The power of forgiveness and inclusion, even a killer

We have come far, but it troubles me that we have stepped back a little. Racial injustice has lessened since the terrible days of Jim Crow, but we are not where we need to be. Some folks feel emboldened to react to Black Lives Matter protests, with All Lives Matter retorts. Yet, there is a percentage of Americans, whether it is 5% or 10%, that do not feel All Lives includes Black Lives. We should not cater to that ugly voice, but understand it is present in a limited few.

Five years ago, one of those limited few was invited into a church in Charleston, South Carolina. After listening to the prayers for a period of time, this person stood up and killed nine of the people present. The killer was a self-professed white supremacist, while those dead were African-American. The killer said he wanted to start a race war.

An article called “Five years after Charleston church massacre: How ‘Emanuel’ reveals the power of forgiveness” by Rashi Ali appeared in the USA Today last month on the fifth anniversary of the mass murder. The story highlighted a movie called “Emanuel” which was released the year before. Here are a few excerpts from the article, which can be linked to below.

“Five years ago today, Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, opened fire and murdered nine people. Roof, a self-admitted white supremacist, was found guilty on all 33 counts lodged against him and sentenced to death.

Through this tragedy, many of the people affected by the hate crime were able to forgive Roof. ‘Emanuel,’ a documentary released last year on the fourth anniversary of the shooting finds a beacon of light in the tragedy and puts the spotlight on the power of forgiveness. The film was directed by Brian Ivie and produced by Stephen Curry, Viola Davis and Mariska Hargitay.

‘I never thought I would be able to forgive somebody for murdering my mom,’ Chris Singleton tells USA TODAY about choosing to forgive Dylann Roof for gunning down his mother, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and eight others at church.”

Watching footage of the families of the murder victims forgive Roof is one of the most powerful acts of faith I have ever witnessed. I am in awe that they could look the killer in the eye and forgive him. Yet, we should not lose sight that the people who were killed by Roof and the ones who survived invited the killer into the church to worship with them. They included him. Think about that as well.

I am reading a difficult book which looks into the mind of a white supremacist. I will share more on that at a future time. To say it is troubling to read what this character believes is an understatement. But, I would want to read this character the above paragraph and ask what is his reaction. These people that Roof and this character think are so inferior and bad, forgave their killer and invited him in to worship with them. When Christians ask that question which appears on bracelets and bumper stickers as WWJD? – What would Jesus do? – the answer is what these African-Americans did.

The God I worship is color blind. The children’s song we sang so proudly, – red and yellow, black and white, Jesus thinks we are out of sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world – still resonates. If you know people who are in that limited few, tell them this story and ask them what they think. If they claim God favors WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), you might want to add that Jesus would likely have looked like people in the Middle East as that is where he was from. He was a Jewish rabbi and a carpenter, and would have likely had sun worn skin.

Jesus preached inclusion and forgiveness. He spent a lot of time with those who have been excluded and disenfranchised. We should not forget those lessons in the bible. Inclusion. Forgiveness. Treat others like you want to be treated (with no caveats).

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2019/06/17/emanuel-explores-power-forgiveness-after-charleston-church-massacre/1478473001/

Strange Fruit – why that flag means hate to so many

This post was written after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had the Confederate flag removed from the state capitol following the Charleston AME Zion shooting that killed nine African-Americans, who had invited their killer in to worship with them. It remains pertinent today with the police and vigilante killings of young African-Americans. We cannot go back to this time of horrible racial injustice.

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression” or a war over “states’ rights.” That was propaganda then to get poor whites to fight for white landowners so the latter could keep the slaves they owned. And, it remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful song “Strange Fruit.”

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Songwriters
WIGGINS, DWAYNE P./PEARL, MAURICE/ALLAN, LEWIS

If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link. http://www.metrolyrics.com/strange-fruit-lyrics-billie-holiday.html

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.

The reason Black Lives Matter is such a huge rallying cry is because for so long and still today, we have to remind everyone, that All Lives must include Black Lives.

A revisit to words of Martin Luther King on violence

This is a reprise of an earlier post. It still resonates, especially after the recent shooting of Ahmaud Arbery.

Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very things it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, it merely increases the hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

These aspirational words ring true even today. A historian made a comment on the news the other day, saying the only thing man has been very good at since the beginning is killing people. Too many people have died when leaders say I want what you have or you are different from us or you worship the wrong way. On this latter point, one of the keys to our founding father’s separation of church and state in the US constitution and bill of rights was a comment made by Thomas Jefferson who noted that Europe had been awash in blood due to religious zeal and he did not want religious zeal doing the same in our country. This runs counter to self-proclaimed constitutionalists who want a national or state religion and don’t realize they are advocating against the constitution.

