THE STATE OF THE SCHOOL YEAR (ACCORDING TO THIS OLD MAN)

I am an old guy.  Not super old.  Not the oldest.  But get me out on the basketball court, and see what I mean real quick.  It is the fastest thing I do – show how old I am!

I don’t know everything, though you are not likely to guess that reading here.  (Insert laughs…)

However, I have been around some.  I have seen many things, heard many things, and many things were handed down to me.  Things I find pertinent to our discussion of whether or not to send kids back to school.  Things I don’t hear others factoring in to the debates.

First off: I sense that there are passions here in this issue driven by political interests which take precedence over other (more important) values and interests, and then which blur the issue.  I think that.  Could be wrong.  Maybe you have perfect sober-minded judgment on it, and I don’t.  That is possible, but the observations I am about to bring up, are not, to my knowledge, being factored into the discussion.

Second off:  I wish we had just half the interest, expense, energy, and focus on beating back and preventing this virus as we did in building a wall to keep out illegal immigrants.  I wish we had taken more seriously the measures to stop school shootings two decades ago, and I notice that politics blur that issue too, and that we send our kids into high stakes, life-n-death scenarios every day.

So, on the one hand, why not put your kids up on the altar and sacrifice them for a few lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic?  What’s the fuss???  Do I speak up so that I can shore up support for my candidate?

No.  I don’t have a candidate.  So, that ain’t it.

If I did, it would be the wear-a-mask;defund-the-wall candidate.  But if you think that makes me a Biden guy, think again.  I am not enthusiast for democrats, liberals, and certainly not the people who seem to rise to the ballot.

No.  I would vote or Jesus, if Jesus were on the ballot.  But he is not.  And that is not how you put him in charge anyway.

So what does this old guy, with this kind of political interest (or lack thereof) have to say about education and schools this fall?

(So glad you asked.  If you are still reading this, please collect five brownie points!  In fact, take them all.  No one else is reading here.  No point letting them go to waste.)

I hear “in the media” the constant question posed to public health experts, “Is it safe to send kids back to school this fall?” or “What needs to be done to prepare for kids back in school this fall?” or some variation on that idea.  And I keep hearing these experts outline LIKE POLITICIANS a long winded response which always tends to feature numerous cautions and precautions, but that never quite comes out to say, “no” or “We can’t safely do it.”  It sounds to me like they are afraid to state the obvious, and/or they are trying to dodge the question.

We know, and all the arguments against this are superfluous, ridiculous, or have basis in lesser concerns than life and limb, that this virus is spread through the air (mostly) between people in enclosed spaces and that the bigger the group, the more likely the spread.  We know that to mitigate this, since it is highly unlikely and relatively impossible to eliminate the risk, that we must avoid such scenarios as much as possible, wear masks as much as possible, and wash our hands almost constantly.

School, especially for little kids and young people, is almost completely antithetical for such precautions.  The younger the kid, the less likely they are to even understand; the older the kid, the more likely they are to throw caution to the wind.

The proponents of opening schools this fall all talk about how we want to avoid having a “lost generation.”  That is certainly a terrible thing, alright.  I don’t want to lose a generation either.  But I think the wrong side of this debate is using that phraseology.  The only way another semester or even two is going to create a “lost generation” is if they all die, and the reopening of schools this year is where that risk is found, not in closing them.

Keeping kids out of school poses other problems.  Those problems are real, and they have lasting consequences.  I will not deny that.  But those consequences are not the added risk of life-n-death to our children and young people and the spread of pandemic.  No.  Just the opposite.  And right now this virus is the big deal, not the other problems, even if they are related.

When I was a kid, it was common – COMMON – for parents to hold their kid back a year in school, not for academic concerns, but for athletic concerns.  I knew a lot – A LOT – of kids who repeated the fifth or sixth grades so they would be a little bigger, stronger, and more prepared to play football in Jr. and Sr. high school.  And there were some who repeated a year for academic reasons too.

I am not saying there were just thousands upon thousands, but definitely dozens upon dozens!  Maybe more.  And no one was calling foul on it.  And some of the biggest football heroes in our communities today spent two years in a grade just for those glory days.

My grandparents, and especially their parents, faced issues of whether to complete high school at all.  The farm had need of their hard work!  This is the whole reason we have summers off in our system today!  The kids were not all available to this new fangled thing we called school.  Certainly not year round!

I am living proof, by the way, that after a mediocre academic performance in high school, and taking a few years off between my freshman year in college and my sophomore year (to grow up and mature as a young adult) that such a mediocre student can go on to graduate at the top of his class with “highest honors” in college.

IF we hold our kids back on a mass scale for just one or two semesters, the academic fall out is just mythical.  We have a much more unique circumstance today with distance learning to help our kids maintain a foothold on their academic path.  I understand that such is inferior to in-person learning.  I agree with that.  I have chafed at the idea that you can get a whole degree on-line a long time before this pandemic came along!  And I wonder where all those proponents went just now!  But I feel sure, we can maintain, and in some subjects still advance, with the distance learning.

I know that every single kid who takes one semester or even year off to learn and maintain through distance learning will not thereby become infected by the virus or get shot at school!  The life and limb of our kids is worth more than our politics!  I think they want to live, and they need parents and wise ones to guide them in it.  Putting the “in person” learning on hold for a few months does not make a “lost generation.”  That is a hoax.

