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.

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

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.

 

Candid observations

It is possible to be candid without condemning. To me, if you want someone to think about your observation, you need to season your candor with a measure of diplomacy. Here are a few random examples to ponder.

As a Christian, I try to follow the advice and deeds of Jesus. But, a thought for my more evangelical friends, it is highly unlikely Jesus looked like a WASP. He would look more like someone from Israel or Palestine.  In fact, if Jesus ventured from town to town in the US, he may not be welcomed with open arms in some places, just like it was when he did walk the earth.

When I see new discoveries of dinosaur fossils or a new hybrid human fossil as was the case during the week, I usually have an additional thought. The new hybrid human resulted from the seed of two different human strains and the fossil was noted to be about 90,000 years old. The dinosaur fossils are dated in the hundreds of millions and billions of years. So, help me understand how some religious education systems can waste kids time with instruction that dinosaurs walked the earth with humans and that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. If I was taught that and found out later what I learned could be scientifically proven wrong, would you fault me if I questioned most everything that school taught me?

Speaking of what we teach children, I am a firm believer that people are not born bigoted. They have to be carefully taught by their parents and family to hate certain groups of people. Or, if hate is too strong a word, they have to be taught that others are beneath them. I am reminded how the Nazi youth were taught Jews were animals and subhuman (they forgot to mention Jesus was a Jew). This enabled the Holocaust to happen. The same held true during the Jim Crow era in America and toward Native Americans before then. So, my observation is to question anyone (even a President) who uses animal names to define other human beings. “Help me understand why you would feel that way?” is a reasonable question. Or, you might say, “I am sorry but I do not feel that way.”

Returning to Jesus, we should pay more attention to his words and deeds rather than how he looked. Treating others like we want to be treated is key. And, that includes if they look unlike you or I do. We can pose questions that make others think about their positions.

What are your thoughts? Am I off base?

Get out of the pool

Although a religious person, I am more of a pragmatist with a goal to simply treat everyone like I want to be treated. I have grown increasingly frustrated by more zealous followers of any religion. I wish for God, Allah or the Supreme Being to simply call out from his ultimate life guard chair “Alright, everyone, out of the pool.”

The attack in Egypt which has killed over 300 Sufi Muslims is yet one more example of why most violence is caused by religion. Your branch is different than my branch which is more pure, so you must die for your blasphemy. Or, you are going to hell for not worshiping our way. With all due respect, “who appointed you judge and jury?” I ask.

Christians do not get a hall pass on this either. Many deaths have been caused by fighting between Protestants and Catholics. Jesus would not condone such behavior. We should remember The Church of England was started because of a horny king, which is not a good reason to start a church at least in my view.

Then there is the fighting between different religions with Muslims, Christians and Jews at odds throughout history. Muslims pushing north into France about eradicated Christianity while the Crusades tried to do the same with the Muslims.

And, while all of the intersectional fighting was going on, the Mongols eventually were at Europe’s doorstep taking advantage of various rifts and divisions with their superior fighting force. Religious views provide a reason to divide, not unite. Under the Mongol rule, religions were allowed to continue. In fact, In the Capitol city of Mongolia, various places of worship were represented as Genghis Khan wanted enlightment.

I mention this last example as it showed how letting people worship their on way can be done even in close proximity. Trying to stop this worship is counterproductive to keeping the peace. So, if God can follow this example and tell us all to “get out of the pool” until we learn to live together, that would be most helpful.

Let me close with how I started. Jesus called it the Golden Rule. And, it can be found in various forms in most religious texts. Treat everyone like you want to be treated. It is that simple. Then, you can get back in the pool.

Note: Please forgive the many oversimplifications above. I recognize I greatly oversimplified and these events did not overlap.