Category Archives: Trauma

Monday Morning Moment – Gentle and Empowering Wisdom on American Racial Struggle – Bryan Stevenson

Photo Credit: The Richmond Forum, Bryan Stevenson

My children didn’t grow up in the South. They are TCK’s (third culture kids) spending most of their childhood in other countries. They/we were minorities in those countries, so they understand some of what that means. A big difference is that we were still privileged minorities. We had the blue American passport. We could be forbidden entrance to those countries in the future but, once in, we would most probably always be allowed to peacefully live in and peacefully leave from those countries.

These children of ours have all now spent their college years and early adult years back in the US. Their understanding of racial differences has been impacted, having lived as “different” in other places.

Their parents, that would be Dave and me, taught them from a color-blind Biblical ideology. That’s how our parents taught us and I’m thankful for that kind of worldview. God loves everyone; we are to love everyone. Never based on what they look like, including skin color, an immutable characteristic. This is always a bent that moves people toward each other. We had been sheltered in life from the hardships and challenges of what it was for some to grow up black in the US. We didn’t know. We should have. Now we know more. What we may not know is what it is to love and experience love across differences (be it race or social status).

Our kids, since returning to the US, have found themselves in a culture of outrage, blaming, and unforgiveness. The push for academics and work environments to include Critical Race Theory and anti-racism is much more divisive than healing. Do not hear in anything I say below in support of such teaching.

What is the answer? What can we do? When a hardship or marginalization falls along racial lines? The Richmond Forum took us many steps forward by hosting Bryan Stevenson as speaker this weekend.

Stevenson is an American attorney who founded and directs the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. Stevenson works with some of the hardest cases in the court system. He advocates for those who did not receive fair and right judgments and find themselves in long prison terms, some even on Death Row. He also fights the situation where children are tried and imprisoned as adults…when it is not necessary for the sake of society, at the detriment of the child.

He talked and we listened. Stevenson, without judgment or contempt, talked about what it would take to move forward. He listed four actions we could all, no matter our race or privilege, do.

  1. Find ways to get proximate to people who are suffering. – Stevenson focuses intently on proximity. We can’t presume to know what it is like to be poor, marginalized, abused, or excluded. We have to come near. Find meaningful ways to do so. True innovation is only possible when we develop real understanding of those who feel the burn of racial, societal, or socioeconomic difference. Stevenson encourages us to “wrap your arms around the excluded and affirm their humanity and dignity”.  We know we live in a culture where “if you’re rich and guilty, you’re treated better than if you’re poor and innocent”. This isn’t a victimizing statement. It is simply true. Do you disagree?
  2. Assess and change our narratives if they keep us indifferent to people. What is our belief, our story, about race in our country? Is there bias in that story? Does our story disbelieve racial injustice? Is our narrative meant to protect us from feeling any sense of responsibility, or even compassion, for today’s racial tensions? “A narrative of racial difference made us indifferent and comfortable with slavery. We had to create a false narrative to justify slavery. That narrative gave rise to white supremacy.” White supremacy is such an emotionally charged phrase in these days. Stevenson gives a space for us all to consider how that had impact in the past, and what lingers today in people’s narratives. What do we fear? What makes us angry? He asked the question, do any of us have “a presumption of dangerousness and guilt regarding blacks”? This may be what law enforcement officers wrestle with in their work in parts of our cities. Have we taken it on as part of our beliefs? To get to truth and justice, and that narrative, we must create space for truth-telling. Stevenson spoke of how other countries have very publicly dealt with their own unjust treatment of fellow countrymen. South Africa, Germany, Rwanda. In recent years, he and others established the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. In hopes that America one day can heal in this painful part of our past.
  3. Stay hopeful. Stevenson talked about hope being our super-power. If we become calloused and cynical, we help no one. Least of all our children. For they will have someone’s narrative thrust on them – either through education systems or news media. Better for us to confront what is true about racial bias by listening and learning from those most affected. Listening and learning from each other, then incorporating that into our own narrative, life, and work. [I have a writer friend, an intelligent articulate young man, wise beyond his years, who happens to be black and who strongly insists the listening and learning must be in both directions. He actually gives me the most hope for what is possible in this American situation.]
  4. Be willing to do what is uncomfortable and inconvenient. There are no shortcuts…Truth-telling is the first priority. Healing is a possibility.” We can move forward with the smallest of steps that will grow larger as we persevere. One option is to get involved with the Equal Justice Initiative, from wherever we are. We can find out what agencies in our towns are working toward healthy communities and learn from them. Plugging in where we can. Embrace Communities is one of those agencies in our state. Also, as my parents taught me, we can be kind, lean in, vote for what’s right, and serve others…all others, for we all need each other.

Stevenson said so much more than I covered here. To hear this brilliant, thoughtful, hopeful black man speak on this painful and divisive issue was thrilling and captivating for us. If you’ve ever had one of those awakening experiences [not “woke” – that word has darkened the conversation politically for many of us] – like a black friend telling how he has been pulled over by the police on multiple occasions, having done nothing wrong; or reading Stevenson’s book Just Mercy (or seeing the film of the same name), or visiting someone desperately poor, or watching the documentary 13th, or what? You say…what are we allowing to gentle and mature our own narratives, reckoning with “the implicit and unconscious biases” of our lives?

I’d like to close with some of Bryan Stevenson’s remarks from an interview almost a decade ago. His honoring wisdom was not an outcome of the terrible summer of 2020. He’s been beating this drum for all his adult life. We are wise to listen and learn.