Yes, I agree there are problems that develop from it, but at least those problems are not dead kids and exploding spread of virus.  And right now, for this year, that is our top issue.

IF, we took this virus more seriously, we could have nipped it in the bud.  It only takes two – three weeks of concerted effort to all but eliminate it from the world.  But as long as we don’t have that, THEN we will have all those other problems with the economy and everything else, AND we will have dead kids, and wider spread.  All that for want of concerted effort.

The children of Israel could have left Egypt and headed straight to the Promised Land, if they had not been so obstinate.  In just a few days/weeks they could have fulfilled their destiny if only they had become of one mind, one heart, and one body of people trusting YHWH.  But they did not, and that became forty years of wandering.

I think any idiot holding indoor rallies should not have any say in putting my kids in an indoor “learning” environment with a whole lot of other people.  I don’t trust my kids to such lunacy.  I spend a lot of time, energy, and money making wise choice for them, and sending them into that fray… well, maybe they have work on the farm to do this year… Huh?

Let’s talk about next year.  That makes sense to me.

Not this.

THE MIRROR, THE LIPSTICK, AND THE JANITOR FROM HELL

So we have all these people refusing to wear face coverings and thus spreading the disease.  No matter how nice you ask, no matter how well you reason, no matter how authoritative you speak, they still resist claiming personal rights, fear-mongering hoax, exercising freedom, and even questioning science.  This is more than stupidity, more than evil, and more than crazy.  It is obstinate through and through.

I think about all the arguments I have heard and offered.  All the inconsistencies and contortions it takes to justify this obstinance is mind blowing.

We have theologians claiming this scars the image of God.  Well, it does, actually.  And so does sin.  So does harming your neighbor.  I keep saying we will know you are Jesus disciples by the LOVE you show one another – the self denying love of wearing a mask during the pandemic.

I keep thinking about the freedom lovers claiming this infringes our rights and freedoms.  And I wonder where this argument was during the Blitzkrieg when Allies, the freedom fighters in that conflict, all turned off their lights at night so the bombers could not see where to drop the bombs.  Certainly we had the right to turn on our lights, but we all got on the same page to defeat a common enemy, and when the conflict was over, we all went back to using our lights as we liked.

I think of those claiming this is all fear mongering media hype, and I wonder what channel you got that idea from.  This is the information age, by the way.  And even before the information age, information got around.  Maybe not as fast, and maybe not always as fact checked, but it got around plenty, and there really is no stopping it.  However ill-informed you think the message is, the only way the facts of so many lives being threatened is if you are just a brain in a vat.  I have TRUST in my fellow man, certainly in my wife who is a frontline nurse and is testing babies and burying them at her work everyday.  Also the doctors I go to church with… I trust them too, and there is unanimous shared opinion that the precautions are necessary there too.

I think of those worried about the economy, and I think do we kowtow to Mammon?  Look, I am also concerned about the economy.  I notice, on the one hand, that our political system dragged its heels in response to pandemic right up until the point when ignoring it tanked the stock market!  Wow!  Ignoring it and wishing it away is not good for the economy!  On the other hand, AS A CHRISTIAN, I see an opportunity for our economy to become more of a sharing of wealth rather than a fight for it.  How about our social/economic engineers go to work on that?

I think about all the confusion our society already deals with due to our official “separation of church and state” – thank you Thomas Jefferson!  That notion was only born after the terrible separation of science and religion before it.  Now we have a separation of science and politics, and that kind of willful stupidity is just weird.

All of this has me thinking of murder-suicides.  You know that level of angst over your ex-life (yeah, I said “life” not wife, but there is a strong overlap there… anyway that angst) where your reach the point you say, “If I can’t have her, no one can” – so you kill her and yourself in anger?  Yeah, that phenom.  You know it?  Of course you do.

I think we have something of that same spirit here.

Legion was easy to cast out.  Jesus steps off the boat and this demon comes falling down pleading for mercy at the mere sight of Jesus.  But the “son of the father” (bar Abbas) is one the disciples cannot cast out.

This kind only comes out through prayer.

All the motorcycle helmets, seatbelts, hardhats, steel-toe boots, airbags, fire extinguishers, home-security alarms, passwords, speed limits, and safety nets must be really chapping some hides!  Did you enter a password on your computer before you got on line to tell the world not to wear a mask???

All of this has me wishing for the janitor.  You know the one.  I don’t even need to remind you.  It’s one of those stories (whether based in historical fact or not) which has become a modern parable, an urban legend, like the lady who gave her cat a bath and dried it in the microwave oven (I haven’t heard that one since I was a kid in the 1980s), or the preacher who disguised himself as a homeless bum and tricked his own church only to discover they didn’t care for bums.  This story is the one about the little girls in the fourth grade who start putting lipstick on in the girls bathroom as school and leaving their kiss marks on the mirror.  After so much reasoning and demanding failed to change their behavior, the janitor calls them all in to watch him use a mop and toilet water to clean the mirror off!

