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Be Like The Samaritan

How providential that today’s lectionary text is the story of the Good Samaritan and my children’s sermon on the book Amazing Grace, about a little African American girl named Grace who is told that she cannot be Peter Pan in the class play because she’s a girl and she’s black. Thank you, God, for divine nudges to our hearts.

I am a long way from the events in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas, but I want to do something. I offer this prayer from my book, “A Prayer for Justice” POEMS, PRAYERS AND UNFINISHED PROMISES,” p. 63. If you would like a copy of the book, I intend to give all that I receive from the book this week as a donation to the families of the slain officers in Dallas, and the two shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. To order go to my page on facebook. May the God who brings peace from all hate and pain bless all those hurting today and bring the justice that is blessing for all.

Mighty God,
Whose eyes see into our deepest motives
and whose justice is without exception in requirement,

we come as those who have tasted mercy
And now are asked to live it in truth—
People of forgiveness, in the sojourn to wholeness
And learning to live as real neighbors with one another.

Today we listen to what You ask of us all—
To love You truly and with all that we are
and to love our neighbors as ourselves

We need Your help
To see our neighbors, beyond our own self-preoccupation;
To hear cries of pain that are sometimes hidden
by respectability or ignorance or indifference
Make us people who do what is right
beyond what is required and in spite of what we fear.

A children’s book of the Good Samaritan we read our children ended with Jesus saying to his hearers, “Be like this Samaritan.” I want to help. I’m going to do what I can. I hope you will.

The Two Cases of Trayvon Martin

When it comes to the painful problem of race, it’s never about one thing…it’s about everything. 

Trayvon Martin

By Gary Furr

The explosion that has occurred in recent days over the shooting of a Florida  teenager has reignited one of our oldest and most enduring debates.  The case of Trayvon Martin has caused outbursts between journalists, demonstrations and a weary “Will we ever be able to move past this?” cloud to hover again over us.  The gulf between the races is painfully obvious.  It sounds as though we are talking about two different cases.  And we are.

In the late 1980s, I listened as an African American pastor friend in South Georgia, a disabled veteran, told me about watching men with pickhandles and baseball bats beat his father nearly to death because his father had disagreed with his boss at work.  As a ten year old boy, he watched through the blinds in terror.  He described a journey of forgiveness and grief over that incident that lasted far into adulthood as he tried to make peace with incomprehensible violence.

In July of 2010, I was a part of a group of pastors from Alabama who traveled together to Israel for a pilgrimage as part of a very generous grant from a foundation aimed at giving us rest, study and spiritual renewal.  Amazingly, since our congregations did not have to pay for it, they all voted to let us go.

It exceeded our expectations, as we all enjoyed a wonderful experience of community and prayer in the land where the founder of our faith walked the earth.  It is also a place of contradictions, of course, and we saw those, too.  We saw the ugly “barriers” that cordoned off the Palestinian people in their towns, born of genuine anxiety for security among the Israelis and yet which only deepens the frustrations between the two groups.  Security is always a concern where mistrust abounds.

If you ever go to the “Holy Land,” as we Christians usually call it, the entry to the airport begins with a clump of scowering, eagle-eyed security people clustered around a narrow doorway where everyone enters, looking you up and down with folded arms and either expressionless or glaring.  We walked past–I had been before and advised everyone, “Don’t joke, don’t laugh, just walk through.”

At one point, I heard something, and noticed that our three African-American pastors had all been detained and whisked to the side.  I started to go back, thought better about, and simply waited until the interrogation was over.  In a little while, they were released and we were on our way.  At first we kidded and joked, but then we fell silent.

Hard to talk about it

It was obvious to me that they were pained about this.  They are three highly educated, holy, respected men, two veterans and one a younger pastor.  Their integrity is as high as I know.  I would trust my life to them.  But in a world of fear and insecurity, all that goes out the window.

Later, we talked about it, and they told us that this was and always had been a part of life.  They were pulled out for no other reason than their skin color.  They told us stories of being pulled over because of the car they were driving or walking down a street.  As we began to comprehend some of what they had been through, our mood about the incident, short as it had lasted, changed to somber and sad reflection.  A world in radical distrust is a painful thing indeed.

