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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Some writers say it better: check out these articles:

  1. http://www.christianitytoday.com/amyjuliabecker/2014/august/white-christians-its-time-to-stand-in-solidarity-with-your-.html.
  2. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/august/its-time-to-listen.html?paging=off.
  3. http://donofalltrades.com/2014/08/19/meanwhile-just-outside-of-ferguson/.
  4. http://sojo.net/blogs/2014/08/25/ten-practical-ways-white-christians-can-respond-ferguson#.U_vloMZnxPk.facebook.
  5. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/08/self-segregation-why-its-hard-for-whites-to-understand-ferguson/378928/.
  6. http://www.christianitytoday.com/amyjuliabecker/2014/november/three-months-after-michael-browns-death-in-ferguson-missour.html.
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How do we move forward from here? Going forward will take a good dose of patience.  Patience because we cannot move too quickly from ‘here’ as that would insensitive. Those walking alongside the bewildered, frustrated and mournful residents of Ferguson might not understand how they think and behave; however, I still encourage patience. Patience is needed when irrational things are done; patience is required when illogical decisions are made. Patience is needed when ‘people don’t know what they don’t know.’ Patience is a must for our local, state, regional and federal authorities. Patience is necessary to allow the investigation to follow its due process.  Coupled with patience is adopting a long term view.  What has happened in Ferguson will not be remedied overnight.  We cannot close our eyes and presto and think “back to normal.” Worldviews or attitudes undergirded with and deeply steeped in false hoods will not be fixed in an instant.  Strained race relations in this country will not be solved overnight.  Strained relations between the black community and white police officers will not be solved in the blink of an eye.  The mommy and daddy of Michael Brown will not get over that their son is dead next week or next month. The suburb of Ferguson has been riven; it will take months and perhaps years to rebuild.  This too will take patience or long suffering.

Going forward will necessitate us engaging our minds.  We must be thoughtful.  Being thoughtful means considering the consequences of our decisions and the unintended consequences of our decisions.  Being thoughtful means at the very least having a diverse company of thinkers at the table. Giving someone ‘a voice’ is to treat a person with respect and dignity.

Going forward will demand that all citizens of this great country overcome their fears, their preconceived ideas, their stereotypes about the ‘other’ and build real relationships with their ‘neighbors’; where a ‘neighbor’ is everyone who is not you.  Neighbors are your next door neighbors; neighbors are those who don’t hang in your circles; neighbors are those who are not in your socio-economic stratum; neighbors are those not invited to the parties you attend; neighbors are those who are not in your neighborhood or don’t look like you.   And we must encourage our kids to do likewise: be neighborly.  As you know real life-on-life (not faux computer-on-life relationships) will be messy and uncomfortable.  (A Facebook relationship is not a real relationship; FB can help maintain a relationship but it should never take the place of a real life-on-life relationship.) Real life-on-life relationships are frustrating of course but they are also quite refreshingly nourishing.  So, if you are not engaged in real life-on-life relationships with a diverse array of people, I believe your life is severely malnourished.

Going forward will demand a serious look at those institutions in desperate need of repair; especially, the family and criminal justice (CJ) system.  We must seek to reform these institutions.  Christians are well aware that we are called to be redeemers.  How might we aggressively and thoughtfully reform the family and the CJ system?  (This task is quite daunting; however, for the Christian, God has given us His Holy Spirit to guide us to navigate such waters.)

Going forward we need to seriously question the status quo.  For instance, one industry that often does not get challenged is the media.  For instance, take a look at TV (news casts, commercials, etc.) and one would surmise that only whites live in this country and only whites can afford such things as vacations, homes, jeans, etc.  When whites see themselves primarily on the TV, this sends a subliminal message: ‘white is right.’ Conversely, when blacks don’t see people like themselves on TV, this too sends a subliminal message: ‘black is wrong’ or ‘blacks don’t do those things.’

