear

I have read a lot of books about race, written by honest people earnestly trying to understand and to explain the racial tensions in America and the world. Ever since I wrote one, people have frequently recommended others to me. Until now I have read a lot of them. But I have hit the wall on them. They are becoming more alike.

The most recent two or three have used the method of redefining a common term and then building their whole book on their redefinition. I blogged about that a few weeks ago. I really don’t like that method of argument. It seems unfair.

I don’t like the “all people are racist” approach either. Maybe we are, but it is to strikingly different degrees. And to argue that we are all alike, bringing the white supremacist into the camp with the modern progressive, just muddies the issues.

But here is why I am writing about it today. In one of my more recent conversations on the topic I had an epiphany that I want to share with you. Maybe you have known this for a long time, but realizing it answered a lot of questions for me. The root of all racism is fear.
Black people are understandably afraid of White people, especially cops. White people have long been afraid of Black people, hence the chains and the brutal treatment. White people are afraid of immigrants and refugees. That fear drives us not to want to mix. We didn’t want “our” kids going to school with “those kids.” The Black families are afraid of how their children will be treated and the White families are afraid of the Black culture. “Those” people will take “our” jobs. The beat goes on.

If we are going to solve the race issues, brother and sister, we must get past the fear. And the only cure for fear is knowledge. If you are afraid of roller coasters or Ferris wheels, you are going to have to ride some roller coasters and Ferris wheels to get over it. If you are afraid of airplanes, you will have to get in an airplane to find the cure.

If you are afraid of a Black neighborhood, you must spend some time in one to get past it. And if you have a deep-seated fear of people of a different color, you need to spend some time with a few. We must become friends. Not passing acquaintances, real friends. You have to spend enough time with someone of a different race that you become comfortable enough to discuss your fears and for them to tell you about theirs. It will be hard work.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Stand in the Gap

Twenty-two years ago, Promise Keepers went to D.C. It was an impressive sight. Promise Keepers had been holding rallies all over the country, mostly in football stadiums. They would sing and pray and listen to speakers all day. I stayed away. 

First of all, sitting in a stadium seat all day did not appeal to me. I believed then and pretty much do now that one sermon a week is plenty for me. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate the sermon I hear on Sunday morning, but sitting still is not one of my strengths. In fact, the only spanking I remember ever getting was for moving around in church. The Union Avenue church was renovating, and they had stored lumber under the balcony seats. My legs were just the right length to rest on the lumber, but every time I wiggled it rattled the planks. I didn’t do it on purpose, I promise.

And even though I’ve written four books aimed at improving the church, I don’t read spiritual development books. I shiver a little every time someone mentions the name of one of the prolific writers in that genre. Several guys have tried to get me to sign up for Bible Study Fellowship (BSF), but my stock answer is “no thanks.” Charlene is a group leader for BSF and it is great. She has my utmost support. It’s just not for me.

But there was something different about “Stand in the Gap”, the rally in D.C. I started hearing about it months ahead of time and it caught my attention. Maybe it was as simple as the fact that we weren’t going to be sitting in football stands, we would be standing on the mall, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King made his “I Have a Dream” speech.

There was something also about the nature of the event. It wasn’t a protest. We weren’t demanding anything of anyone. We were making a promise. The promise we made was inspired by a passage in Ezekiel 22:
The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.
We made a promise that day to stand in the gap. I wonder where those guys are now. That day we stretched from the Capitol to the Washington Monument – more than a mile. I hope they have not joined the oppressors in the land. I hope they are still standing in the gap.

I was also attracted to the t-shirt. On the front it said simply “Stand in the Gap.” On the back was a longer passage from 2 Chronicles 7:14,
If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.” [The emphasis is mine.]
We weren’t demanding anything of anyone. We were promising to honor God so that He would heal our land.

I still have the t-shirt. It has long since worn out, but Charlene recently had it and eleven others turned into a quilt that I have over my lap right now as I write. I still try to honor both those promises.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Bloom Where You Are Planted

Marilyn Smith was a little intimidating to me, but was a friend, nevertheless. She was intimidating because she was a professional in charge of a rather large operation in Miami. And Miami was enough bigger than any of the other jurisdictions in the State of Florida, that it might as well have been its own state. In fact, we Tallahassee bureaucrats sometimes referred to it as the State of Miami.
Marilyn had come to the state when Florida took over what had been the county operation of services to “juvenile delinquents” – a term that was still in vogue at the time. So, Marilyn’s familiarity with the Miami courts and the nature of Miami’s “delinquency problem” preceded and was far superior to anything the state capitol, 483 miles north in Tallahassee, had to offer them.
Marilyn’s office was in a converted juvenile detention center – a “lock-up.” And her office itself had previously been a cell. Against the wall at one end of the room was a combination toilet and washbasin – long since deprived of the water required to operate it. Always looking for ways to brighten the day, Marilyn had placed in the basin a small artificial, flowering plant. Above the plant on the wall she had a poster of another such plant with the words “Bloom where you are planted.” And that was what she had done. From that small detention cell, she was running an efficient intake operation for the Miami Juvenile Courts.
That was in the early 70’s. I have thought of that sign often since then, trying to remember to do just that: “Bloom where I am planted.” Too often my mind goes to the bigger picture. When we lived in Haiti, I wanted to fix Haiti. I want to fix the Black/White problem in the states. I want to fix the church and four of my books have been aimed at doing just that. I want to fix the mistreatment of refugees, and especially of refugee children in this country. But to paraphrase my brother, Cecil, God doesn’t call on us to change the world. That’s his job. He calls on us to help whoever he places in out path today and to hold up a light in the darkness. Our friend Bob Duvall used to pray every night that the next day God would lead him to someone he could help and teach him how to help them. Bloom where you are planted.
[Though, if an opportunity comes along to change the world, I wouldn’t pass that up either.]