Unaddressed: Letters and Invitations

Dear World ~ We are a brilliantly diverse, endlessly fascinating population of people. Such unique ethnicities, languages and cultures… yet… one big global family, made in God’s image, meant to love and be loved. So where is the love? I fear we’re on the brink of a worldwide shortage. And I doubt there’s a single soul on this planet that couldn’t use some TLC right now. Let’s be gentle with each other… and give a little grace, shall we?

Dear America ~ You need to get your head on straight. Where’s the common decency? What happened to “we hold these truths to be self-evident… that all men are created equal.” We never even got there. And now it seems we’re slipping back. When did we lose sight of “liberty and justice… for all?” We have to do better. Which means, we have to be better. (God help us.) Only then will liberty, equity, security and justice prevail. In the words of Frederick Douglass, “The life of the nation is secure only while the nation is honest, truthful and virtuous.” Oh how far we’ve strayed…

Dear Church ~ When the Gospel becomes secondary, we’re undone. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing: Jesus. Not pontificating or politicking or pursuing the American Dream. You know what our nation needs? Hope. Help. Humility. Healing. We need less condescension/conflict/chaos and more Christlikeness: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.” Jesus taught us to pray and pull together, help shoulder each others’ burdens, tenderly care for one another – His very body. But we continue to inflict pain with repeated acts of self-harm. Let’s bandage our unsightly/self-inflicted/ superficial cuts and get on with tending the critically wounded around us. (In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a bloody battlefield.)

Dear BIPOC/Neighbors ~ I don’t even know what to say. Except… I’m sorry. I see your anguish and your anger. I hear your pleas and protests and prayers. But I admit I haven’t given you my full attention before now. I’m sorry my prejudgments and prejudices have hurt you. (In ways I’m becoming aware of… and ways I know I’m still blind to.) I’m learning that oppression comes in many shapes and sizes: profiling, poverty, limited access and opportunity, inadequate housing/healthcare/ education… I’m sorry I didn’t notice sooner, listen better, learn more, or love you enough to work harder – alongside you – to pursue God’s good and pleasing and perfect will: equity and justice.

Dear White Neighbors ~ I see you (many of you) trying. Trying to learn, understand, engage. Bless you. (I mean that. Because some folks don’t even bother.) But let’s be honest for a sec. We don’t get it. All this researching and reading and reflecting can’t duplicate experience. So let’s acknowledge that. (And by all means, keep researching, reading and reflecting.) If we really want to be allies of BIPOC, we need to shut up… and listen. Show up… and serve. Serve those who’ve been underserved for too long. Be willing to become uncomfortable… to make others more so. Start making room (in our boardrooms, family rooms and hearts) so everyone gets a fair shot. Let’s ensure that this land of ours becomes a land of liberty, peace and prosperity, not just for some or most… but all.

Dear Law Enforcement Officers ~ I’m sorry you’re suffering because of the horrific sins of a few (who happen to wear the same uniform). You already do a thankless job: upholding and enforcing the law in our communities (and yes, policing within your ranks). And now you’re being vilified for it. Enduring scorn and spite, suffering insults and assaults… just for going to work. I know nothing I say will make that easier to bear. I don’t have any magic words, other than these two: I care. Thank you for working to protect American lives… regardless of race/religion/ political affiliation/sexual orientation/immigration status/socioeconomic class. Please stay on the job.

Dear Jordan ~ So many times during your growing-up years I meant well, but didn’t do very well. Because honestly, I didn’t know where to begin. I saw the prejudgments and prejudice, witnessed bias and bigotry… but I didn’t allow my horror and heartache to be used for good by God, to spur action. Thank you for your unspoken forgiveness and forbearance. What a gift. My desperate hope is that you/I/our family will be conduits for healing, grace and peace in our community and world. I love you all the way up to heaven and back a million zillion times, J… and I’m praying for you always.

Dear Jesus ~ Forgive me. I so often do what I don’t want to do… and don’t do what I ought. You (always) love (everybody) perfectly. And I fall dreadfully short. With your life and death, you taught that loving means sharing, serving, sacrifice. For the needy and neglected, the marginalized and mistreated. You crossed cultural and racial and gender gaps. again and again, to personally deliver that love. Help me follow your lead. I don’t want to just believe; I want to do what you said. Because I know…

Faith without works is dead.

(And damaging too.)

Too often I’ve talked the talk… but not walked the walk. I’ve sat on the sidelines, out of faithlessness or fear. I’ve chosen my own personal comfort over compassion for others. I’ve made excuses, rather than sacrifices.