What is justice? I think justice is a constant struggle. That’s as good a definition as I can come up with. I think that injustice is evident when people are not struggling to protect the norms, the values, the goals, the aspirations of the entire community — for fairness, equality and balance.Bryan Stevenson

When I talk about race and poverty, I’m not talking about doing things for African-Americans. I’m talking about doing things for the entire community.Bryan Stevenson

An Interview with Bryan Stevenson: What Is Justice? – Kyle Whitmire

Worship Wednesday – Proximity to God and the Marginalized – Nearness – Nearer to God – Deb Mills

Just Mercy Quotes – Good Reads

“Do Some Uncomfortable and Inconvenient Things”: A Civil Rights Champion’s Call to Action for CEOs – Matthew Heimer (watch the video at start of the article)

YouTube Video – True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality (HBO/Kunhardt Films, 2019) – Documentary

TED Talk – We Need to Talk About Injustice – Bryan Stevenson

YouTube Video – 13th – full-length documentary – Netflix [“The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime”. – Wikipedia

Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror – EJI Report

Interfaith Day of Prayer – Prayer by Bryan Stevenson

Photo Credit: Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy, Pinterest

Monday Morning Moment – How Shame Affects Our Thinking and How We Can Break Free

Photo Credit: Pixabay, John Hain

Shame is not something I’ve actually thought much about. Now guilt…that is a whole other matter. I know guilt…intimately. Shame as an emotion can affect all of us but less for some than others. In the last few years, and especially in recent months, I’ve taken to studying shame…for my own sake and that of those who deeply feel it.

Shame differs from guilt. Eve Glicksman in Your Brain on Guilt and Shame describes them both as “self-conscious emotions linked to real or perceived moral failures. Their motivations and outcomes are different, though, and you can have one without the other. Guilt arises when your behavior conflicts with your conscience. Shame is triggered when we think we’ve damaged our reputationWith shame, the focus is on someone else discovering your misdeed.” Guilt is an emotional response to a bad behavior, separate from the person. Whereas shame is a much larger response transferring the bad behavior onto the self, making self a bad person.  Guilt deals with the behavior only, not the self, but shame, if found out, will do whatever it takes to protect self, to not be devalued by others.

Photo Credit: The Compass of Shame, D. L. Nathanson, IIRP

The experience of shame is to be avoided so the one with a bent toward shame will withdraw from people, attack (either self or the other person), or avoid through addictive behaviors.

Brené Brown, professor and researcher, has done ground-breaking work in the area of shame. Her TED Talk below, Listening to Shame, is riveting. She talks about how shame tries to taunt us with “You’re not good enough” and “Who do you think you are?”. Guilt says, “I did something bad”, but shame says, “I am bad”.

“The ability to hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.” – Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, TED Talk

When shame is our struggle, if we are willing to break out of the secret life, the silence that binds us, we can begin the healing. If we’re willing to be vulnerable with others, even if it’s a few safe others to begin with, we can create a new life. We can change.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” – Brené Brown, Listening to Shame, TED Talk

As I learn more about shame, it has dawned on me that my mom didn’t shame us growing up. I didn’t know that until recent years. It just didn’t happen. For that I am thankful, and the way she parented us is how I’ve parented our children.

Shaming stays with us…from childhood through adulthood, unless we take intentional steps to not let it define us.

“Shame is contagious if you take on the lethal projections of shame from a partner–especially one who is abusive. In this same way, shame is especially difficult, if not toxic, for children because it is an emotion that is concealed, especially by victims of aggression or abuse. The anticipation of being shamed by peers creates anxiety in a child if he or she is a victim of bullying…Shame can be experienced as such a negative, intense emotion of self-loathing that it can lead one to disown it, and, in the case of one who acts like a bully, give it away by evoking that emotion in others.” – Mary C. Lamia, Ph.D.

Shame: A Concealed, Contagious, and Dangerous Emotion – Mary C. Lamia

Before shaming (whether another adult or a child), pediatrician Claire McCarthy offers 5 questions that you should ask yourself:

  • Is this something they can change?
  • Is it important that they change it?
  • Is this a good place and time to say anything?
  • Do they want to change this behavior?
  • Is there a better way of changing this behavior?

In a moment of high emotion, these questions may be hard to consider, BUT those moments if not handled well can turn into memory and can even change the wiring for us of how we deal through life with “bad behavior” and what we think of ourselves.

Think Hard Before Shaming Children – Dr. Claire McCarthy

The Clearview Treatment Program staff post excellent helps on various topics in mental health. Their piece on 5 Ways Shame Can Shape Your Life is brilliant. Here are their 5 ways (go to article to read the added commentary):

  1. People who live with shame often avoid relationships, vulnerability, and community. 
  2. People who live with shame are prone to suppressing their emotions. 
  3. People who live with shame often feel worthless, depressed, and anxious.
  4. People who live with shame are less likely to take healthy risks. 
  5. People who live with shame are more likely to relapse back into problem behaviors. 

Then they list 5 ways out of shame. So helpful and empowering!

  1. Seek out relationships and commit to vulnerability with safe people.
  2. Move out of your head and into the open.
  3. Develop self-compassion.
  4. Take one small risk.
  5. Believe that healing is possible.

If you struggle with shame and need a mental health or counseling professional, do your homework and find one who truly knows how to help. You don’t have to live the way you’re living now…you don’t have to hide from others or avoid or withdraw or attack. You can be free…to be the person you want to be, giving and receiving empathy and having empathy for yourself.

