Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hate Talk

The whole thing only took a minute or two or three but it was chilling. With eyes to the ground, rolling a case of some kind a young Asian man was being verbally assaulted by a couple of quite inebriated college aged guys. It was in Champaign. Anita and I were walking back to our car after an Illini football game.

The verbal assault which called into question heritage, race, and style of speech was ugly in its intent and motivation. The more vocal of the two thought he was being cute and funny. The quieter one primarily giggled his approval. I'm sure they both thought they were being manly and clever. I saw childish and mean spirited.

I stopped long enough to see the Asian man scurry away, out of harms way. And yet I wonder, even now, how the violation of his personhood and the accompanying fear might impact his life. Will he brush it all off or will he forever be looking over his shoulder?

Some might say that it was the beer talking. Nope. I was seeing the drunkenness only revealing what was deep in their heart. And it scared me.

I've seen the hate mongering gene up close and personal many times. It's present in all our lives (that sin thing again). And when it's unleashed it looks ugly. The ugliness can take many forms. It could be verbal taunting, funny little stories with a racial twist, stereotyping, profiling, redlining or even hiding behind the walls of a gated community to escape 'them'.

I've been saying privately to people that my deepest fear is we're only an incident or two away from some sort of mammoth class and racial struggle. The racial and ethnic divides are deep and wide in our country still. Even on college campuses that major in tolerance and diversity. I wonder how much of our struggles with immigration policy, poverty, pluralism and terrorism are rooted in unresolved racial and ethic fears, hurts, and wounds? A lot I think. How deep is our desire to bridge those divides or are we content to maintain them?

In the Book of Ephesians we read that we are God's masterpiece. Yesterday, I saw a masterpiece of God being treated as worthless junk. And it was wrong. Yet, it happens every day, all day.

The line between my indignation and my participation in hate mongering is probably a thin one. I'm capable of much ugliness. It's truly only by the grace of God that I manage to care about doing what is good and noble. And I'm not sure that I always succeed. Today I'm doing well. We'll see what tomorrow brings. My prayer for myself and for you is that we will see hate mongering in all it's manifestations and be bothered by it. So bothered that we will stand up against it. That's risky business. It's also kingdom business And if we see 'hate' taking root in our personal lives let's stand against that too asking a good God to renew a right spirit within us.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Penn State Story

Today I left Breakthrough around noon to head back out to the western suburbs.  I passed a young man and woman.  They appeared to be arguing.  I slowed down and watched through my rear view mirror.  I saw him violently shove her.  Then he threw a giant roundhouse punch that landed on the side of her head.  More shoving. Then a slap.  No one else was in sight.

I know what I wanted to do.  I wanted to keep driving. And I almost did.  But I couldn’t. So, I turned the car around.  Pulled up near them. Opened my window and asked the girl if she was OK. No response. I asked again.  The young man then started yelling at me. Swearing.  That was fun.

The good news was that my presence stopped the violence.  I pulled up the block a bit but didn’t leave.  I called 911 and then flagged down a passing squad car.  The police officer immediately turned around to deal with the situation.  When I saw him engage the couple in conversation I left.

I’m no hero.  There was a tug of war going on in my head about stopping or driving away.  Interfering in something like this in an urban neighborhood can be a dangerous thing.  I remembered thinking …he might have a gun?  Would he assault me? But I came to the conclusion that I was the only person around who could stop this man from further harming this young woman.  So I intervened. Today, I’m able to look in the mirror and know that I did the right thing.  But I almost didn’t.  I could have called 911 and not stopped but sometimes 911 isn’t always quick to come in some urban neighborhoods.  That wasn’t the best option.  God was telling me I needed to intervene. But I almost didn’t.

Last week the news about Penn State broke.  I understand better today how hard it is to step up in the moment to stop something horrible.  Hard isn’t easy.  It is necessary though for good people to do hard things in order to stop injustice.  That means facing fear, praying for courage, and asking God for protection.  When we don’t lean into our fear and respond with some degree of courage people often get hurt.

