July 10, 2016

“The World’s Gonna Turn”

It’s been a rough week. If I’ve learned anything from it, it is that no matter what, the world is gonna turn.

I was excited when Em told me about my surprise trip to NOLA. I love coastal cities, and NO is one of my favorites. But I couldn’t help but feel the creep of a world that will continue to turn, even when on vacation. Last year we felt that driving into Charleston the day after we got the news about Mother Emanuel.

On Wednesday morning, we had already heard the total in Baghdad was rising towards 300 dead before we left. I thought of civilians and military who must be scared there. Then the day we left we heard about Alton Sterling being gunned down in Baton Rouge. The next day we heard about Philando Castille – more of the same. Later we heard about Dallas. Five officers. Five. Because some folks with their own issues now had a reason to go out and do something terrible under the guise of armed retribution.

I’m not going to preach about racism other than to say minorities, especially black minorities, have a hard life even in 2016. Statistics show high rates of poverty, incarceration, poor job opportunity, poor economic mobility, etc that it simply cannot be explained away with, “well, if only they …” The deck is stacked, and the only time most black people are on the news it is due to incidents like this week.

I think something can be said similarly about police. Lots of police officers are trying to do their jobs, are often scared, and are usually poorly funded and poorly supported. We pay them pennies which is why, instead of getting the best of our people protecting us, we often get some poorly-adapted cowboys with power complexes. The work of police is stacked against them being seen or treated in a positive manner save the “we thank you for your service” comments we make on occasion.

The world is extra tense this week. It may not be tense here on Highway 49 in Charlotte, but I would bet it wouldn’t take many miles to meet someone who felt ill at ease for being who they are. Whether it is a minority wondering if that next traffic stop could be their last or a police person wondering if they will be the target of vengeful, anonymous hatred, the world is tense.

I could say it’s racial or economic bias. I could say it is a lack of identifying the child of God status in others. I could say it is our shoot first mindset that those we dislike or fear should be quote/unquote “gone.” I honestly don’t think nuancing the difference helps as much in our context as just being honest about the consequences. Folks are dying unfairly, folks are targeted unfairly, folks are scared or grieving.

So this is when we, as a people of God, grieve. No matter how virtuous or criminal a person’s life – God does not want us to suffer. God is sick of how good we are at hurting and killing. In an act of unthinkable joining with humanity, God took on our prejudice, the power of the people, the power of the state, and said, “look what you do.” That’s why He, in the person of Jesus, died.

The world is gonna keep turning. Each day this week I will hear more news. Hopefully some of the news I hear this week will be “the AC is fixed and it only cost $100.”  We are pretty safe here. We can afford a little bit of humor. But there are those in this world who can’t – who aren’t safe.

The world will continue to turn with more news – some good and some bad. It is what we do between those hours that matters. We could choose to be angry, suspicious, point fingers. Those are sins. Looking for who to blame, who to fear, who to kill back. That’s sin. No matter how much the news will try to dig up dirt on those two men that died, the officers sworn to protect and serve were the ones who shot. That’s sin. When someone makes us feel threatened, when we shoot first, when we injure first, it’s sin. Also, when we take vengeance in our own hands and harm or kill innocent people in return – it’s also sin.

There are plenty of ‘what ifs’ people will throw around to counter that this week. I’m just telling you – how we choose to act when we are threatened is typically shoot first, ask questions later. That’s Jesse James – not Jesus.

I point you to the cornerstone of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount, as a guiding set of principles of how to move forward. None of them are easy. Most make little sense to our modern sensibilities. All of them point to a state of humility and brokenness that says, “we offer our lives to you, O God, because otherwise, doing this would be nonsense.”

Jesus offers a better way, even if it is counter to how we are taught to act; however, if we love first, if we love proactively, the world will get better. We have waited so long to love proactively we are wondering if we should do so reactively. But it’s not too late to make changes before it gets even worse.

We must choose instead to walk in courage, to speak love, to say we want a better world and the only way to do that is to find ways to commit acts of love. That’s grace. You wanna fix hate? Be a listener more often than you are a speaker. Be a learner more than being a judge. Search out places that offer help and give of yourself in some way.

As the world turns, we Christians are given choices to express the light of Christ. If you can’t give money or time, offer a smile. Say nice things. Don’t flick off people who cut you off in traffic. Check your motives often. Ask what is the right thing to do. Tell others about Jesus. Even the mention of his name can bring out the best in people. He is the one who brings hope. Don’t worry if what you say or do is perfect. You serve a perfect Savior – he will work in you.

Confronting our sinfulness instead of justifying it is an uncomfortable experience. But we have to do it. We have to.

This isn’t about politics or religion. It’s about choices. As the world turns, we make lots of choices, and if you make choices that are against God’s will, then I pray you recognize it now while you still have time and breath to rectify it and do some good in the world. This world needs Jesus, it needs us.

 

Post-Sunday addendum: As I noted last week, black lives matter and blue lives matter. Both are subject to extra distrust, extra scrutiny, and all manners of bias. No amount of ‘what ifs’ will justify our maintaining poor outlooks on those who are different from us. Nor do I find “All Lives Matter” as an acceptable way of dealing with the specific issues surrounding persons of color and persons in uniform. We are awash in a sea of context and specific details that calls us to better thinking.

When a group of people is under anxiety – we pray for them. Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to pray for our enemies. His parable said those who we least expect to love us will be the Good Samaritan. It is time we take His words seriously in times of trouble rather than allowing them to be simple platitudes in times of comfort.