I wonder if maybe all our doctors and nurses should skip wearing masks at work.  It would be deadly, of course, and they know it first hand better than the rest of us, but they could sure do it.  Maybe even the surgeon could eat spaghetti while performing open heart surgery!  After a couple of weeks, when all the doctors and nurses are either dead or too sick to work, do you think the anti-maskers will change?

No.

I don’t.

They are beyond reason.

This kind only comes out with prayer.

Let us pray.

THANX GOVERNOR ABBOTT, THANX TEXAS

Today I want to thank our governor for finally compelling Texans to wear a mask.  The resistance to this very simple, yet profoundly beneficial, measure has been deadly and it’s address looooooong overdue.

When I was a kid, Texans (and really Americans in general) were only too happy to look out for one another.  To care about our neighbors.  We waved at each other (and at strangers) as we drove down the highway.  We stopped and got out of the car as a funeral procession passed.  We didn’t lock our doors when we left home or even for the night, and we welcomed guests we didn’t even know.

And it used to be called “Texas Friendly.”

Now you have to impose a fine to get the simplest charity out of people.  That is shocking.  But this is where we are at.

Wow!

You know?  I never have been in favor of murder/suicide.  And I would always seek to talk such a person down.  But if they at least would do the suicide first, then maybe at least half or more of the tragedy could be averted… huh?

And these days a cough can be deadly.

I have friends and family that I love and respect who just think it is the end of the world to put on a mask.  They think our world is coming to some end.  But every doctor and nurse I know have a unanimous opinion that this simple measure saves lives!

I guess we have a $200 fine now to consider in the mix.  If you won’t do it for the love of neighbor as your self, then do it for Mammon, because we have a murder/suicide tax now to pay if you don’t.

So, thanx TEXAS!  Thanx Gov. Abbott.  Thanx for putting human life above your re-election plans.  It means a lot to me.  And I am really sad it takes governmental muscle to get us here, but I sure hope to benefit from it.

Thanx.

And God bless Texas!

MY APOLOGIES

I live a topsy turvy life at a topsy turvy time in a topsy turvy world it seems.  I am a conservative, white, man.  And while I am not compelled to change that description of myself, nor the deep values those descriptive words represent (on a good day), I sense, nonetheless, that my kind have caused much heartache and damage in the world, that I have benefited from the behaviors and attitudes that caused so much heartache and damage, and that I have been, on occasion, and can still be, on occasion, insensitive to all of that, and that at some points in my life, I too have actually been part of the problem.

I was born in the late sixties.  It was a time of upheaval then.  Many changes came about; many institutions, norms, laws, and mores came under question.  I have never lived in a time or place where such was not the case, but the world of the fifties had seemed so monolithically ordered (largely due to the bomb) and there was a feeling that our world order was right and settled for the most part.  This gave me ideas, notions, and framework to imagine what it means to be an American, to be white, and to be male to which I was expected to aspire.

I remember when John Wayne was the epitome of that aspiration.  For me, however, that became Clint Eastwood.  The mythical Marlboro Man always hovered near these figures as well.

When I was born, my dad was not allowed in the delivery room.  He waited alone in the waiting room among ashtrays and strangers for word about my birth.  That is so foreign today, that I almost feel lost just thinking about it.

I do not mean to make excuses for myself and my kind.  But there are reasons for what shaped me/us, and they should be addressed.  Between the bomb, the cultural icons, and the norms, I was born into a world the expected me to put my hand on the mantle of power and to have no soul when I did it.

I remember the scene from The High Plains Drifter where the woman gets raped by the hero, but she almost literally “asked for it.”  Such a scene in a movie wouldn’t fly today.  I remember when “taking the Lord’s Name in vain” was prohibited on TV, but you might here “the N-word” on the nightly news or on comedy shows.  And I remember going to church three times a week (at a minimum) where I learned to be humble before God (in some mythical, compartmentalized fashion).

As stark as those things sound, as horrible as they seem, they were not, in fact, as monolithic and settled as they appeared.  All of that, and more, was actually in flux.  “Right” was always a moving target.

As I grew to be a man, I gave up my TV hero “Jim West” (who later became a black cowboy in the feature film version), and learned words like “egalitarian” and sought to apply them to my marriage, to my work place, even to my church.  And as my compartmentalized spiritual life progressed, I found it really cool when I learned Slash, of Gun’s -n- Roses, was a mixed race child in a hard rock/metal band.  I remember when I took it as a compliment one night at a party as a group of young people told me I looked like him.

But as I took fulltime work, went to college, got married and settled down, I found myself clinging more and more to the conservative lifestyle and ideals.  I am not for abortion.  I am against it.  I stand behind law enforcement, and have worked among their ranks.  I think hard work and saving for the future is wise and good and noble.  I believe in personal responsibility.  I don’t want the TV flooded with content my kids should not be watching.  I don’t play G-n-R music for my little kids to listen to, even though I have fond memories of it.

But as I soak in the arguments on talk radio, on certain TV programs, and blogs and so forth, I find the label “conservative” to be a moving target too.  There is still a sense of conservatism there, but it is no longer my grandpa’s conservatism.  It is meaner, more aggressive, and full of contempt.  It is not on target with Jesus, and those who champion Jesus in the field of conservative politics have moved so far down the spectrum and in most cases so far away from Jesus, that I realize now how futile politics are in the Kingdom of God, and I no longer vote.