Going forward we must avoid amnesia; that is, the greatest tragedy will be that we forget Michael Brown and the circumstances surrounding his death.  Going forward those in the majority culture might consider becoming a minority and enter in to places like Ferguson to understand up close and not try to understand from a distance or via a computer screen.  (For the Christian, there is a reason why Jesus ‘pitched His tent’ among people.) Entering into the lives of those who live in places like Ferguson will likely change how you think of those who are not as privileged as you. You might discover that their claims are not so unfounded or farfetched; you might discover that those who live in places like Ferguson have dreams like you, fears like you, hopes like you, etc.  Heck, you might discover that you are related! 🙂

Going forward whites need to understand that while they may see white police officers as ‘friendly and neighborly’; blacks don’t see white police officers in like terms. In fact, some of my white blue-collar friends don’t view the police in a favorable light (perhaps, it is a class thing too?). Some of this of course is unfounded but a good portion of this opinion is quite legitimate.  Just think about this thing called ‘racial profiling’.  A criminal justice colleague of mine did his dissertation on racial profiling.  What did he discover? Every municipality in the state of Missouri has instances of racial profiling.

Going forward, Christ’s bride, the Church, must take the lead.  The church must be a beacon of light amid such much darkness. The church was handed the baton to continue the work that Christ began; the work of renewal of all things. The bride of Christ must be the one that values all people who are made in God’s image.   The church knows that its members have not be called to a life of comfort but of service and sacrifice. The church should be the ‘drum major’ for justice and speak out when she sees injustice. The church should be the one on the front lines fighting to see injustice exchanged for justice. The church must be the redemptive change agent that God has called her to be.  The gospel by its very nature is meant to make our societies, neighborhoods, etc. more palatable places to live and work and play. The church needs to do better in living out this gospel so that it does bring about this lovely effect. So, we might need to repent also.  The church is equipped to be proactive so we can avert or limit such occasions like this in Ferguson.  The Bride of Christ must be a sweet aroma in a sometimes awful smelling world. The church must share the message of hope in words and actions to often a hopeless world.

Disclaimer: this blog is not meant to be ‘the be all and end all’ word on going forward but perhaps it can serve as ‘food for thought.’

Michael Brown is an African-American male; Darren Wilson, the sequestered police officer who killed Brown, is a white male.  In our current context, this forces the discussion topic to be about ‘race relations.’ In other words, this incident between Brown and Wilson has forced St. Louisians and yea, citizens of this great country to grapple with race once again.  One thing is certain: we don’t live in a post-racial society.  In fact, many scholars have noted that race relations are bit more strained because Obama is in the White House. Just ponder the irony of that statement: a Black man is in the White house and yet race relations are a bit more strained in this country.  Back to this statement: this incident, whether folks want to admit it or not, has forced us once again to grapple with issues related to race.  For instance, what comments have you spoken in your heart (in secret) or out loud about the recent events in Ferguson, MO?  Here are some comments that are unhelpful:

  1. “Brown deserved what was coming to him. He was better dead than alive.”
  2. “All white police officers are racists.”
  3. “All white people are racists.”
  4. “All blacks are shiftless and lazy and simply want a hand out.”
  5. Comments beginning with “those people…
  6. “Dang, what’s the big deal about an African-American male being killed?”
  7. “Blacks are animals and uncivilized.”
  8. “All white police officers are trigger happy.”
  9. “This ain’t my problem.  I got mine, you get yours.”
  10. “It is best that they stay there with their kind; and we stay here with our kind.”
  11. “I have a black friend.”
  12. “Those people have gotten themselves into this fine mess.”

 

Here are some comments or reactions or responses that are helpful:

  1. “Race is a social construct.” And as such, we need to seriously ‘deconstruct’ and put it back together again.
  2. “Whites in general have good relations with white police officers; why is it so different with blacks?”
  3. “I desire for the sake of all human beings that true truth will emerge in this case as this is the pathway for justice to be achieved.”
  4. “What could I do to serve this family and the Ferguson community and the police?”
  5. “A mom and dad have lost their son (they cannot fuss at their son, they cannot hug their son); we should mourn with this family.”
  6. “What privileges do I enjoy that I might share with the underprivileged?” Or “what social capital can I share with those on the fringes of society?” “How can I use my advantage to give others access to opportunities?” [Most blacks are not looking for an easy way; but rather access to opportunities.  A fellow white female engineer once to me, “Luke, you are different.” I replied, “I am not different, I only had opportunities that many blacks were not afforded.]
  7. “Is there something about regularity of such encounters between blacks and white police officers that warrants my dutiful investigation?”
  8. “We must allow the justice system to do its due diligence.”  I, for one, don’t want any short cuts.
  9. “Everyone is my neighbor.” (The Christian is to love his neighbor as himself.)
  10. “I need to take time to listen to the stories of others and not paint all people of a particular race as the same.”
  11. “We must denounce criminal behavior such as looting and rioting and those who wish to disobey the curfew.”
  12. “This young man, like all people regardless of race, creed, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. is part of one human family.”  We are brothers and sisters!  The Black-Eyed Peas (now considered ‘old school’) recognized our familial connection in their “One Tribe” rap song.  Consider these lyrics (my commentary is in bold type).  According to this multi-ethnic quartet, We are…