Photo Credit: Pixabay, John Hain

A Psychotherapist Says There Are Four Types of Shame – Here’s What They Are and How They Affect Us – Lindsay Dodgson

The Soul of Shame – Curt Thompson – Goodreads Quotes

20 Quotes From Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Shame

Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings – Mary C. Lamia

Worship Wednesday – Revolutionary Kindness – Josh Wilson

Photo Credit: Heartlight

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.Psalm 4:4-5, 8

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.Ephesians 4:26-27

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”Matthew 5:43-45

Writer’s block. I have wanted to say so much…cry out against all the wrong in our world…in our country. Cry out against the hatred, the vitriol, the division. The Lord has shut my mouth and is in the process of stilling my heart. You see, I have struggled with all the same stuff that I want to cry out against in others. Sin has shaken my own heart…praise God for a Savior.
Why are we shocked in our country when the same kinds of trauma the rest of the world experiences we are experiencing now? Our outrage speaks to the content of our hearts. “We deserve better”. “We will not tolerate this”. “We will silence our enemies”. “We will put you in your place”.
As  followers of Christ, we cannot join the throngs. We may want to block or cancel the words or actions of others. Yet, we are confronted ourselves by the truth that we were all once the enemies of God…yet He forgave us. Do we presume that our indignation is more righteous than His? Do we consider our being wronged as more needful of judgment than His own? God have mercy!
I haven’t been able to write for a couple of weeks. That time has been spent in thinking, in conversation, in the Word, and in prayer. Sometimes also just in the mundane of daily work. What is the response of the believer toward our perceived enemies …toward those from whom we feel persecution? Or toward whom we are tempted to feel hate?

Jesus’ Most Radical Teaching – Lois Tverberg

Only love. Spoken and acted out in kindness and mercy.

Do we stomp and kick the dust at that? Do we hold tighter to our stones? Do we give lip service to “forgiving” but everything in our actions and attitudes tells a different story?

How thankful we can be to a God who is all-wise and all-loving! He understands us completely. He walked among us, in the sandals of the incarnate Christ. He experienced hatred and persecution, even to His last breath on this earth. Yet…He forgave, He loved, He administered the greatest kindness possible – His life for ours.

In His loving mercy, He has taught us how to live in this life. Whether things are going our way or not, it matters so little.

We are to love. We are to forgive. We are to keep our own hearts from sinning against another. We are to remember that we and our neighbor (enemy or friend) are both made in the image of God. We are not to forget our own bent toward sin…the very sin that caused Jesus to take the cross upon Himself…for us. Not just for another.

When we lie down at night and struggle to quiet our thoughts, the Lord gives counsel, if we will listen. We aren’t to put our trust in a government but in God. We aren’t to put our own preferences over persons. God calls us to remember whose we are. He is at work in our hearts, in that of our neighbors (and enemies), and in the nations.

We can join Him…through a revolutionary sort of kindness.

I’ve just recently discovered the writing of Lois Tverberg. She teaches the Scripture in context, meaning within the culture of the world in which it was written. We might think Jesus’ command to us to love our enemies is hard. Yet, if we recall our own struggle with sin and how neighbors and enemies are not so different from us, we can access the grace of God to love…and show kindness.

Loving Your Neighbor, Who Is Like You – Lois Tverberg

Instead of striving to be right…what if we strove to be kind – loving, serving, and praying for those our flesh cries out to hate? This is the way of Jesus.

Josh Wilson (with a team of other songwriters) gave us the song “Revolutionary” in October 2019, having no idea what 2020 or 2021 would hold. It was a prophetic call to the church to love…all.

“It seems natural, almost effortless, to focus on our differences with others rather than our similarities. Drawing attention to those differences keeps us glued to the news and social media because of the moral outrage we feel towards the “other.” I think there’s a better way though, and that’s the way of empathy and understanding, the way of kindness….No matter what side of the political spectrum we’re on, deep down I know that we are not as different as we are led to believe. There is peace to be made, there are names to be learned, meals to be had, chasms to be crossed, and it all starts with kindness.”Josh Wilson

Worship with me.

Maybe you’re not like me
Maybe we don’t agree
Maybe that doesn’t mean
We gotta be enemies
Maybe we just get brave
Take a big leap of faith
Call a truce so me and you
Can find a better way
Let’s take some time, open our eyes, look and listen, yeah
And we’re gonna find we’re more alike than we are different, yeah
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
Let’s get, let’s get
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
I’m turning the TV down
Drowning their voices out
‘Cause I believe that you and me
Can find some common ground
See maybe I’m not like you
But I’ll walk a mile in your shoes
If it means I might see
The world the way you do
Let’s take some time, open our eyes, look and listen
And we’re gonna find we’re more alike than we are different
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
Let’s get, let’s get
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
What would Jesus do
He would love first
He would love first, hmm
What would Jesus do
He would love first
Yeah, He would love first
So we should love first
Why does kindness seem revolutionary
When did we let hate get so ordinary
Let’s turn it around, flip the script
Judge slow, love quick
God help us get revolutionary
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
Whoa oh
Let’s get, let’s get
Whoa oh
Revolutionary
God help us get revolutionary*
“‘Revolutionary’ is all about kindness,” shares Josh Wilson. “I believe that kindness matters. It’s so easy to get caught up in all of the negativity we see in the world and on the news, and this song is a reminder that we are called to more than that. We’re called to love as Christ has loved us. I am so encouraged by the acts of kindness I’ve seen recently, even amidst a worldwide pandemic, even in an election year. In many ways, our struggles are actually bringing us together. We’re learning that we all have a lot more in common than we thought, and it’s beautiful to see the ways people are serving each other. The lyrics are a prayer for God, through us, to start a revolution of kindness. Will you join us?”Josh Wilson

Postscript:

Josh Wilson also wrote “Dream Small” which I covered here. He capturing how God has wrapped all commands into two – for our good and to the glory of our magnificent God:
Love God
Love others.
“Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
The God who does all things makes oceans
From rivers.”