How can you love your neighbor as yourself while voting along unfair gerrymandered lines?  Is that holding the interests of others as more important than your own?  Is that having the mind of Christ?  (Phil. 2 anyone???)

How can I watch a video of Rodney King getting beat by a group of police officers on the evening news and still sit down to dinner?

How can I laugh at sexist and racist jokes?

I realize my life is out of kilter – to put it mildly.  I have benefited from this blurring of right and wrong.  Some of it is not so simple, after all, and needs to be critically debated with other voices listened to carefully before I speak.  (I might still be right about some of that, but I need to show I care!)

I am sorry.

I still view myself as conservative,  I am a white man, and that is not going to change in and of itself, but hopefully the actions and attitudes which up to this point have seemed so inherent there will not be found in this conservative, white man.

I care.  And I want to care more effectively than I and my kind have in the past.

God forgive me.

“WEAR YOUR DAMN MASK!”

Mask wearing, a political hot potato for people who would rather blatantly risk infecting their own family, friends, and community than suffer (oh my, the suffering!) this tiny infringement on their freedom (Do they not use seatbelts?) by putting on a mask over their nose and mouth, has just become requested by the Lubbock mayor.  Lubbock, a conservative, Republican – even Trump-enthused town to rival any – has, up until now, largely resisted wearing masks.

Then on tonight’s local news, the mayor is featured saying, “Wear your damn mask!”

Wow!

Well, that little virus we were saying was all blown out of proportion is whipping the ass of our political denial like nobody’s business right now.  The spike in daily new cases is shocking every day.  The stock market is suffering again.

But you know what?

You can’t vote when you’re dead (… unless you are a Democrat).

Hmmm…

Being stupid as a political strategy isn’t working.  Might need to smarten up.

But you know what?

If you just love your neighbor, you will do what’s best for them in season and out.  And if you do that, I don’t really care which way you vote.

Neither does Jesus.

Wounded

Listen to this post. That’s all I have to say just now. Listen.

The Point of Reflection

Wounded

It’s been a couple of weeks now and I’m still working out how I feel. I’m not simply angry, although anger is there. I’m tired too, but that’s not the feeling causing me the most distress. In my last post I wrote that I’m hurt, but even that now feels insufficeint. The news and and social media is exacerbating the problem, but like a train wreck, I can’t turn away. I’m drawn to the discussions, the posts and the news. I’m drawn to it because it’s happening and it’s happening all around me; it’s happening to me. I’m searching for something in it all that I can make sense of. And turning off, or blaming the media, either network or social, makes me feel like the child talking loud chibberish with his fingers in his ears, trying not to hear what he already knows. It’s also disingenuous. It’s escapism. There…

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YOU BE THE JUDGE (Pt. 2 in the My White Life Self Examination series)

Black Lives Matter to me.  Some of them are very dear to me, in fact.  (Not all of my inter-racial experiences are with black people.  In fact the majority, maybe, are not, but this post will deal with my black-n-white experience – one slice of it anyway.)

Today’s vignette we will call, “My Failed Attempt To Be Helpful.”  It is the story of a learning experience, and perhaps there is still more to learn.

 

Background:

 

In as few words as possible (or less) I need to say that over the course of my years growing up, I had relatively little interaction with black people.  My family moved a lot.  We lived mostly in small towns around the western United States, and by far most of those towns had few or no black people in them.  (There were exceptions to this picture, but this was the trend.)

However, black people did become the topic of conversation on numerous occasions among family or friends.  It was clear to me that my parents were not haters, not bigots.  My parents were not actively seeking civil rights for blacks, but I recall from early on that my parents spoke respectfully of blacks.  Despite the rarity, I witnessed my parents relating with blacks at times, and they always showed respect both to those black faces and then later behind their backs too.  They speculated on a few occasions that if either I or my siblings were to grow up and marry a black person, they would be welcomed in our family.

In the First-Do-No-Harm realm, my parents were pretty on-target.

My grandparents though… well, I would not call them haters either, BUT the bigotry was evident nonetheless.  Racial slurs were not common, but sometimes were occasions for another sort of education for my young impressionable mind.   Again, the discussions about black people in my family were rare, but when they occurred (which might not crop up for years in between), my grandparents would use “the N-word,” characterize blacks as “scary” sometimes, and I recall my one grandfather revisiting a favored joke that I did not “get” for many years.

Things changed when I was a young adult.  My parents divorced, and when my dad remarried, I suddenly had a racially mixed step-sister close to my age.  She was half white/half black (presumably… for to my knowledge she did not get a DNA test to determine exactly).  I did not grow up with her, did not live with her, but she and her black husband did come to visit and celebrate Thanxgiving one year with my young wife and I, when our newly married parents also came.  Though we did not share a lot of history, I sensed nothing but good will, friendship, and a desire to make a go of being family together both in myself and in my new siblings.  I recall to this day a handful of stories my step-mother revealed about her experience(s) working for the Civil Rights Movement, being married to a black man (briefly), and raising a child who (for all functional purposes) was black.  None of this was exactly a college lecture, but I gained new insights to be sure.