Forgive me… and give me a fresh start.

Yours (truly),

Wendy

P.S. Friends, if you want to do a little good but aren’t sure where to start… pray.

I used to pray that God would feed the hungry, or do this or that, but now I pray that he will guide me to do whatever I’m supposed to do, what I can do… I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things. (Mother Teresa)

Let’s get on our knees… and then roll up our sleeves.

In Order to (Re)Form a More Perfect Union

I don’t know about you, but my heart can’t take much more. It’s battered and bruised… And bracing for worse.

It feels like 2020 could be the year of our undoing.

Collectively, we were already reeling from the deadly destruction/ ecomomic devastation/overwhelming despair of COVID…

104,000 dead.

Millions unemployed.

Suicide attempts.

Overdoses.

Isolation.

Burnout.

And then came three consecutive stories of black Americans killed… for no apparent reason.

Amaud Arbery… out for a run.

Breonna Taylor… in her own home.

George Floyd… pinned to the street, gasping for air.

Three human beings created in God’s image… beautiful and beloved, all.

I haven’t seen the video of George Floyd’s last minutes. I cannot bring myself to watch it. (Because just reading about it nearly gutted me.)

A Gospel-sharing, bridge-building, neighbor-loving “gentle giant,” George Floyd took his last breath on earth Monday. Now he’s safely home in heaven with Jesus… and his mama.

But his death begs the question:

How are we still here? In America? In 2020?!

Stuck in this cesspool of racism, injustice and needless violence?

I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to stay afloat. The flood of emotions is coming fast and furious. I’m grappling/praying/hurting/ fuming/crying/pleading/grieving. Deeply. Sometimes all in the space of five minutes.  But the deepest, darkest valley I keep finding myself in is… fear.

I’m afraid for the people I love whose skin just happens to be darker than mine.

Afraid they will encounter the wrong person at the wrong time… and wind up injured.

Or jailed.

Or dead.

And that’s why I can’t just sign a petition or post a meme and move on. I know I need to ask God’s Spirit to search me and uproot my own prejudices and pre-judgments. I need to confess my own predisposition to dismiss or devalue some of my neighbors. I need to pray against my tendency toward complacency-by-comfortableness.

I need to listen more, learn more, do more. Where I can, when I can, however I can. Because…

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. (Desmond Tutu)

A couple days ago, I re-read Reverend King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” to some of his fellow clergymen. His words are haunting:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…

He goes on to write:

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

Oh LORD, help me be bold for you. Because…

Equity and justice are the foundation of your throne. ~ Psalm 89:14 (NET)

Help me be brave for my neighbor. Because…

No life is more “valuable” than another. (No life is more “disposable” either.) Our immeasurable worth is God-given and intrinsic (because we were made in His brilliant, beautiful image.)

Help me live and love like Jesus.

Genuinely.

Generously.

Help me do the right thing. Even when it makes me – or someone else – uncomfortable.

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives…
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honoring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

“Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
    You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist.
The kind of fasting you do
    won’t get your prayers off the ground.
Do you think this is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    a day to show off humility?
To put on a pious long face
    and parade around solemnly in black?
Do you call that fasting,
    a fast day that I, God, would like?

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts.
What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
    being available to your own families.
Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.
    The God of glory will secure your passage.
Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

~ Isaiah 58:1-8, The Message

Let’s be justice-seekers and bridge-builders and hope-givers. Right where we are. However we can. 

Let’s be humble repenters… and revolutionaries for love. Lavish, lifesaving love.

Right in our own little corner of the world.

Maybe that won’t be the catalyst for sweeping change… but it will make a difference.

One day a man was walking along the beach, when he noticed a boy hurriedly picking up and gently throwing things into the ocean.

Approaching the boy he asked, “Young man, what are you doing?”

The boy replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

The man laughed and said, “Don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make any difference!”

After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the surf. Then smiling at the man, he said …

“I made a difference to that one.”

2020 could be the year of our re-making.

Let’s get started.

Wendy

P.S. Condemning oppression and police brutality doesn’t make me anti-law enforcement. I am praying fervently for our police officers, firefighters and National Guard tonight too. Calling for an end to violent, destructive rioting doesn’t mean I don’t support the protestors or understand (that I don’t understand) their outrage and grief. I’m praying for peace… and change. Join me?

Political Football

My dear reader,

Tonight I am thanking God that I’m not a 6-foot-5, 290-pound male (black or white or any other skin color) who draws a paycheck from the National Football League. Because every single one of them is at great risk of getting brutally and unnecessarily “roughed” and suffering a career-ending injury.