Worship Wednesday – Dream Small – Josh Wilson – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – #Woke – What It Means to This Believer – Amazing Grace

Photo Credit: Statement on Social Justice

[Adapted from the Archives]

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice: blessed are all those who wait for Him.Isaiah 30:18

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.Job 1:22

When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.
 – Matthew 9:36

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”Micah 6:8

In today’s context, “woke” is a word  that I may never understand or fully embrace. However, it is concept that compelled me to research it and consider it.

Being “woke” has some strong, politically and sociologically polarizing applications, but the simplest definitions are captured below. It means “being aware of what is going on in the community; being aware of the social and political environments regarding all socio-economic standings”.Photo Credit: Slideshare, Mike Maccarone

I’d like to tell you a quick story. Then I will hop off anything political and onto the place I’ve landed as a believer.

Last summer, we traveled to a conference in Oklahoma. During the time there, I had the opportunity for a road trip across the Eastern part of the state. It was my first experience of the Native American nations in Oklahoma. Part of my “woke” journey now has this experience folded in. Except for the links below on tribal history and The Indian Removal Act, this topic will be for another day…but it speaks to “wokeness” as well.

We flew back to Richmond, with those experiences still very fresh in my mind.

Walking to baggage claim from our gate, we were surrounded by other travelers from the Atlanta flight. Either visitors to our city or, like us, residents returning home. In front of me for much of the walk was a youngish Black man. He was sharply dressed in khaki pants and a dazzling white t-shirt, and he had all the paraphernalia of someone who travels a lot. A professional appearing man who could easily put on a sport-coat over his white t-shirt and show up for work in some executive suite.

Photo Credit: Augusta Native

It is telling of this man’s experience of his country, this society, and the politics of the day. The slogan first caught my eye (with its particular spelling of America), then the hangman’s noose, and then the list of losses…

[Hard to read because I am grateful to be American. Its history, like so many countries, has dark terrible times in it. I don’t want to forget that…but how to respond to it…]

On his right forearm, this man had a large tattoo in bold capital letters: #BLM (Black Lives Matter).

He was a walking billboard for “wokeness” as a Black person with a loud cry against the injustice he lays on his country.

I don’t think that fellow traveler and I would ever have a conversation. For sure, it felt unwanted that day – an intrusion from a stranger…but I do want those conversations. For now, it begins with my response to him…and others.

In praying through these recent experiences, here are four points of action in this being “woke” as a follower of Christ:

  1. Listen. I’ve been learning to make it a practice to listen with intentionality to people who feel marginalized – for whatever reasons. To hear them, we have to come within hearing. It can be uncomfortable as you know. That’s why we want to avoid it or rationalize or downplay it.
  2. Consider. In nursing school, we learned that Pain is whatever the experiencing person says it is, existing whenever he/she says it does” (McCaffery). The same can apply to what we hear of people’s pain – whether in their present experience or a past horror either theirs or others (with whom they feel a kinship). Again, reacting in a way that rationalizes or shifts blame only pushes away. Consider humbly what they are saying.
  3. Separate political from spiritual. When injustice occurs, we are called by God, as believers, to respond. Even better, we are to stand alongside the marginalized, when possible, doing what we can to lessen injustice. Lots could be said about this, but for today, just a check in our thinking. Our government may or may not act in definitive ways. We as the church have a very different call…and loving action is always a part of that call.
  4. Act. Again, so much could be said here, but today a brief take on it. For sure, we know that the Lord doesn’t require us to cover for the sins of others. Nor does He allow us to put our heads in the sand and ignore the suffering of those around us. To move forward we must leave the terrible wrongs of the past to the righteous justice of the Lord. He calls us to act today on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized…in front of us, all around us. Jesus acted on our behalf; we are to act on theirs.

To be “woke” as a believer is to see the world with God’s eyes and His heart and to engage and respond, in the power of His Holy Spirit. Previously I wrote the following about finishing strong in this life:

An imperative key to our finishing strong is humbling ourselves before God and in relationship to those He places in our lives.

An example of this humility worked out in relationship is the friendship between John Newton and William Wilberforce. Newton, a British slave ship captain until his conversion to Christ, would become a spiritual mentor to Wilberforce, who strongly influenced the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. Wilberforce was able to use his governmental authority to aid in abolishing slavery, but he was also a man of prayer and action in his personal life as well. Blog - Finishing strong - historicalmoviesPhoto Credit: Historical Movies

Jonathan Aitken, author of the biography John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, writes about the relationship between Newton and Wilberforce:

“Humanity will forever be in Newton’s debt for mentoring Wilberforce…their relationship was of pivotal importance for both historical and spiritual reasons.”

Jesus mentored us, His followers, so well. Who are we mentoring in this “wokeness”? Who are we ourselves learning from today?

Worship with me today through this beautiful old hymn, Amazing Grace, written by John Newton. His lyrics speak to being “woke”: I once was lost, but now I’m found; Was blind, but now I see. Consider watching the 2006 film Amazing Grace with your family or friends (who somehow missed it the first time around).

How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Will be forever mine.