However, while on that visit, my sister and her mother had taken a brief shopping trip into the city and had come home with a story of having been slighted by the staff at one of the businesses they entered.  Not a crime, per se, but an ugly exchange which had been obviously contemptuous and upsetting.  My family was hurt by it.

This was a learning experience for me.  I had heard of such things before, of course, but now it had happened to “one of us” – so to speak.  I FELT it too.  I knew this kind woman (my new sister) who was a professional, who conducted herself honorably everywhere she went, but now she suffered scorn for NO GOOD REASON.  She was more respectable than me!  But I am white.  But I was getting a personal dose of reality vicariously, for she was one of OUR FAMILY.  It was personal now in a new way.

When my sister and brother-in-law traveled back to their home after that visit across two states, I worried for them.  This too was new for me.

 

Now For The Main Story:

 

About a year later, after my black sister and her husband traveled to my place to celebrate holidays, I was driving along a rural stretch of a highway in West Texas in a small hatchback loaded with my wife, lots of luggage, and our cat.  I, like anyone (I think), feel a sense of vulnerability about getting in a car and driving out of town.  Not a lot of fear, exactly, but I do take precautions purposely.  I check fluids, pressures, and lights on the car; I prepare funding with the bank (in times past this involved using traveler’s checks), I call ahead and make reservations and check in with family and friends periodically about my current location as we move along.  Normally none of these precautions rise to the level of fear, but they are a standard feature of nearly all adventures.

These concerns rarely rise to the level of fear, but if there is car trouble along the way, THEN sometimes it does.  However, on this particular occasion, as I came around a bend in the road, I could plainly see up in the distance a car broke down on the shoulder with the hood up and a black man walking around it.  I immediately thought about my sister and her husband traveling; I immediately thought about how vulnerable that driver (and his passengers) were; I immediately recognized that racial injustice could easily be a major feature of this man’s struggle – an added feature I never had to deal with before.

Suddenly I felt a responsibility to stop and help.

This put me in a new place of vulnerability.  No cell phones (in those days), no safety net.  I told my young bride what I was going to do, to gather her cat in her arms and not let it jump out.  That I would pull over several yards ahead, past the stranded motorist, and if she saw any monkey business to hop over in the driver’s seat and lead foot it to the next town for help.  Meanwhile I would see if I could help.

As I walked back to the stranger and his broke-down car, I saw two white women emerge.  It appeared his car was overheated.  Fortunately, after living in Arizona for several years, I made it my practice to carry a jug of emergency water in the car with me.  I could offer that and see if it would get them rolling again.

I was eager to help.  I could only imagine all the people who would drive past and not stop.  I could only imagine all the people who might slight this man or do him harm because of his race and vulnerability, and I could head all that off.  Hopefully, this would be easy.

I was proud of myself too.  I was facing my fears.  I was sacrificing my well-being and my family.  I was the ONE who stepped up when it counted.  I was part of the change I wanted to see in the world.

I greeted the man.  He seemed nice.  We looked at the car and talked about it a few minutes.  He claimed it had a leak and would need either a tow or a fix before he could drive it.  My gallon of spare water would not be enough.

Hmmm…  That stinx (I thought).

He had an idea.  Could I give him a lift to the next town, help him find a mechanic there, AND bring him back out to the car while the women with him waited there.  He was quite articulate and purposeful with this request.  No guessing what he wanted or meant.  But it felt like a lot more than I was prepared to offer.

I actually entertained the idea as he stated his need.  But of course I had to process it.  I had a wife and a cat in the car.  What if this man has ill intentions?  He could overpower us.  Even if not, I have to face my in-laws with this story later, and they surely will scrutinize me on exactly that thought.

I thought of how we might have to put luggage out of the car to make room for him, and certainly that cat would not take kindly to him (I knew it’s temperament).

But the straw that proved extra heavy to me was the part about getting him to the next town, I did not know how far it was, and stopping there to help him find a mechanic AND then bring him back too.  The timing on all of this was just excessive, it seemed to me.  I had an agenda, an itinerary, to keep.  What if I gave him a ride to the next phone?

Shouldn’t that be enough???

I waffled as we talked about the options, and finally I landed on that idea.  How far is it to the next town?  I asked the man, but neither of us knew.  I pondered aloud how long this would delay me to do all of that and suggested I get him to the next phone and let him take it from there.

Suddenly the man’s demeanor changed.

To be honest, I was not so closed minded that I couldn’t discuss it further, but he became angry as he rebutted me.  He also questioned if a black man would find a mechanic or tow service AND get a ride back out to the broke down car.  I could see his point.  That was all in jeopardy, alright, but now he was fuming with anger as he said this.  I certainly did not have room in my car for that.

I tried to calm him down, but whatever words or phrases I used in that moment did not sit well.  I do not recall this long now what I said, but I am sure it was something LIKE: Let’s just calm down and talk about this.

He did not.

He shouted at me, “What good are you to me then?”

I caved then.  I walked away.  All those extra paces back to my car which I had put between us as a precaution to give my wife a few extra moments to jump in the driver’s seat and speed away if I was ambushed.  But now I endured this man’s painful, shrill questions and laments every step of the way back.  I still hear the refrain burned into my memory more than twenty-five years later.

“What good are you to me then?”

My good deed for the day totally collapsed.