My blogging friend and missionary George Dowdell has written a thought-provoking post about “No More Us and Them.” A link to his post is below.* When religious leaders exclude, they create this kind of divide. Yet, when religious leaders are inclusive, religion is at its finest. Just witness the actions of the people’s Pope Francis to see what one leader can do. We should follow his lead. We must do our best to be bridge builders. We must do our best to condemn intolerant thinking and action. We must do our best to not condone violence. We must do our best to control the proliferation of violent tools to people who should not have them and govern all owners of them well, as these tools are designed to kill. We must do our best to work toward civil discourse when disagreements occur. And, we must not tolerate treating women as second class citizens or even assets, which is even further demeaning.

I recognize we all cannot be like Atticus Finch (see Emily J’s post on “The Perfect Book: To Kill a Mockingbird” with the link below **) and wipe the spit away borne from someone looking for a fight, but he shows us what real courage looks like. It takes more courage not to fight back when it would have been so easy to do so. I recognize we cannot all be like Gandhi whose example was studied, admired and copied by Martin Luther King showing that civil disobedience is far more powerful than violence. I recognize we call cannot be like Mother Teresa who just went around helping people and praying with them not caring how they worshiped. And, I realize we cannot all be like Jesus who uttered the words we should all live by and can be found in other religious texts – treat others like you want to be treated.

We must treat others like we want in return. We must elevate women in a world to equal footing with men. We must challenge our historical texts which were written by imperfect men to diminish women. We must be the ones who lift others up. We must teach our children those Jesus words. If we don’t then we will continue to be our own worst enemy and do what we are good at – violence and killing.

* http://georgedowdell.org/2014/06/10/no-more-us-and-them/
** http://thebookshelfofemilyj.com/2014/06/09/the-perfect-book-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

Paraphrasing the words can make them resonate

I love quotes, but sometimes the quote has been paraphrased somewhat and it takes a slightly new shape. Quoting religious text is like that as the text has been translated and retranslated many times. In fact, the books of the bible were not all written in the same language. So, we should look for the gist of the point.

Regardless of religion, there are very meaningful guides that can be pulled from Jesus’ words.

– Treat others like you want to be treated, tops any list and can be found in other religious texts
– Take care of people in need as when you do you are honoring me
– Treat your neighbors well.

But, let’s not stop there. Mother Teresa said:

– Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody,is a much greater hunger than the person who has nothing to eat
– When she had doubts, she asked God to give her the strength to carry on.

Gandhi also spoke of helping people:

– a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its unfortunate ones

Martin Luther King said of hate:

– Hate is far more debilitating to keep up than love. When you hate, you are being destructive to yourself.

A Chinese proverb is used as the title to Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Half the Sky:”

– Women hold up half the sky (the proverb speaks volumes as does the book).

Finally, let me close with quoting lines from Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the wind.”

“Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry

Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”

Peace be with you all.

Build bridges not chasms – a revisit

I wrote this seven years ago, but it seems to resonate even more today. The title is a quote I heard from a hero of mine, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She was being interviewed on PBS Newshour about her book “My Beloved World.” She said we should “build bridges not chasms” which is a tremendous life lesson. This one resonates with me and echoes my admiration for the “dot connectors” in the world. It is also the serum for the toxic fever of tribal-like chasm building we seem to be infected with.

Well, how do we go about living this lesson? How do we build bridges and not chasms?

– First, we should look for ways we are similar. While we remain diverse, as humans there our similarities that cross all faiths, ethnic groups and countries. We want a safe and secure future for ourselves, but especially for our children. When I look at various religions, I am not surprised by the common thread of the Golden Rule which permeates them.

– Second, find these common threads. When I walk into someone’s office or home, I search for common experiences. I look at pictures of children, diplomas displaying education, trophies or pictures of sports or activities, etc. What can I talk about that will connect us better? Also, I take delight in finding out a similar passion or story. The other day I learned of a similar passion to help the homeless people among us from an unexpected source. We are now sharing information, books, etc.

– Third, an old boss said, “you have two ears and one mouth” use them in that proportion. We cannot listen if we don’t hear. We need to know what people’s concerns are before we can begin to help them. We have far too many people who like to hear themselves talk. My wife is the best of listeners. As a result, people flock to her as she will listen to their issues, interests, aspirations and problems.

– Fourth, look for the opportunity to compliment someone or reinforce an action. I am not advocating false praise, but I am advocating a supportive word or gesture. When you step up to the counter to be served by the exhausted clerk who is doing the best he or she can when the boss understaffed a shift, you can make a world of difference by some acknowledgement of their tribulations.

– Fifth, along this same line, you can never thank people enough. We tell our kids “people don’t have to do anything for you.” So, when they do, you should thank them for it. And, mean it. Even in this Twitter, text, Facebook and email world, a call or handwritten note speaks volumes. Yet, use whatever media you prefer to say thanks.