Worship Wednesday – Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) – Deb Mills

What’s Wrong With Woke? – Tom Ascol

Slavery, by the Numbers – Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

“This Is All Stolen Land”: Native Americans Want More Than California’s Apology – Sam Levin

Half the Land in Oklahoma Could Be Returned to native Americans. It Should Be. – Rebecca Nagle

Monday Morning Moment – Steps Forward in “We the People” Becoming True for All Americans

Photo Credit: Flickr, gnuckx

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it…”from The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson

We are coming off a very different 4th of July (Independence Day) weekend here in the US. Protests are continuing into a second month following the killing of George Floyd. Violence erupting, in cities like Atlanta and Chicago, has taken more lives.

Confederate monuments in our city are coming down, but until they do, they are the focal points of what is going on here. Public reaction to George Floyd’s death and the racial injustices of decades past.

What can we do? What can be done in our country to right these wrongs or, at the very least, prevent future wrongs? With more than sad and angry words spray-painted on signs and statues. [Please don’t hear me say anything other than that…the change may need to start right here…right here on Monument Avenue…but it has to continue from here to wherever we all live, work, and go to school…]

Ben Peterson, a brilliant doctoral student in political science, recently published a definitive essay on this topic, entitled Social Control and Human Dignity.

I quote heavily from his article below, but if you can tackle the whole of his scholarly piece, please do. If you don’t have the time or choose not to take time to read the quotes below, then please read my own bullet points on his take (and that of Dr. Glenn Loury). Dr. Loury, by the way, is an esteemed educator, a professor of social sciences and economics at Brown University. He writes prolifically on both economy and on race. I am thankful to have found his voice recently.Photo Credit: Dr. Glenn Loury, Wikimedia Commons

My takeaways from Ben Peterson’s article:

  • Violent crime is a serious social problem, but punishment alone (especially through mass incarceration) will not alter our course as a country…or keep all our communities safer. In fact, such punishment with no other provision/recourse is damaging to those communities who bear the brunt of mass incarceration.
  • We must hold people accountable for criminal behavior, but with dignity and humanity. We have responsibility in this to assure laws and punishments are fair, and to search out any elements of racism in our laws and punishment.
  • We can strive for the perspective of “we, us, and our” in thinking of persons and communities, instead of “they, them, and their”. In so doing, we press for laws and punishments that we can morally support for our own brothers, husbands, and sons…and that of our neighbors.
  • If a community is struggling, we must treat it as our own, not seeking only punishment for crime, but also developing pathways for restoring those previously incarcerated fully back into their families and neighborhoods. Listening to the leaders in these communities is priority. They live there; they know the strengths; they know the needs.
  • We put reforms in place for law enforcement and education, such that we all benefit from the best our country has to offer. No matter how vulnerable our community is.
  • Racial indifference is not an option for us, if we truly care for our neighbors and this country.

Those were my takeaways. Below you will find some of the powerful and salient quotes from Ben Peterson’s article. I hope I get to vote for him some day.

“…young black men commit a disproportionate amount of the violent crime that persists in this country. That fact surely helps explain why police disproportionately apply force against black men and interact with black men. It also helps explain why our prisons disproportionately house black men. That’s a critical point, but I don’t think we can stop there.”

“…we as a society have chosen to deal, or perhaps not deal, with the persistence of crime in poor black communities.”

“…violent crime is a much greater threat to black lives than police violence, by the numbers.”

“[Loury] argues that our method of social control has damaging effects on many of our communities and the people whose lives the criminal justice system touches, effects disparately borne in poor black communities. These effects are such to make the method of social control we have adopted a systemic injustice that demands the attention of policymakers and leaders around the country. Loury’s analysis is distinguished from others in that he insists on applying moral categories and acknowledging personal agency. He sees the problem in its multidimensional entirety: not simply as a crime or mass incarceration problem, but a problem of social control and ultimately human development. He calls us to a greater sense of social responsibility than our policy since the 1970s has exhibited. We should heed his message.

“…part of treating people with respect and dignity is to hold them accountable for their behavior. One theme in [Loury’s] analysis of race and inequality is that black people have agency and are not mere victims of systemic racism. This is a deeply humane argument, for to deny a person’s agency is to deny his humanity. Loury argues that black leaders and communities have to exercise this agency and find a way to effectively condemn and control immoral behavior in their own communities.”

“While he insists on personal agency and accountability for behavior in black communities, he does not absolve the larger polity of responsibility for the ills of high-crime black communities. He insists that Americans need to shift our thinking, so that we don’t treat the problems of poor black communities as the problems of “those people.” He argues that racism played a role in the development of our policy of social control.”

“…systemic injustice, or a social injustice, [is] a legal and accepted social practice that fails, on a wide scale, to render to each person his or her due…our incarceration system and treatment of people formerly incarcerated, fails to adequately respect the human dignity of prisoners, former prisoners, and their families and communities.

“The charge of injustice is based not on the fact of punishment, but on the reality that the total result of our method of social control is a failure to prevent crime in many communities, a failure to rehabilitate offenders and integrate them back into society, and a failure to leave poor minority communities better off…That argument is certainly debatable, but I would at least submit that many white people don’t see struggling black communities as our own communities.

Racial indifferenceThe problem is not so much with what we do as what we fail to do, which is to allow for the human development of many people and communities, overly relying on a punitive justice system to control the results of social dysfunction.”

“First, we need reforms in the justice system to encourage more dignified treatment of suspects, prisoners, and the communities who the system affects.”

“…find and amplify what’s working well in high-crime communities, offer models for consideration. We may need public funding and more involvement on the part of community members, especially churches and other institutions, in similar efforts aimed at strengthening those bedrock institutions in struggling communities.”

“We need to give more attention to our educational institutions and finding real solutions for lagging academic performance.”