I drove away defeated.  I had not helped at all.  I actually just aggravated the man and his situation instead.  I would have done better to just pass him by at 70 miles an hour!  And no sooner did I get around the next bend in the road and there was a sign informing us we were only ten minutes drive from the next town, a town with a mechanic!  If I had known that two minutes earlier….

I never saw that black man again.  But that exchange stayed with me, and still does, for many years afterward.  Over the years, that stretch of road has proven to be a path I traverse at least a couple times a year.  I always remember that man as I pass by there even now.  I think of my failure.  I wonder about him.

I can only imagine how the man resolved his problem.  Almost certainly, someone proved to be better help than I was, for I never heard any headlines about a black man murdered there.  Thus he found some way off that stretch of highway, though I am sure it was painful and more than a little scary for him.

I had failed.  What should I have done?  What did I owe that man?  Why could he not have been more reasonable with me?  Was I the first to offer help?  Was I the last?

What could I have done differently?  At what point did my responsibility begin and end?  What responsibility did he have toward me?  Are these fair questions???

Over the years since, I have decided that I need to be more purposeful about helping others.  Offering myself to help should be the priority, not just incidental.  I am not saying I will just throw caution to the wind, but I will make these divine appointments the priority over my itinerary.  To the extent my offer of help to others puts my passengers at risk, I will not stop when I have small children or pregnant women in my car.  (Of course cell phones have dramatically changed such scenarios in the years since.)  But I will not pass a stranded motorist if I plainly see children or pregnant women associated with them either.  I will be happy to put my own skin in the game.  I will find a way to get help or give it myself.

But I will not seek the convenient solution.  Jesus sets a different standard.  I should not put my kids lives in jeopardy, but my own is a no brainer.  The Good Samaritan would not only stop to help a man from a dreaded race, but he would take him to the next town AND pay the bill for his recovery.  He would be inconvenienced with both time and money.  He would risk his own life to help.  That is an entirely other priority.

Do I think that black man COULD have treated me better and possibly gotten a better deal out of me?

I like to think so.  But it is easy to armchair quarterback that game after the fact for one thing, and for another, I have come to see that whole worldviews collided out there on that road that day.  His burden went far beyond a broke down car.  He had a lot more at risk than me.  I had a LOT more to offer than I was willing to consider.  And especially given the whole history of slavery, Jim Crow, and racist injustice stretching back more than 400 years (involving this continent), it’s not my place to straighten him out so that he can receive my help.  It is me, assuming I want to be the change I wish to see in the world, who needs to GIVE MORE time, money, and patience to the exchanges I have with strangers who are black.

I feel sure he has a responsibility to receive me graciously, but I cannot convict him for that.  I must leave that to the Holy Spirit, for certainly as a white man, I am not in the position to demand that.  On the other hand, I have a long way to go before I have presented Jesus to him.  If he rejects the LOVE of Jesus, that will be on him, but if I fail to show him Jesus, that is on me, and that puts enough on my plate to worry about without dictating to him his part.

I am working on it.

And this story plays a part in it.

 

Now For YOUR Feedback

 

I want to hear from you.  I would especially appreciate if you identify yourself as black, white, brown or other, and then consider what I did right or wrong, how I might improve this story if I could live it again.  Do you have similar stories?  What do you think?   What do you feel?  I am open to critique here.

Is there more I have yet to learn from this story?  What do you think?

If I can make the world a better place by telling this, and if you can help me with your feedback, then let’s do this!

Thanx

 

 

JUST THINKING/NOT PREACHING

I don’t have clear conclusions on these matters I write about presently, but you may well detect which way I lean.  Nevertheless, I am chewing on a couple items today that I don’t have worked out to my own satisfaction, and you are certainly welcome to jump in and give your thoughts here.

I saw a report THIS MORNING on the political divide regarding the wearing of masks.  I embolden THIS MORNING because of the timing.  The timing is (or initially was) my first order of concern with this issue.  The timing.  Let’s not forget that (at least for me) the timing was the major feature of interest here for me.

Because, you see, the wearing of masks is already a settled matter for me.  I see it as a sign of respect, even LOVE, during this time of pandemic to play my part in this way.  I see it as your part too, though I have long realized there is a political component developing on this, and though I don’t recall now if I wrote a post on that feature of it before, I am sure that political component came up for discussion with me on the blogs – and I think it came up on my blog specifically.  And that was WEEKS AGO.

I am sure it was discussed.  And that means I wasn’t the only one seeing it.  There were others.  We have people who refuse the scientific evidence, refuse to show care for others and thus put us all at added risk, for the sake of their political persuasions.  They want FREEDOM, and see this as a controlling mechanism which interferes with that.

But I and others saw THAT feature weeks ago.  And it only became a news item (at least on the channels I get news through) just today.

On the one hand, that makes me feel rather insightful.  I saw this for what it was BEFORE some media outlet told me to think it.  On the other hand, it seems my news outlet is majoring in olds, not news.  Perhaps they were busy verifying their sources and reports before just shooting off propaganda.

The timing matters to me.

Now, BEFORE I heard this news featured by the professionals in the media, I was already thinking about mask vis-à-vis cigarette smoking.  Cigarettes are still sold and smoked in America today, but the market has all but tanked.  And it was a smoldering battle to get rid of cigarettes over the course of most of my life.

