Race, Police, Church

screen-shot-2016-10-02-at-10-01-45-pmAn African American man was shot and killed by police in El Cajon on Tuesday. There was a tasering death in Pasadena. A couple of weeks ago there were protests in North Carolina and uproar in Oklahoma. The story isn’t new, but it’s always heartbreaking.

I want to talk about this a little bit the way I think Jesus would talk about it. And I want us all to be able to talk about this in ways that Jesus would talk about it. And sometimes that means not saying what first comes to mind. In fact, most of the time. Most of the time it involves thinking before we speak.

I want to talk about how we love each other in a politicized, polarized, racially divided country.

 

I’m in an interracial marriage. Watching my kids explore the idea of race was strange. Earlier this year, my 9 year old son asked my wife, “Are we Democrats or Republicans?”

And my wife very cleverly answered, “You can be whatever you want to be.”

And he replied, quite seriously, “I think I’m going to be Asian.”10014983_10152432371003623_4737934191991154142_o.jpg

When he was younger, he had to think it through. At one point he said that we, he and I, were White, and Mom was Chinese. And I said, “No, I’m White, Mom’s Chinese, and you’re half,” or, we used the Hawaiian term, “hapa.” But in terms of identity, he has to figure that out.

It never occurred to me that he would have to figure that out.

 

A Black person once asked me, “What’s the experience of being white in America?” And I answered, “What do you mean?” And that was the answer. Growing up Black in America, you have to think about the fact that you’re Black. Growing up White, you don’t have to think about it.

The experience of being White in America is comfortable apathy.

 

I’m tutoring an African-American high school student as she prepares for the SAT and her college applications. And she’s writing an essay about what it was like to be Black in an all white neighborhood. She told me that she would be sent to the principal when she hadn’t done anything, and the principal would explain to her, “Well, you’re intimidating to the other kids.”

She told me, “They would call me articulate, and it didn’t feel like a compliment.”

 

I’m thankful that the demographics of my neighborhood is changing. I don’t want to live in an all-White neighborhood. I don’t want to my kids in an all-White school. I don’t want Real Life to be an all-White church. Know what the most common last name in the Real Life database is? Lopez. My guess is that in about 15 years, Glendora and the surrounding cities will be less than half White. That’s fine with me. I’m learning Korean right now. After that I think I’ll learn Chinese or brush up on my Spanish. Quando in Roma….

 

I have friends at church who are police officers. And I’m thankful for them. And I have a sense for what they’ve risked. One of them I met at Starbucks for the first time a few years ago, and he told me, “If you have to do my funeral, I just want you to know who I was.” Imagine having to think that way.

And I’m so thankful for the police officers who serve and protect us. I presided at a wedding for one of our officers today.

And when a police officer abuses power, I hate

the fact that all police officers are branded with the same image. They do that to pastors too. A pastor in the news has an affair and all of a sudden I can’t tell people what I do for a living for a few months.

They’re like, “What do you do?”

And I’m like, “Fire insurance.”

“Er…no. I work for an international cradle-to-grave non-profit organization that is the world’s leader in child care, elder care, education, hospitals, and grief care.”

“What’s it called?”

“Um…er…church. Are we still cool?”

Most police officers are good people trying to do right, just like you and me, and they suffer stress under pressure all the time, unlike some of us, and very rarely does anyone say thank you.

 

What the world needs from followers of Jesus is thoughtful, loving responses to a tense society.

Please please please don’t be a Christian that puts up flippant, vitriolic posts on Facebook. That is so unhelpful.

I met a guy a few years ago when I presided at his wife’s funeral. He didn’t have a church and he didn’t have a pastor. I was a friend of a friend. We really connected. We liked each other. He actually swung by my office to see me a couple of times. But when I invited him to church, he said, “Nope. I see what these Christians post on Facebook, and they’re the most unloving things I’ve ever seen.”

So listen people. Stop posting on Facebook like you think Jesus can’t read. And stop posting on Facebook like you think your primary audience are people you want to insult or people who already agree with you. Your words should be crafted for people who don’t know Jesus, who probably disagree with you on a lot of things, and who need you to love them anyway.

And just so you’re not worried – I don’t have any one post or person in mind when I say this, in case you’re sitting there going, “I think he means me…I posted yesterday.” If you’re thinking that, I wasn’t considering you specifically when I wrote this…but Jesus might have been.

 

I want to love and respect those who are brought up having to think about their identity because they are not in the majority. I don’t want to be dismissive of experiences I’ve never had. I want to make society safer for people who have never felt safe.

And I don’t want to disrespect police officers. There are corrupt police officers and broken socio-political systems. That’s the consequence of a broken, sinful humanity. Jesus told us to love our enemies, and that includes broken, sinful people of every profession, race, and social circle. But there are also police officers who are decent people trying to do what’s right while being hated for it.

It’s really just not mine to judge. It’s my place to love the way Jesus loved. That’s about it.

The God of Protests

Today's headlines
Today’s headlines

The God of the Bible is a God of protest.  He sent protestors into the world known as prophets, who decried the brokenness of the world and the damage wrought by sin.  And he calls you and I to be protestors.

The prophets were performance artists.  They put on public displays to call attention to their protests, often in ways that made them impossible to ignore.  Jeremiah walked around with an ox’s yoke on his shoulders, warning that God’s people would bear the yoke of Babylon because they had not been faithful.  Isaiah walked around naked for three years, warning that the people would be stripped of all they had if they did not repent.  God told Ezekiel to lay down in the street for a year to show that Israel was weighed down by their sins.  (And Ezekiel replied, “A year?!  Can’t I just graffiti a building or something?”) John the Baptist was a performance artist, whose symbolic artwork was to tell people to dunk themselves under water as a way of pointing out that they were living unclean lives.  And then he said that a performance artist was coming whose sandals he was not worthy to untie.

Jesus was a protestor.  And Christmas was the best protest of all.  Because in the midst of humanity’s overt rebellion against our maker, God lay down in the intersection of human life to stop traffic when he lay in the manger.  In that act, God protested our sinfulness not by condemning us, but by joining us.  In so doing, he modeled the kind of protest his followers are called to – one in which we join the most needy, and do so in a way that can’t be ignored.

So in a chaotic world broken by sin, join the God who is the God of protest.

  • If we want to protest racism, tutor a child of another ethnicity.
  • If we want to protest injustice, pay the court fees of the defenseless.

    Jesus
    An artist’s rendering of Jesus
  • If we want young men to take violence seriously, stop teaching boys to celebrate violent sports, media, and entertainment and instead teach them dignity and manners.
  • Do for your next door neighbor what you wish you could do for the entire world.
  • Have lunch at the house of the guy that everyone resents.
  • Pay the hospital bills of the injured person on the side of the road.
  • Stand as close as you can to people who are likely to have stones thrown at them.

Taking to social media with inflammatory rhetoric will not create a world of decency and respect.  Instead we have to act in such a way that we would be confident that it would be a better world if everyone else did the same thing we’re doing.  Or as Jesus put it, we are to do unto others as we would have them do to us.  That kind of protest will stop traffic.