“While we cannot ignore the behavioral problems of the so-called black underclass, we should discuss and react to those problems as if we were talking about our own children, neighbors, and friends. It will require adjusting ways of thinking on both sides of the racial divide. Achieving a well-ordered society, where all members are embraced as being among us, should be the goal. Our failure to do so is an American tragedy. It is a national, not merely a communal, disgrace. Changing the definition of the American “we” is a first step toward rectifying the relational discrimination that afflicts our society, and it is the best path forward in reducing racial inequality.Glenn Loury

___________________________________________________________________________

Finally, I want to close with a story about a person very dear to me who found himself on the wrong side of the law. As a young man, he got swept up into drug addiction (naive in ways at the recreational use of drugs and then too soon addicted). Without details, he would make some choices, affecting no one but himself, that would lead to him being charged with a felony. Even with the best legal counsel money could afford, he ended up with a felony conviction. He served some jail time, but he never had to go to prison. Again, thanks to financial support that allowed for a drug rehab program rather than incarceration. He benefited greatly from the rehab program where he was treated with dignity and respect. Unless the laws in his state change, he will be considered a felon the rest of his life…not right. There’s too much “not right” in our country, but not so much that “we the people” can’t work toward change.

The Glenn Show – Glenn Loury and John McWhorter and Others“make space for serious people of all races interested in understanding and discussing problems of race, police, and crime in a holistic way that does not force them to deny obvious facts.”

Embrace Communities – “strengthening and empowering communities from the inside out” – love this organization’s ABCD methodology of community development [What organizations can you recommend to us? Comment please.]

[Below is a short video on anti-racism. I found it helpful.]

Monday Morning Moment – Searching Out the Truth in All the Voices

Photo Credit: Dunk, Flickr

I was talking to a friend recently about longing to be in dialogue where I can actually sort out what is true in all the public outcry.

She said, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” It went right to my heart. I would find out later that this quote is credited to social activist Maggie Kuhn.

My shaky voice has kept me from writing, and even speaking on some of the issues we are facing today. Yet, the voices all around us are getting louder and louder.

We are in a season (I’m determined it is a season and not a new normal) where voices on the streets, messages on signs, even on facial masks are persuasive and divisive.

I’m committed to listening and searching out the truth of what people are saying…but.

Here’s the but:

As long as I’m still free to choose, I can’t support an organization or movement that seems to stir up hatred as part of its strategy. That might not be the intent, but…hatred bubbles up. Hatred for those seen as enemy, as culprit, as guilty with no presumption of innocence.

In the last month, my understanding of our society has grown enormously. Too many times, I’ve had to acknowledge: “I didn’t know.”

Watching the documentary 13th was riveting. This feature-length film exposes how after the passing of the 13th amendment on the abolishing of slavery, and then, decade after decade, the governmental and cultural undermining that decision right through to today. [If you aren’t inclined to watch “13th”, then take 10 minutes and watch Ryan DavisThis Is America.]

I have started realizing that the truth is although I wasn’t consciously racist, somehow culturally and spiritually, I have enjoyed privilege and have been indifferent to many in our country who are hurting.

This broke my heart. Even after years of working in a large public hospital in Atlanta, years working in community development, and years of what could be called Christian service. I lacked the compassion and critical thinking that, ironically, should have been clear and obvious in a life of following Jesus.

So where does that leave me…us? Have you struggled with the cultural messages you are hearing…about yourself, in particular, if you’re white? Have you wholeheartedly agreed with the messages? That we are at fault for all the terrible suffering we are seeing now (if we didn’t see it before), and we have to make it right? I don’t have an answer here…only more questions.

Systemic Racism Explained – Ryan Davis

I am so ready for an advancement of good in our country.

Dialogue. Civil discourse. Reasoning together. Searching for solutions…sustainable, dignifying solutions.

Here’s where I am right now. Listening to friends. Asking questions. Watching news reports and reading commentary. Looking for people who are speaking on the problems in our country, without power or profit agendas. People who seem to care, truly care, for the hurting, but who refuse to go the way of hatred.

An example of what helped to clear confusion for me was discovering the operating strategy of cultural Marxism.

“A collectivist application of Marxist class warfare along a far broader spectrum of identities, such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to solely along class lines; intersectionality.
First, Marxism only spoke to the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, but now men oppress women, whites oppress blacks, heterosexuals oppress homosexuals, the able-bodied oppress the disabled, & cisgendered folk oppress trans folk; WHO you are is irrelevant, all that matters now is WHAT you are, which groups you are a member of, your personhood reduced to your arbitrary characteristics, to that of an object; this is Cultural Marxism. –  Urban Dictionary

That is what I’m seeing in the loud and angry voices in the public arena right now. Class warfare. One group against another group. This is not the disruption that will enlarge any of us as Americans. We are all objectified by this kind of identification/definition. No justice in this. Only destruction and disunity.

The video below by theologian educator Dr. Voddie Baucham was enormously helpful for me to understand cultural Marxism. [I will warn you: he takes issue with the politics of a very popular US president.] His teaching actually gave me hope. Truth sets us free.

Be encouraged.

We can be a part of a redemptive work. Even with shaky voices and shaky knees. Our only recourse is NOT what the loudest voices call for…but we do need to listen to those who genuinely represent the hurting. And, most urgently, the hurting themselves.

Before closing, here are some of the voices that have encouraged and emboldened me in recent days. They are not all alike in their message, but they speak reason, love, and hope.

Rayshawn Graves. Bryan Stevenson. Scott Sauls. Anthony Bradley. Rolland Slade. Glenn Loury. Bevelyn Beatty. Senator Tim Scott. Darrell B. Harrison. Virgil Walker. Karen Swallow Prior. David Lyle. Jackie Hill Perry. Coleman Hughes. Jared Burwell. Tim Keller. Shelby Steele. Michael Catt. Keith Smith. John McWhorter. Voddie Baucham. Just to name a few.