 

One Tribe [=one human family], one time, one planet, one race
It’s all one blood, don’t care about your face
The color of your eye or the tone of your skin
…….
I don’t need no leader
That’s gonna force feed a
Concept that make me think I need to
Fear my brother and fear my sister [Fear keeps us at arm’s length from our neighbors who are different than us]
And shoot my neighbor or my big missile
If I had an enemy to {enemy}
If I had an enemy to {enemy}
If I had an enemy, then my enemy is gonna try to come and kill me
Cause I’m his enemy
There’s one tribe ya’ll

………..
One love, one blood, one people
One heart, one beat, we equal
Connected like the internet [what happens to you affects me and vice versa]
United that’s how we do
Let’s break walls, so we see through
Let love and peace lead you
We could overcome the complication cause we need to
Help each other, make these changes
Brother, sister, rearrange this [we are brothers and sisters]
…….

A side bar: for Christians reading this blog, the ‘bar is set a bit higher’ for us because: 1) an implication inherent in the gospel of Jesus Christ is the mandate to cross uncomfortable boundaries and this includes racial boundaries.  And 2) the church, as a ‘contrast society,’ is suppose to be leading the charge of modeling what ‘supernaturally restored relationships’ look like.  Atop of the list is supernaturally restoring race relations.  This means all races need to reach beyond the borders and build relationships. (See Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality where he talks more about how the way Christians live is actually an apologetic; and Michael Goheen’s A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story where he discusses the church as a ‘contrast society’). And finally, I am very fond of Dr. Hans Bayer, New Testament Professor at Covenant Theological Seminary. He said once, “live life from the end of the story.” What’s going to be true at the end of history when Christ makes all things new and sets up His kingdom here on earth? This new kingdom will be multi-ethnic!  So, as Christians, we are called to make this a reality now to give others a foretaste or preview of that heavenly reality at the end of history!  What a challenge but what a thrill and privilege to get to know someone who does not look like me.

 

 

 

 

I once worked for Lindenwood University (St. Charles, MO).  I relocated to Kansas City, MO (my hometown) in June 2014 after a great and satisfying stint at LU.  I was the Chair for the Christian Ministry Studies (CMS) Department and an Associate Professor.  Also housed in the same school (the School of Human Services) was my Criminal Justice (CJ) colleagues.  My former students know that I am the inquisitive and curious type!  Thus, do I have a lot of questions for my CJ colleagues or anyone in the Criminal Justice arena.  For instance, since Wilson clearly had the advantage (he had a gun and allegedly Brown did not), couldn’t Wilson had shot Brown in the legs to slow him down or to demobilize him (if indeed Brown was charging Wilson)?  Death is final! Given the deep seated and lingering distrust of the police by the African-American community, is “Race Relations in America” a standard part of the curriculum in undergraduate programs or at the police academy? When it comes to the criminal justice system, is it true that a white person’s life is more valued than that of a black person’s life as Scott Turow asserts in his book, Ultimate Punishment: A Lawyer’s Reflections on Dealing with the Death Penalty? Is it true that “firing 6 shots in a 3-4 second time frame is standard”? as a Facebook friend discovered while talking with his officer friend? What protocols or standards did Wilson obey and disobey? What is Wilson likely going through? Is he having sleepless nights? Will he carry any guilt for this killing?  Why do these encounters keep happening between white officers and black men? Two answers I suppose: 1) I am guessing there is a shortage of black officers? And 2) sadly and statistically, blacks commit more crimes.  See Shelby Steele’s The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America, Rodrick Burton’s The Moral State of Black America and  John McWhorter’s Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America for proof of this unflattering commentary and reality.  But then we need to ask why do blacks commit more crimes than whites?  For starters, see  http://www.theveryworstmissionary.com/2014/08/a-white-cop-black-kid-and-crime.html?m=1. I am convinced that once we answer this ‘why’ question, we will understand why we repeatedly end here (clashes between the black community and the police; we have been ‘here’ before).  Once we answer this ‘why’ question we can begin attacking not the symptoms but the root causes that lead to these unwelcomed  and often deadly rendezvous between black men and white police officers.