– Sixth, an old colleague used to say “you can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” Remember that and reach out. It is a low-key investment of time as it is not as intrusive as a meal. And, conversation will occur.

– Seventh, never hesitate to include others in meals or outings. Especially meals. If a friend of your child is over, ask them to stay. My wife and I made a conscious decision to have a house the kids like to come over to. Our kids love this. Their friends do as well as we make them feel welcome. Trust me on this. There is no greater sound on earth than hearing your children laughing.

– Eighth, laugh at yourself. Let me say this loud and clear, “you are not perfect.” Neither am I. So, be prepared to laugh at your mistakes and don’t be afraid to tell the stories. It will truly endear you. I found that my kids like me telling about the times I screwed up. We sometimes are in stitches. Why? Because they see it is OK to screw up. The world will not end. And, the old line is true, “laugh and the world laughs with you.”

– Ninth, LTFU. This is a pre-Twitter acronym. It stands for “Lighten the Eff Up.” We take ourselves too seriously. We make mountains out of very small mole hills. Many of the things we fret over are not that important. Trust me. Those folks that are reading texts and emails at stop lights (and God forbid in traffic), I can tell you right now, that text is not that important, even without reading it. I told a colleague one day, “I am going to take your I-Phone and throw it in the ocean.” He was constantly reacting to the messenger and not the message. So, issues got blown out of proportion.

– Tenth, help people in need. You both benefit from the transaction. Those in need benefit if you are helping them climb a ladder. You benefit from the psychic income of helping someone. It is a powerful elixir.

– Eleventh and last, getting back to the Golden Rule, treat others like you want to be treated. That is by far the best lesson in the bible and the ones some religious leaders tend to forget. If we do only this, the world will be a better place.

These are a few thoughts on how to build bridges. I am sure I have left off several good ones, so please feel free to share. We are a planet of fixer uppers. We should give each other a break as we need a break from them. Justice Sotomayor has it right – let’s build bridges.

Be careful of what you read, even if comments in your own blog

As an independent voter who tries to stay well read from legitimate sources, I continue to get puzzled by the level of vitriol and zeal in some comments on various blogs. I do not mind if someone is more conservative than me on some issues or more progressive. Tell me what you think without telling me I must be insane for believing the way I do or someone else does.

I read in the news Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is dropping out of the race and supporting Joe Biden, even though she does not agree with all of his positions. Of course not, there is not a candidate running that anyone can rightfully claim they agree with every position he or she has taken or is taking. If they do, then they are not being truthful with themselves.

I don’t agree with everything Biden or Bernie Sanders posit, but I would vote for either one over the incumbent president who I view as corrupt, untruthful and bullying. Both Biden and Sanders are decent people. I cannot say the same for the current president, who will only do something decent if it helps his image.

But, my main thrust is be mindful of your sources. There is one progressive blog I follow where I am convinced a frequent and lengthy contributor is not what he or she seems. I actually think the person is a Trump or Russian troll doing very zealous and heavy lifting to garner victory for the incumbent. I may be wrong, but the zeal and frequency of comments far exceed that of the blog’s host who welcomes other opinions.

One of my other blogging friends was visited by a Russian troll to the point the blogger had to block the commenter. How can one tell? You really can’t. I may be dead wrong, but I worry how blogs can be taken over by someone who tries to own your blog. I have had a few bizarre commenters in the many years, one where the theme of the post is hijacked for other messaging.

So, please be careful of what you read and where you read it. Misinformation abounds. So, does disinformation. Do I worry that this is or may happen to my blog? Of course. I do not mind passion or zeal. But neither give someone permission to take someone’s head off. I fortunately follow some very good bloggers who welcome push back, provided it is done civilly. I am fortunate many of these bloggers follow mine in return.

So, let’s just be civil. Let’s remember that Golden Rule which can be found in most religious texts. Just like politicians, there are no perfect bloggers or commenters. This one included.

Former pastor on concerns over Trump for Christianity

A concern that evangelicals should have is casting a person who does not exhibit their ideals as a Godsend. For too many evangelicals, the ends justify the means. Yet, when the means pervert your religious doctrine, the ends are not realized. They are bastardized.

The attached link is from a former pastor who lost his faith because of this. As a Christian, the overarching message in the bible is called the Golden Rule. Treat others like you want to be treated. It is pretty basic.

So, when the Godsend does not act or speak this way, it damages credibility. When the Godsend is not living up to those ten other rules, it makes it worse.

In short, the ends do not justify the means. How we act is important. How we treat people is paramount.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/ex-evangelical-pastor-says-supporting-trump-has-been-damaging-to-church/ar-AAJP9v0?ocid=spartandhp

Religious freedom laws give me concern

As a Christian and American citizen, I have concerns over the religious freedom laws and movement. Why? There is a subtle, but important difference between being given the freedom to discriminate and those seeking protection from discrimination.