I’d love to close with a few of the lyrics of Andrew Peterson‘s A White Man’s Lament for God’s Beloved:

“…the mercies of the Lord
Will be the chords to every song…
…it begins as I repent
And bow my head as I lament this broken world
‘Cause every victim, every villain
Was a precious little boy or little girl
This is me and this is you
This is the truth, if you believe it or not
You have always been beloved
They have always been beloved

George, Breonna, Ahmaud
All beloved of God

5 Ways Christians Are Getting Swept Into a Secular Worldview in This Cultural Moment – Natasha Crain

Worship Wednesday – Taking Heart in the God of Psalm 34 – Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

Photo Credit: a worship service in Richmond, during recent protests Jared Burwell, Facebook

I will praise the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.
I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim with me the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard [him] and saved him from all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them. Taste and see that the Lord is good. How happy is the man who takes refuge in Him! Fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.Psalm 34:1-9
Our city has been rocked with shock and grief in recent weeks. The resulting waves of protests, vandalism, and looting have turned everyone’s attention to the brokenness here and elsewhere.
Some say the church has finally found its voice in this conversation. The church is finally showing up where it should have long ago.
We struggle. All of us. With understanding and a willingness to lean in where there is pain. Whoever caused the pain or was complicit in ignoring pain, we as believers come under the lordship of a God who leans in.
I am still without words (you who read my blogs, thank you. You noticed and I am grateful). Fortunately many more articulate people are writing and speaking about what is going on in our country and how we can respond…as Americans for some, as believers for others.
I want to respond as a believer, and I am listening.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir‘s Psalm 34 really touched my heart this week, and I wanted to share it with you.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfW2mkkMTAg&feature=youtu.be
Our church is not very diverse in its congregation, but we have (or maybe want is a better word) a heart for loving all peoples. I am thankful for our leadership for nurturing that. Brooklyn Tabernacle, in New York City, has been multi-cultural for many years…as is its leadership.

The Pastoral Staff of Brooklyn Tabernacle

I think it’s safe to say that right now the church is trying to figure out how to show up for those hurting in our country and around the world. What that will mean in the days ahead…in the years ahead…is yet to be seen. How it turns out will be impacted by how we walk with the God of Psalm 34.

Worship together:

I sought the Lord
And He answered me
And delivered me
From every fear
Those who look on Him
Are radiant
They’ll never be ashamed
They’ll never be ashamed
This poor man cried
And the Lord heard me
And saved me from
My enemies
The Son of God
Surrounds His saints
He will deliver them
He will deliver them
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever
Oh taste and see
That the Lord is good
Oh blessed is he
Who hides in Him
Oh fear the Lord
Oh all you saints
He’ll give you everything
He’ll give you everything
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever
Magnify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name together
Glorify the Lord with me
Come exalt His name forever…

Worship Wednesday – Standing Firm, Side by Side, Not Afraid – in God’s Strength and His Salvation

Photo Credit: Philipp M., Pexels

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. – the Apostle Paul to the Philippian Church Philippians 1:27-28

God’s Word is powerful and freeing. We are emboldened and sustained by it – for life, for love, for forgiveness, for endurance.

When I read this passage again a few days ago, a charge from these words sizzled through me like electricity. Goosebumps and all.

Another translation of Paul’s writing introduced the above Scripture passage with the phrase “Just one thing”. We are living in confusing and shaky times, but God is unchanged. His truth is as riveting and reliable as when first written for us.

For months now, we have been kept apart by the social distancing of COVID-19. Since last week, we have been brought together by the terrible loss of George Floyd. Brought together and at the same time torn apart. Protests and a pandemic. Racial unrest and a radical disease.

A group of friends and I are going through a Bible study together which has turned out to be incredibly timely. We can’t be together so we meet over a video call, working through Jennie Allen‘s Get Out of Your Head. In this book, Allen talks through our struggle with the kind of thoughts that spiral downward taking us with them. The text she takes her readers through is Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He was in prison and yet wrote this short life-transforming letter to encourage the church experiencing its own hardship.

In confusing and chaotic times, our thoughts can be our worst enemy. We juggle the “what if’s” until they become more than we can manage. We question what’s right, what’s true, what’s our place in all of it…what’s God’s place. We become suspicious of others’ motives, and even sometimes our own. We grow weary of sorting it all out. We can withdraw…making six feet apart way too easy.

Jennie Allen reminds us that we have a choice; we can flip the downward spiral. We can make our aim, in all things,God’s glory and His headship. Keeping our focus on God, we then seek peace, do justice, love even our enemies, and trust God with our lives (whether the threat is COVID and or violence in the streets).

“As theologian and emeritus professor D. A. Carson has observed, People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”Jennie Allen
So how do we avoid that drift Dr. Carson talked about above?
In community. Standing firm, side by side, not afraid – in God’s strength and His salvation – Philippians 1:27-28.
However, even if community is shaky, God never is. We remind ourselves and each other that He is our refuge and we never have to be shaken...no matter the situation.

Psalm 62 – Trust in God Alone

For the choir director; according to Jeduthan. A psalm of David

I am at rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will never be shaken.

How long will you threaten a man?
Will all of you attack
as if he were a leaning wall
or a tottering fence?
They only plan to bring him down
from his high position.
They take pleasure in lying;
they bless with their mouths,
but they curse inwardly. Selah

Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before Him.
God is our refuge. Selah

Common people are only a vapor;
important people, an illusion.
Together on a scale,
they weigh less than a vapor.
Place no trust in oppression
or false hope in robbery.
If wealth increases,
don’t set your heart on it.