 

 

 

 

 

What do I know about this incident involving Brown and Wilson? As account after account comes forward and as eye-witness after eye-witness comes forward, I can say confidently, ‘I don’t know very much.’  Because of conflicting accounts, I don’t know if Brown was surrendering as the shots were being fired or was he charging the officer?  Based on one independent autopsy ordered by the family, we know that of the shots fired, six hit Brown (two in the head).  A Facebook friend conferred with an officer friend who said, “firing 6 shots in a 3-4 second time frame is standard.” So, is firing 6 shots at an unarmed man standard protocol or overkill? Did Wilson, the police officer, tell Brown and his friend to get out the street and onto the f**king sidewalk as Dorian Johnson, Brown’s friend initially reported?  In other words, did the police officer instigate the whole thing or was there just cause to use an expletive to get them out of the street and onto the sidewalk? I don’t know if Wilson, the officer who shot Brown, shot this young man because of malicious intent or was he shooting to save his life?  Why was Wilson in this community to begin with – was he assigned to this beat? Was there an initial struggle between Brown and the police officer after their first encounter?   I do not know if calling in a militarized police force was a wise thing to do? I do not know if imposing a curfew by Governor Nixon was the right thing to do?  While I don’t know very much, I do know a family and a community and perhaps a country are grieving and asking questions.  I know that due diligence must be done to arrive at justice.  I know that a careful investigation needs to take place for the truth to truly emerge. I know we must apply our minds and our hearts to this situation; emotionalism will not suffice by itself and nor will rationalism suffice alone.  I know this sad incident has awaken otherwise complacent people out of their stupor and catapulted them into a conversation.  I think upon hearing that Brown was shot (6) times might incite the already restless Ferguson community a bit more. I know that we cannot continue to ignore the race discussion even if it is uncomfortable.  I know that this is a big mess.  As a Christian, I know I must pray and be thoughtful what I write as to not be part of the problem but rather be part of the solution.

“Crap, not again.” These were my words (or some variation thereof) when I first learned of Michael Brown’s death and the circumstances surrounding his death. I also uttered out loud, “Lord, not another black male killed by a white police officer.” Another human being made in God’s image killed. Lost is this young man’s contributions to our society and world.  Just in case some are ‘blissfully unaware’ of the events here’s a recap: on August 9, 2014 a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  Since the shooting the officer has been identified as Darren Wilson, a 28-year-old white officer.  And since this young man’s death, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency  and has imposed a curfew.

People ask: why are people in Ferguson so angry, so infuriated? Why has this killing led to illogical and irrational behavior such as riots and looting? Why has the events of relatively unknown Ferguson, MO caused protests around the country? Why I am so angry and heartbroken about Michael Brown’s death? Why do I fear for my son who is thriving at the University of Kansas? Why am I – a person with four degrees, a pretty good husband and father, a law-abiding citizen (on most days) – especially nervous and anxious when a white police officer is following me? It’s the regularity of this single event: a black man killed by a white police officer. It keeps happening again and again and again!

As a professor once said to his class, “Don’t hear what I am not saying.” I am not saying all white officers are trigger happy. I am not saying that African-American officers don’t kill African-American males. I am not saying that other communities don’t suffer similar tragedies. I know there are plenty of law-abiding police officers out there patrolling their particular beats with the highest morals; yet, from the point of view of the African-American this happens much too often: a white police officer’s apparent misuse of his (or her authority) which leads to the killing of an unarmed African-American male.  Events like this have become a ‘broken record’; they just keep happening and keep happening. History is unfortunately replete with such abuses. For example, some of my readers will not remember the savage beating of Rodney King (fortunately he did not die). Readers should Google King’s name. And for the regularity of this event – a white cop killing an unarmed black man – check out this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/16/melissa-harris-perry-black-men-killed-by-police_n_5684588.html.