And that’s before the game even starts.

To stand or kneel. That is the question. And, as several players have already publicly stated, it’s an angst-riddled, sleep-stealing, deeply personal and professional dilemma. It’s a quandary of passion, conviction, tension. It pits personal identity against public opinion, team unity against individual freedom. And it plays out in close-ups, sound bites and Twitter fights.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that in addition to the havoc wreaked by wildfires, hurricanes and earthquakes recently, there’s a firestorm threatening to engulf us. A media maelstrom. A culture war. Simmering rage. Escalating conflict. Low blows. High emotions. Discord. Slander. Spite. And a rash of penalties on both teams:

Encroachment.

Offsides.

Piling on.

Taunting.

Unsportsmanlike conduct.

The shoulder pads/shin guards/girdles/helmets offer no protection on this one. Not a lick.

Honestly, I’m not sure there will be any winners in the Bears/Packers game tonight. The players -regardless of their guts and grit and heart – are gonna get crushed. Which is pretty crazy because these guys are built for battle. They’re gridiron warriors. They ‘cake/sack/kick/juke/block/blitz every down, every day.  But this game-day melee is likely one they never guessed they’d be suiting up for. (And, believe me, they know what it means to be blind-sided.)

Political football, indeed.

My hope is that players (and politicians and pundits and fans) on both sides of this debate are willing to peel back the layers of this pigskin-pregame-problem and see that – at the end of the day/game/anthem – it really ought to just boil down to this:

What is the right thing to do?

(No, I don’t mean right-leaning. Just right. As in: upright, honorable, merciful and just?)

Is there really only one right answer here?

(I ask this sincerely. But I doubt there is.)

I daresay, it’s not that simple. If only it were, then we wouldn’t have to figure out whether it’s right/good/honorable or wrong/bad/disrespectful to kneel or stand during our national anthem. We wouldn’t have to think about all the people who might be hurt/offended/grieved/outraged by those decisions or actions. We wouldn’t have to consider how our actions (kneeling or standing) or our words (about players who do either) might affect our fellow citizens.

Like the war widow whose husband served four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and was thisclose to coming home when his vehicle was struck by a deadly IED. When she sees the flag, she remembers the one that draped his casket. (So please, stand and honor him… and her.)

The mama who just buried her only son (shot by a police officer because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong crowd… in a dicey situation). And she wonders if maybe it’s also because he happened to be black. (So please, take a knee for him and all the other sons who died before they could face a jury of their peers.)

The New York firefighter who lost 11 “brothers” from Ladder Company 3 on 9 /11. (Please, stand and salute New York’s bravest and all his fallen comrades.)

The 20-year-old male college student (working full-time to put himself through school), who is terrified when he gets pulled over for rolling a stop sign. (Kneel for him.)

The 96-year-old WWII veteran who wears a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and multiple scars from wounds sustained in a bloody campaign in northern France. (Stand for him.)

The valedictorian of a south-side Chicago high school who has seen more classmates flunk out, drop out, jailed or killed than she can count. (And she’s pretty good at math.) Kneel for her.

Each of these Americans likely has pretty strong feelings about whether professional football players should stand for the national anthem… or take a knee. Tonight, two teams will take the field, and mostly likely some players will kneel while others remain standing. But after the last play of the game, one question will linger:

Where do we go from here?

If the original intent of this form of peaceful protest was to draw attention to the injustices and inequalities that exist in this country and begin a national conversation, then that particular mission has been accomplished. In large part, due to Mr. Kaepernick. Love him or hate him – but please don’t hate – he made an impact. He took a stand (a knee, rather) because he felt compelled to underscore the injustices that remain in this incredible-but-imperfect “land of the free and home of the brave.”

But… what next? How do we right the wrongs? In practical terms, what does it look like for each of us to “work for justice?” Again, I ask sincerely. I really want to know. Because I want what – I hope – we all want:

Liberty and justice for all.

It’s gonna be a tough job. And we will need to pull together to work on it. Without a doubt, it’s going to be uncomfortable, stressful, exhausting, and at times, exasperating.

If only we could go back to kindergarten. Where our toughest assignments would be learning the alphabet, writing our names, and keeping our hands to ourselves during circle time. We wouldn’t have to juggle work-life balance or grapple with unrealized ambitions or tackle (sorry, couldn’t help myself) the tough issues our country faces. We could just color and cut and count and sing, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” (Or unroll our KinderMats and take a nap.)

Let’s start here:

Shoulders.