On Sunday I was listening to a Christian radio station on my drive to church. I heard the host saying that he had heard about the Penn State child abuse incident but was choosing not to listen to any news details about it.  There was a bit more said that made me wonder if people were being invited to check the issues of the day in the narthex of their church.   I was hoping and praying people wouldn't hear that it doesn't matter what was happening out there in the world.  Or that that all we needed to do was "Praise the Lord" in our holy huddles and all the bad stuff will go away.  If so, I was going to be seriously ill. I was upset that perhaps some would actually believe that it was OK to close their minds and hearts to matters of serious consequence.

In a subsequent good conversation with that host I was assured that the message I heard wasn't the message intended. I will choose to believe in his intention and his heartfelt concern for the victims and his deep love for God. And yet I heard something that caused a strong reaction. Thinking through this I wonder if I wasn't filtering what I was hearing through an all too familiar and unsatisfying grid. Too often the church can close its eyes and ears to the world around them, waiting for the culture to get bad enough soon and then the Lord will come back and take all the good guys away, rescuing us from all things ugly and sinful. While I believe fully in the coming of the Lord again I also believe that we are kingdom builders in the here and now and required to deal with the world as it is as ambassadors of Christ. 

I’ve always believed that people of faith need to know what is happening around them.  I, too, want to praise the Lord but I believe that God wants me to care about the things that matter to Him.  Kids being raped in a shower room matters to God. Such things should inform our worship and bring us to our knees crying in the midst of our outrage and springboard us to action.  To close our eyes to the evil in our world is a sinful act. I was reminded of that when I saw the first punch to a woman’s face today.  Who was God going to use to protect her?  The finger, this time, pointed to me. Tomorrow, maybe you.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Unhappy Valley

The news out of Happy Valley was grim this week. In the wake of a grand jury report detailing sexual abuse of young boys a sports icon was fired. He was not the perpetrator of the crimes. In fact, he reported one incident. But he failed to take the 'extra steps' necessary to stop fiendish acts from recurring. He took the procedural step in the right direction but not the courageous step to ending the abuse once and for all. I'm reminded of the Amelia Earhart quote "Courage is the price life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things."

As I listened to sports radio this week I was stunned by many of the callers. Many claimed to be heroic figures who would have stopped the nonsense in its tracks if they would have observed the heinous crimes being committed. Talk is cheap. In a world filled with a multitude of horrors bar stool heroes are a dime a dozen. Real heroes and heroines don't have time to call in to talk shows or flex their muscles in front of mirrors. No, they are out in the trenches dealing with injustice and not just posing as protectors of the innocent and oppressed.

How many of us lack the courage to step out in faith to stare evil in the face? Too many. We get wrapped up in our comfort and trivial pursuits while all around us people who Jesus loves are being hurt, starved, abused, tortured, enslaved, belittled, and imprisoned? And we do and say nothing. Often, we put our heads in the sand and our hearts and minds on cruise control and refuse to look at the world the way Jesus sees it. It's wrong and it's sinful.

Joe Paterno said that he should have done more. He's right. But he got caught up in worshipping an idol he helped create ...big time college football. And in order to right the wrong his coach created he would have had to take his eye off the idol and do the right thing even if it meant knocking the Penn State football idol off it's pedestal. He didn't. And now he is suffering the consequences of it all. It's sad because I think Paterno did a lot of good along the way. But in this instance he lacked the courage to the right thing, in the right way.

There have been times in my life when I've been courageous and stood up to evil. There have also been times when I backed away and wallowed in varying degrees of cowardice. As hard as the courageous times were (and they usually are) I don't ever regret stepping up. My times of cowardice carry deep regret as its reward.

To those abused at Penn State we send our prayers that a good God will heal them. May justice be swift for the perpetrators. And for us ...may we open our eyes to the evil around us and may we rise up to become the answers to the prayers of those who suffer.