I am not sure when the last ad for cigarettes aired on TV in America, but I am sure they were still quite popular when I was a kid.  Even I was a smoker for a few years.  But I remember my dad hating public space filled with cigarette smoke from the time I was in Kindergarten.  He always complained it gave him a headache, and he was raised by smokers; he would know.

I recall as a kid entering buildings where occasionally you might find a sign that said, “Thank you for NOT smoking.”  Those were actually rare.  I remember when smoking was allowed on airline flights!  I recall waiting rooms in doctors’ offices, hospitals, government agencies, mechanics garages, practically any and everywhere, and the ash trays set out for smokers.  I recall books of matches with advertisements on them for motels and night clubs.  Shoot, BARBER SHOPS!!!  I recall drivers in traffic flicking cigarette butts out of windows frequently.

I recall how eventually we would enter restaurants where the greeter would ask whether we preferred smoking or nonsmoking.  I recall how my dad always noted that the nonsmoking section was beyond the smoking section, requiring that we walk through the smoke to get to the sanctuary.  I recall my other grandmother complaining that the nonsmoking sections were always infiltrated by the smoke from the smoking sections.

When I was a young adult and took up smoking briefly, the constraints were beginning to get a lot more serious.  By that time there was not smoking on airplanes; many (if not most) restaurants prohibited it outright.  The hospital had a smoking area outside and no one smoked inside AT ALL.  And not only that, but I remember a couple of occasions when I with my cigarette in a designated smoking area suffered withering comment from passersby who disapproved.

But I digress.

Let me jump ahead.  I was no longer smoking when I attended college, but I recall a Sociology course I took on Social Deviance and a lecture we heard once on how smoking in our society moved from being so popular to being all but outlawed, and in some places practically that too.  The theory was that once the campaign to limit or end smoking latched on to the message about how “second hand smoke” causes illness or death in nonsmokers who are around smokers, then their right to life and liberty was infringed upon in ways that began to change American minds and attitudes toward cigarettes.  (Well, that and a couple of well-executed law suits.)

This is where my thoughts have gravitated surrounding the issues of masks during a pandemic.  The inconvenience is rather small, actually.  The price too much?  No.  The fashion just that bad?  No.  The irritation just not worth grandma’s life?  No, not that either.

Look it’s a pandemic.  It is not a permanent way of life.  That is a matter for vaccines.

Ohhh…. Yeah… This all has bearing on vaccines too, huh?

And that is ANOTHER issue that has been dividing us up in recent years.  Do you really want some government agency injecting some microscopic substance in your body?  Sounds terrible, no?

Of course it does.

But I was vaccinated all my life, as were all my friends and family for two generations before me, and only recently has there been any complaints.  In fact whole horrible diseases have been all but eradicated by these invasions of my freedoms.  All without complaint until very recently, and those complaints have gone unfounded.

But I must concur, there is a risk in getting vaccinated.  IF some government had bad intentions OR some pharmaceutical company accidentally mixed a bad batch, I could be harmed by the vaccine.  That is true.

Suddenly, I am talking cost/benefit analyses.

But back to today’s report.  Remember that?  Remember how I started all this saying that at first the main issue for me was the TIMING of it?  Yeah, that one.

Well, the report featured some expert the media people drummed up who has been giving this mask wearing divide a lot of thought too.  In his analysis, he likened it to the “no shirt/no shoes… no service” signs at the local café.  He talked about the imposition of those rules on restaurants that have been with us for generations, yet no one ever mounted anything like a successful refutation of them.

Hmmm…

Sounds right to me.  And at first, I thought, actually that just shows we do a LOT of things like this, and have been doing a LOT of things like this for generations.  All the upheaval is something new, something foreign.  But the acceptance of these kinds of things is old, not new at all.  And Americans have not historically worried about losing precious FREEDOM over them.

But…

But then it dawned on me.

Those “no shirt/no shoes…” signs were an innovation too.  I wasn’t around at the time, but I have studied on it a bit.  Before the “no shirt/no shoes” signs, restaurants and other businesses used to have signs that read, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”  (Actually, I have seen that sign posted in a couple of places during my lifetime.)  But the signs that innovation replaced, of an era much regressed today, said things like “Whites Only” or “Colored use the back door” and so forth.

Now talk to me about FREEDOM inhibited.

I wish I could TRUST my fellow Americans to LOVE one another enough to look out for each other’s best interests.  If my smoking puts you at risk, then I should probably either quit or at least do it at home.  If my coughing or speaking/singing loudly puts you at risk, perhaps I should stay at home as much as possible and/or wear a mask when around you as much as possible.  Especially considering that pandemic is not here to stay…

….unless of course half the people in the world insist on not getting vaccinated next.

Just a thought.

Where are the homeless, and the poor wanted? No where I have found!

If the church of Jerusalem as we find in Acts is alive and well anywhere in Lubbock, Texas, I sure have not found it. Scares me to take it this serious, but what else should I expect from church? Narcissism? Uncaring? Unmerciful children of the devil? That MIGHT seem like a wildly outlandish description of the church in Lubbock, but if you were a homeless man kicked out of the church of Lubbock into the freezing cold of night last winter, then this MIGHT be a fair description coming from you. Think about it.