Each player in the NFL has to shoulder the weight of his own decision in this crazy whirlwind of pre-game posturing. There are players who choose to stand. Shoulders back, hand over heart, facing the unfurled flag of the United States of America. Their reasons for standing are many: some simply out of respect for the flag; others out of a sense of patriotism, to honor our military personnel and first responders, to pay tribute to those who have died protecting our freedoms. Because of them, they refuse to kneel. And we ought to respect that.

Knees.

Other players choose to take a knee. And they certainly have that right. (Contrary to a media story that’s been circulating, it is not against NFL regulations for them to do so.) Instead of denigrating them and begrudging them their rights as citizens of our (fallible but beautiful) country, we ought to admire the “peaceful” in their protest.

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. (That was JFK’s word to the wise.)

God has something to say about it too.

When Jordin Sparks sang the anthem before the Monday night game, I noticed a scripture reference written on her left hand:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice. (Proverbs 31:8-9, NLT)

It was a silent but strong statement: This is what God has to say… and (perhaps) this is what #takeaknee is all about. Endeavoring to ensure justice. Speaking up for those who are being crushed by the weight of racial/religious/socioeconomic discrimination and systemic disparities in our justice and educational systems, for starters.

But for each one who chooses to take a knee (for any of the aforementioned reasons, and probably a dozen others) there’s inevitable backlash: calling the players “privileged elitists” and insinuating ulterior or ugly motives. But I’m calling out the mudslingers on that one. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure every single one of those players had to work his glutes off to get there – to the NFL, I mean. All four of my boys played high school football. And I can attest that there is no off-season. They hit the weight room, the track, the field at all hours, in every season, in all kinds of weather. And there’s plenty of blood, sweat, and tears too.

But even if there is an ounce of hypocrisy in the case of a few players, let’s not forget: they’re kneeling quietly and peacefully. And we ought to respect that.

Heads.

I am begging folks on both sides of this issue to use them. Please. For the love of God and all that is good and kind. Let’s keep our heads, friends. And bow them too.

Let’s think rationally. And pray fervently to the only One who can take this wonderful, wildly diverse, deeply passionate and disparate populace… and unite us and uplift us and bring peace and hope and healing to our land. And yes…

Justice too.

When I bow my head, I acknowledge that God is God. And I am not. I take a posture of humility, recognizing that my thoughts are finite, feeble, short-sighted, and very, very narrow in perspective. (Not because I want to be narrow-minded. But because by virtue of my humanity and the limitations of my intelligence and experience… I simply am.)

And I ask Jesus: what would You do? (And He grins and says He’d throw a “Hail Mama” pass. Touchdown Jesus!) Just kidding. Relax.

I pray because I need clarity. Compassion. Patience. Perseverance. I need help.

We need His help.

Toes.

I haven’t walked a mile in his or her (or your) shoes. But I want to know what it feels like. I’m willing to listen and learn and try to understand. And I’m willing to try to make things better for him and her and you. For our children. For our nation.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Ask yourself: is your rhetoric building bridges or burning them? ‘Cause when the flood waters rise (and at some point they will), we’re gonna need to cross. Both ways.

As shoes for your feet… put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. (Ephesians 6:15)

Let’s quit standing around in front of our TVs lamenting all that’s wrong in the NFL, our neighborhoods, our nation. Let’s get our shoes/cleats/boots on, there’s work to be done.

We aren’t yet (nor have we ever been) fully, freely “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” But that’s the goal. (As they say in the huddle, keep grinding.)

God leads the way on this one. He doesn’t play favorites. There’s no discrimination or privilege or preferential treatment with Him.

For God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:11)

So the more you and I look to God, the more we soak up His love and splash it all around, the more we delve into and defer to His wisdom… the more we’ll be able to “do” justice.

The Bears and Packers are playing tonight. Instead of judging the players’ pre-game postures, let’s celebrate their freedoms. And cheer on our team. And enjoy the game.

That goes for Sunday too.

Long before Sunday was “Funday” or “NFL Football” day… it was the Sabbath day.

A day to worship, pray, rest, and reflect.

First things first.

Wendy

P.S. I welcome your (respectful) comments, feedback, free expression, and exchange of ideas. On a side note, I know my conservative friends think I’ve become wildly liberal. (But they love me anyway. How beautiful is that?) Likewise, I’m aware that a few of my left-leaning friends consider me a narrow-minded, right-wing wack job. (Regardless, they love me too. Bless them.) At the end of the day, though, I really just want to be right smack in the center… of God’s will. Onward!