Monday, March 26

Walking While Black


Like many, the shooting of Trayvon Martin has had my attention and has raised a lot of questions. If you aren’t familiar with the case, its details, and the issues it raises, you need to take some time and familiarize yourself with it.


The purpose of this post isn’t to give my two cents on the shooting. (Though I think there needs to be a thorough investigation of the incident and the police’s procedures following it. And I do think that the Florida self-defense law probably needs to be re-visited.) I don’t have the training and I’m not in a position to address those issues with any kind of expertise.


But in response to what happened in Florida, Frances Cudjoe Waters, wrote an article entitled “Walking While Black”. What she wrote broke my heart. She starts off this way:


“I still remember the first time it happened.  I was dropping off my 17-year-old cousin at a friend’s house in the wealthy, white Massachusetts suburb in which I lived and where my father is still a professor. We knocked on the wrong door. Minutes later, I was pulled over by the police. Slight, young and scared, I was interrogated about my activities, whether I was delivering drugs and what I was up to.


I remembered. My parents had sat me down months before when I got my license.


It doesn’t matter that you’re female. It doesn’t matter that you’re an honors student. It doesn’t matter that you’ve never been in trouble a day in your life. It doesn’t matter that you are leaving to start attending Stanford this fall. When most of these police officers see you, all they will see is a young black girl and that can be dangerous. So, when you are harassed — and you will be — try to stay calm. Try not to be afraid, and call us as soon as you can.


A black teenager’s rite of passage.”


As I read her article, I started thinking of friends of mine from around the country. Good friends. More than I can attempt to name here. Men and women I trust and respect. Men and women of color.


And I wondered if this has been their experience. The experience of their children. My guess is that for many of them, it has been.


And that saddens me.  It saddens me that in 2012, in a nation built on the premise that “all men are created equal”, people still face prejudice, suspicion, and stereotyping based on the color of their skin. That they aren’t even given the chance to demonstrate the strength of their character because of the blindness of others.


If any of my friends, or others of color, read this: I ask for your forgiveness. Forgiveness on behalf of those of us in the majority that have failed to live and love as Christ commanded. And forgiveness personally if I have ever treated you in a way that reflected less than love and respect, that was less than what Jesus would have wanted.


“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”   John 13:34-35

Thursday, March 8

Dots and Lines

Dots and lines.

Of all the lessons and sermons I've shared with students over the past 30 years, more remember dots and lines more than anything else I've said.

Of course, like most things, this thought is not original with me. I heard Tommy Oakes talk about dots and lines at a National Student Conference almost 20 years ago.

Dots and lines are concepts from geometry. If I remember what Miss Tucker taught us back in 1974-75, they are defined something like this:

  • A dot (or point) is a zero dimensional figure. It is just a point on a plane. It doesn't go anywhere.
  • A line is a two-dimensional object that has no endpoints and continues on forever along a plane. It is formed of infinite points.

Life is made up of dots and lines. Things that are just here and now and things that go on forever. The key to life is to know the difference and invest in lines, not dots.

Jesus put it this way:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21

Most of what our culture (and the people in our lives) considers important are dots. Possessions. Financial security. Degrees. Grades. Houses. Cars. Championships. But if we pour our life into these things, we will be disappointed. Most students on our campus will be disappointed. They will get degrees and not get jobs or hate them when they do. They will succeed in the classroom and fail in their marriages. Their bank accounts will rise, but their children will fail. They will be popular this weekend but lonely in ten years.

Many are like Calvin, the kid in the comic strips a few years ago. One day at the table, Calvin told his mom, "I've decided to save all the snot I sneeze and donate it to hospitals for mucous transfusions."

We live in a world full of people who are investing their lives in things that are no more important and no more lasting than a jar full of snot.

Compare that to Jesus. He invested in people. He pursued his Father's priorities. Through acts of compassion, he demonstrated God's love to those in need. He sacrificed for the sake of advancing the Kingdom and purpose of God.

Our culture, friends, and family - and even our churches - fight against this. We are entrenched in investing in dots. We are emotionally attached to our dots. We have measured success and significance and security by dots for too long.

This is one of those areas where following Jesus goes against the real values of both our society and much of our religious culture.

What we choose to value, we will invest in. If we value dots, we will invest in dots. And the reward is now. It's temporary. And it is a waste of what God has given us.

If we value the line, in things that are eternal - people and the Kingdom of God - we will invest in the line. And that will be eternal.

The words that Jim Elliot wrote more than 50 years ago still ring true: “That man is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”