Is it just me, or is the world insane?

Acts 4:32-37 And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul: neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed, was his own; but all things were common into them.

33 And with great power did the apostles give testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord; and great grace was in them all.

34 For neither was there any one needy among them. For as many as were owners of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the price of the things they sold,

35 And laid it down before the feet of the apostles. And distribution was made to every one, according as he had need.

36 And Joseph, who, by the apostles, was surnamed Barnabas, ( which is by interpretation, The son of consolation,) a Levite, a Cyprian born,

37 Having land, sold it, and brought the…

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YOU BE THE JUDGE: MY WHITE LIFE SELF-EXAMINED (pt 1)

Given the powerful, pervasive, and persistent challenge and reflection facing our nation (and the world) in the wake of George Floyd’s death, I feel derelict if I simply ignore it on this blog.  It is not a story about homeless ministry, but no doubt matters of racial injustice and homelessness intersect frequently and persistently too.  Yet unlike the next holiday or news item, I don’t feel that I have some authoritative opinion the blogging world should read about with regard to Floyd’s story.  On the contrary, I am sensing more than ever before that I have more to learn, more to listen to, more to change than I ever realized before.

I do not consider myself a racist, and I never have.  I will defend myself against such a label if I need to, but of course that requires qualifying numerous statements.  I am quite sure that over the course of my life, I have said and done things that were hurtful.  I have laughed at ugly jokes, told ugly jokes, and encouraged this in others – to say the least.  I have been, and am sometimes even now may be, insensitive.  I will own those things for sure.  I will even venture to say that my insensitivity can, on some occasions, go unnoticed by me. which obviously raises questions about just exactly how far the limits go on my self-awareness.

But I also know that I am NOT a hater.

Like so many white people, I am quick to note that I have black, brown, red, and yellow friends and family.  People from these racial/ethnic backgrounds have my sincerest love and affection.  Likewise, I have experienced undue suspicion from law enforcement, come under unnecessary scrutiny – some of which was illegal even.  Not only that, but I have suffered criminal injury at the hands of black, brown, and red people on a few occasions in my life.  Thus, like so many other white people, I have treated all these things as opportunities for deeper insight into racial injustice, and I have felt that they both taught me AND demonstrated my non-racist ways.

But I am sensing now more than ever these are not enough to act automatically as a get-out-of-a racist label card (like a get-out-of-jail-free card (which, and this is ironic, maybe “playing the [white] card” so to speak)).

Still, my wife who is white, can attest (and gladly will too) that I can be insensitive to her despite my profession of love and care, despite my best efforts to learn better, and despite my record where on occasion I did exceptionally well by her.  But that merely parallels such sins regarding race (and questions my culpability with sexism while I am at it).  And I am more clear now than ever that even though I have a few experiences which deepen my empathy and which give me a taste of the experience my black friends and family face, they are not enough to tell the whole story or to give me complete understanding.

The fact is, I have practically no chance whatsoever of experiencing the injustice George Floyd faced, and I therefore go about my daily life not fearing it, not dreading it, not teaching my kids* about the dangers of it, and all that.  I do, on the other hand, go about my life not giving it much thought.

Until now.

Now it is with me everyday.  George Floyd has overwhelmed the headlines on my news feed.  Not to the total exclusion of coronavirus or all the stupid things Donald Trump did yesterday, but to the point where those other things have become after thoughts and footnotes.

This post is the first in, what I hope will be, a series of posts where I lay bare slices of my life which I believe impinge upon racial injustice and inequality.  I will tell stories – vignettes – from my personal experience where I believe I got things right or where I got things wrong (or some of both) and the lessons I learned from them.  Stories where I was victimized or where I hurt someone else.  Stories where I tried to learn, and what I think I learned while trying.

I will ask you, my readers (and I hope I get some black readers particularly, but maybe some brown, red, and other colors too), to help me see things from YOUR perspective.  Let’s talk.  I hope you don’t find me too easy to cave to your challenges, but I also hope you don’t find me closed minded or arrogant.  I want to make MEANINGFUL changes in my personal life and in my personal relationships which I hope will play their parts in the bigger scheme of things as society in general makes some changes.

And I hope there are changes.  I watched the video of Rodney King being beaten when I was a young man.  I was grieved by that waaaay back then.  To see George Floyd die the way he did roughly 30 years later lets me know we have not made the changes we needed to make, the changes I thought would be almost automatic just by the showing of that old video which sparked so much controversy so long ago.  Now people today are saying that change is eminent finally, and I hope it is.  But I believe it requires changes within me too.  It’s not enough to just be shocked and think, “Well, at least I’m not a racist.”  It’s not going to change automatically.  I want to play my part, and perhaps with your help that will even be a prophetic thing.

I pray God show us how to love one another truly, to show it, give it, receive it, and change the world with it.

Your feedback is welcome here.  All of it.  And if my white brothers need to judge me, that is welcome too.  Hit me with all you got.  Let’s get those demons out here in the open, name them, pray them out, work them out, and subdue them finally.

 

* My adopted children are not white.  Though they are too young at this stage, I do expect that in the future, I will have to explain, among the facts of life, that their color may be an avenue for injustice, and that they may well experience injustices their dear old Pops never faces.