While our forefathers purposefully included the separation of church and state in our constitution, religious mantras have caused troubling discriminatory practices in our country as well as others. During the unfortunate Jim Crow era, too many ministers preached exclusion and segregation, with some even speaking of white supremacy, using the bible as a weapon not as an invitation.

The following example happened in the UK, but is germane to the US as it easily could have happened here. Alan Turing is a key figure in the creation of computer analytics. During WWII. Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower said Turing led a group of people who shortened rhe war by two years and probably saved 750,000 lives. They broke the Nazi Enigma code. Yet, Turing had to hide the fact he was gay and was even arrested after the war. If he had been arrested before breaking the code, we may be speaking German as a second language.

Vivien Thomas was a black carpenter who was quite skilled with his hands. This led him to wanting to be a surgeon, but his efforts were frowned on, he was denied access and was grossly under paid due to the Jim Crow south, even at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Thomas was not allowed into operating rooms, until a white doctor (he partnered with) said he needed Thomas there. Thomas’ delicate hands and sharp mind helped pioneer the repair of hearts of the “blue babies” in a way that the repair grew up with them. Before, these babies turned blue due to poor citculation and died early on in their lives.

The Vivien Thomas story is captured in the movie “Something the Lord Made” given the groundbreaking nature of the heart surgery. I cite this title, as contrary to ministers who faclitated Jim Crow, a black man was the messenger of a miraculous technique. Overcoming Jim Crow discrimination is also the theme of the movie “Hidden Figures,” as three black women helped NASA land on the moon with their mathematical, engineering and leadership skills.

Along these same lines, a significant amount of groundbreaking mathematical ideas evolved out of predominantly Muslim countries. And, after European Jews escaped fascism before WWII and fueled a piece goods industry in New York city, a high percentage of their offspring became professionals – doctors, lawyers, etc.

Religious freedom laws permit and have permitted unhealthy discrimination in our country. Lately, these laws are permitting discrimination against LGBTQ and Muslim, Jewish and Hispanic Americans. My mantra is when religious leaders promote exclusion, religion is at its absolute worst. When they preach inclusion, religion is at its finest. Jesus said to treat people like you want to be treated – he did not list any caveats. We should not add any to this beautifully succinct golden rule.

I was scared to leave the table

We have all been around people who openly denigrate others in front of us. For some reason, they feel by putting others down, it elevates them. In actuality, the opposite occurs. It shines a negative light on the speaker.

An old colleague framed the issue nicely, when he related to me the title of this post.  Let me offer some context. He was at a business dinner with several senior colleagues, including a new executive. Apparently, she liked to talk about people, so as each person left table to go to the restroom, she would express the negatives she had heard about that person seeking concurrence. After seeing her do this with three people, my colleague said, “I was scared to leave the table.”

He wisely assumed, if she talks about others, she would also talk about him. This is not a very endearing trait regardless of one’s gender. It is even more true when a person in leadership does it. Namecalling, denigrating, bullying and pitting people against each other is not leadership.

Please remember my colleagues’ words. If someone talks about others in your presence, take it to the bank, he or she will do the same about you. What should you do – don’t take the bait? Life coach Wayne Dyer would suggest you even defend the absent. At a minimum, try to change the topic. But, picture that person and how you would feel.

 

Those Jesus words again

We Christians like the words so much we called them the golden rule. It is not one of ten rules, but one simple overarching rule espoused by that Jesus fellow. To me, if we do that one thing, we will better for it.

Paraphrasing it simply says treat others like you want to be treated. It is so simple and yet so profound. And, it is universal with variations findable in other religious texts. It is so universal, even atheists and agnostics can see its wisdom and adopt its governance.

Yet, the golden rule is not caveated. It does not say, treat all Christians like you want to be treated. It does not say treat fellow citizens like you want to be treated. It does not say treat people of the male gender like you want to be treated. Nor does it say treat only heterosexuals like you want to be treated.

And, just to state the obvious, it does not say treat people who look like you as you want to be treated. Let me say this plainly. As a 60-year-old white man, Jesus did not look like me. He did not look like Max von Sydow or Jeffrey Hunter who played him in the movies.

Jesus was of Middle Eastern Jewish descent and likely had a swarthy complexion. If Jesus walked into the wrong bar with white supremacists today, he would likely be harmed or showed the door. Jesus would not have ordained the US Constitution as some people believe, as he would be ashamed of our founders for tolerating slavery and that 3/5 a person wording in a document promoting freedom. Yet, he would see hope in the improvements made to the document over   the last 200 plus years.

Folks, I am an imperfect man. I guard against my biases, but like everyone, still have them. Yet, that golden rule has to be more than words. We must treat each other like we want to be treated. And, for Christ’s sake and our own morality, we cannot condone the killing of others because they are perceived to be different. It simply is not right nor is it justified, especially by some warped or myopic view of religion or patriotism.