Why are African-Americans and people all across the country so angry, distraught and clamoring for justice? Why are so many African-Americans so cynical, profoundly hopeless and really don’t give a crap? Why do blacks kill other blacks? Why do some African-Americans see life as completely meaningless? Better – why are so many African-Americans modern day existentialists? Because once again, a person on the margin of society (Michael Brown) has been fatally bullied by someone on the side of the majority: a white police officer.  True or not: this is the perception shared by many.

I had the great honor and privilege to teach at Lindenwood University (St. Charles, MO) for nearly 7 years.  For most of this time, I was the Department Chair of Christian Ministry Studies (CMS) and Associate Professor.  Listed below are few reflections during my tenure.

Love for students.  I learned that I love undergraduate students.  These students don’t come with neatly and tidy lives; rather, many are quite broken (like yours truly).  Over the years, many young men have confessed their addiction to pornography.  Many of the young men had practically no relationship with their fathers.  A few have confessed having pre-marital sex to me.  Some come from severely dysfunctional homes.  Some struggled with anxiety issues.  However,  I found that the phrase, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” to be so true with this generation.  Many of these students made me laugh and cry; and many frustrated me and many improved my prayer life!  I really believe many of these lovely students sensed my love for them as many still ask me to write letters of recommendation for them and many still ask me questions via text or email.  And my students know that I love questions!

Love for ideas.  Academia affords the academician a milieu to engage with an assortment of ideas – some logical, some illogical and some paradoxical.  The academy is a place to get intellectual stimulation. Dr. James Evans, President at Lindenwood, often refers to the academy as “the republic of ideas.” This was so true at Lindenwood.  The many disciplines not only made this “republic of ideas” possible but the many countries who sent students to Lindenwood made this possible too.  At Lindenwood there were over 90 different countries represented.  This meant colorful languages, worldviews, cultures and ideas were in abundance. Such diversity of ideas enables one to hone his or her critical thinking skills (this was certainly my experience). And engaging with such a wide assortment of ideas also expanded my worldview (one benefit of a liberal arts education).

Life-on-Life.  I was privileged to participate in many life-on-life contexts with my students because I loved my students by teaching them with excellence (I tried to bring my “A” game every class period);  I loved my students by traveling with them, by praying for and with them, challenging them, listening to them and serving them (e.g., I bought books for some, I helped some find lodging, some I visited in the hospital, some I donated money to, etc.).  In other words, many invited me into their ‘private lives.’  What did this look like? I officiated 4 weddings and participated in 2 weddings of my students.  Some of these students allowed me to provide pre-marital and post-marital counseling.  I was invited to meet their parents and grandparents at meals.  These memories will live on forever in mind as long as I am able to remember.

Love for teaching.  I have been gone from Lindenwood since June 2014 and as the length of time away from Lindenwood widens I realize that I was designed to teach folks.  I long for the classroom. I simply love teaching.  My wife notices my love for teaching.  Others have commented to her about my love for teaching and the impact it has made on their lives. For example, one former math student told my wife this, “I developed a love for math after taking your husband’s class.”  Words like this just fuel me to keep on teaching. And words like this make me weep!

Love for my colleagues. The CMS department was housed in the School of Human Services.  This school is also ‘the home’ for my former Social Work, Nonprofit Administration, Military Science, Criminal Justice and Fire and Paramedic Science colleagues.  I found these dear colleagues to be the most professional, congenial and ‘down to earth’ group of folks I have ever worked with.  This is not to say we did not “have our issues” because we did; but I will miss them as much as I miss my students.  I would be remiss if I did not mention my dear colleagues in LCIE (Lindenwood’s College for Individualized Education).  I ‘cut my teeth’ in this accelerated evening adult program and the colleagues there were so hospitable.

Love-Hate Relationship with Grading.  I have a love-hate relationship with grading.  I love it because grading provides feedback on how well or not so well I taught.  Grading was a way to determine if my students were able to ‘connect the dots.’ I also love grading because often I received assignments that were so well done that they made me smile and cry! (I am serious.)  I do not literally hate grading but I dislike it because it can be so monotonous and because of the finality of grades. An “A” or a “D” will remain on a student’s official transcript into perpetuity.  Because of this finality, grading was quite stressful for me.

These are just a few of my thoughts.