God has spoken once;
I have heard this twice:
Strength belongs to God,
and faithful love belongs to You, Lord.
For You repay each according to his works.Psalm 62

Monday Morning Moment – Protests, Pleading, and Prayers

Photo Credit: John Englart, Flickr

What kind of world do we call home where we can actually watch a man die in minutes, in handcuffs, begging to live? George Floyd died May 25, 2020. We hear of such things in other nations – public murders, executions – but to see them in the US awakens us more to the injustice and the utter wrongness of such situations. No wonder there is so much outrage right now. How we respond to that pain and anger matters…moving us either toward needful unity or worsening division.

How do we respond?

1) Protests – In the US, we have the Constitutional right to right to peaceably assemble and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.  There is a way to protest that gives pause; that rivets our attention; that demands a hearing. A protest that doesn’t destroy its very own cities.

Photo Credit: David Sanabria, Flickr

In Richmond, Virginia, friends on the police force see themselves on the streets, during these protests, there to protect the protesters. So they may be heard.

Whatever turns the protests to violent, destruction raids on businesses and neighborhoods makes the loss of George Floyd and others even more painful.

That’s Not Going to Bring My Brother Back’: George Floyd’s Brother Calls for End to Violence – Janell Ross

Atlanta is where I was born. Hear from this city’s police chief:

2) Pleading – As a mom myself, I’m so thankful for other moms who use what platforms they have to cry out against the evil in this world and call us together for the sake of our children. So many are doing this right now. We have to put our politics aside. People matter more. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms used her office to plead with her fellow Atlantans to “go home”. Don’t miss her impassioned appeal below.

Dear White Moms, Here’s What I Need You To Know – Jehava Brown

Now, I don’t believe Senator Susan Collins is a mom but she is a  fearless advocate for change, standing her ground for what she believes is right. Here she is speaking from the Senate floor on killing of George Floyd:

3) Prayers – The Scripture gives us clear direction in this response to the division in our country right now: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”2 Chronicles 7:14

We need to take God’s call to prayer seriously. He calls us to come to Him. He will listen. He will act.Photo Credit: Needpix

Songwriters Andy and Rachel Graham, on a visit to our own divided city, wrote this beautiful prayer song in response:

Cry Out – Susan Lafferty

Photo Credit: Facebook, We Are That Family, Brick House in the City

“Oh God, help us to listen. To You. To those in so much pain around us. Help us to listen. Our words take up space that needs to go to others right now. Help us to listen, Lord. Right now, we see in the news the chant “Take the knee” as police and protestors confront each other. Heavenly Father, we would all do well to take the knee, in humility, before a just and loving God. Forgive us our sin toward each other. Forgive our sin toward You. Thank You for the life of George Floyd. Have mercy, Lord. We need You now. We’ve always needed You…in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Monday Morning Moment – Martin Luther King Jr. Day – Where Are We Now? – Deb Mills

Today’s reading with our grandchildren…

Monday Morning Moment – Resilience – Socially Distanced but Emotionally Engaged

Photo Credit: Resilience, Seoraksan National Park, South Korea, Chris Campbell, Flickr

Let’s talk about resilience – that ability to weather hardship over time; to endure and stand strong; to bounce back to a new normal. A new normal not thrust on us but one we help create.

“Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.” – The Road to Resilience

When strong winds come (whether illness, financial setbacks, or social distancing prescribed to avoid COVID-19), we can bend or break.Photo Credit: Wallpaper Flare

There is a more middle place as well, when the bending leaves us bent rather than just stretched. We are in a season where we might feel bent. In a “fog” of sorts, disoriented by our circumstances, ill-equipped for what we currently face. The lethargy, fatigue, and emotional/mental dullness are confusing when we actually have more opportunity than ever before to create and innovate.

This is where resilience comes in. After weeks of “staying at home”, getting work done in different ways than before, we are teetering on whether to remain cautious or throw caution to the wind.

Tapping into that mental energy for decisive action can move us toward resilience.  What do we want as a long-term outcome of this season?

Author James Clear writes about habit formation. He says it takes 2 months or so for a new habit to become automatic. He also cautions against focusing on the amount of time it takes more than the work it takes. “Do the work”. From Day 1 until whatever day our lives will “return” to normal.

Have you thought about what you hope to gain from this time we’re in “together”? We can’t control everything, of course. We will continue to have days where it seemed we weren’t able to accomplish much more than keeping our kids safe and fed. Underneath the sluggishness of this season of “staying well” or “staying in” for the sake of others…there is a rock-solid foundation of future possibility.

Let’s go after resilience. Let this be something we and our children look back on as a gain from 2020. Photo Credit: George Mason University

I’d love to hear your thoughts, your struggles, and how you are tackling the framing of that new normal. How are you staying mentally and emotionally engaged in spite of social distancing?

I’d like to close with some wisdom from Patrick Lencioni:

Hope Despite Coronavirus Fatigue – Trillia Newbell – my inspiration for today’s post

The Road to Resilience – Excellent resource (pdf)

Enhancing Resilience – Beth Payne (quick & helpful read)

The 6 Domains of Resilience – Jurie Rossouw (deeper dive, another excellent resource)

7 Successful Battle Strategies to Beat COVID-19 – Euvin Naidoo – for both work and personal life

You Can’t Think Yourself Out of Feeling Bad – Brianna Wiest

The Twisted Trees of Slope Point, New Zealand