Having once lived in a small community that exploded in a racial crisis during the 1980s, I once said in a meeting that when it comes to racial divides that “truth can become a casualty.”  It got a negative reaction and I realize why it was wrong.  It’s not truth that becomes the casualty, it’s the argument about the facts.  It is akin to a debate between a married couple about when the last time he kissed his wife—it is beside the point.

The bare facts of a particular event can miss the point when it is connected to a cosmic or cultural reality.  There is always more “here” and so we end up arguing, in a sense, about a particular case AND a long painful history AND the emotional, experiential and perceptive divide between us.  If we do not understand this, the temptation is then either to say, “Courts, justice and processes should be thrown out” or to say, “This is all emotion, irrationality, fear and overreaction.”

In times like this one, perceptions, experiences, truths, that need, more than anything, to be shared, heard and understood often explode into the moment.  Most of the time, these complexities are ignored, suppressed or unnoticed.   The outcry calls attention, but there is hard work to be done in every place when the protests end and the media moves on to the next thing.

Understanding is hard, hard work.  So is justice.  Facts are the limiting factor of an investigation, but our disconnections from one another are something bigger that deserves some work at the level of our citizenship and “neighbor love.”  If we have solved many of the legal issues of race, we have not overcome the pain of our disconnections and distrust of one another.  We are in the realm of attitude, perceptions, and understanding.

In the community where I was, we had a wonderful group of leaders, black and white, who had met and worked together to deepen understanding for a long time before the crisis happened.  Without it, no way to work through it would have existed.  That these channels do not often exist in many communities where people of good will intentionally step out of their usual places to offer themselves as listeners is part of the disconnect.  Good relationships don’t happen without an effort on both ends.

The particular case of Trayvon Martin’s death is one thing legally, and another in this larger sense.  When it comes to racial matters, it’s never about one thing—it’s about all the things.  For Christians who have been handed the ministry of reconciliation, this is a fine time to listen, not react.  The calling to Christians in such a moment is to patience, to not reacting, to find a place where something good could be done, to keep our tempers, and to work for understanding and patient agape love.  Listening never costs anything more than a little time, but it can only be given by the surrender of one’s attention and care.  It is fitting in Holy Week to remember Paul’s breathtaking summary that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Corinthians 5:19).   Holy week is a memory that it is in the most unpromising times that the world can change for the better.

The State of the Union–of Love and Truth

Gary Furr

Love and truth belong together.  So why is it that they are so often found separated?  Moral life arises from the recognition of eternal truth, the acceptance of the reality of others in that same truth, and the sensitivity to feel the connection between them.  Puritan preacher Richard Baxter said love for one’s neighbor is akin to hunger and food connecting.  It makes possible a new and different conversation.

Truth and love cannot live divorced from one another.  Otherwise we are, in the former case, driven to principles rendered only as power, devoid of kindness and the graces and kindnesses of feeling for the other. Read the rest of this entry

Bad Moon Rising–or, “Am I One of the 99%?”

I don’t understand the debates going on about wealth and taxes.  People aren’t asking THE question–am I one of the 1% and why not?  If you want a seriously disturbing thought about this, listen to the NPR story yesterday by Tim Dickinson.  If you want an unseriously disturbing thought, stay with me.

I don’twant to be one of the 99%, because even in the Bible, the only 99 mentioned is sheep left in the sheepfold.  And, as we know, all we like sheep have gone astray.  I want to be a 1% if they get all the good stuff.  But I have a sinking feeling–since my entire ancestry, W-2s and resume would indicate otherwise, I thought I would help us 99 per centers know when we’re about to get to THE worst place–the 1% on the BOTTOM.  Signs to look for:

  1. Your get Christmas cards from a local bail-bondsman, two social workers, a psychiatrist and a debt specialist.  You have never met any of them.
  2. Occupy Wall Street protesters create a new hand signal during your presentation to the group about your concerns that means, “Take down his tent and get him outta here–NOW!”
  3. You keep getting advance discount coupons from the local funeral home with a hand-penned note from the director that says, “Saw you at Rotary Club Monday and it reminded me I had meant to send these to you.”
  4. You walk into work and everyone turns and looks at you with their heads turned slightly sideways and sad smiles on their faces.  The last time you saw that look, your mom and dad came back from taking Old Yeller to the vet and didn’t bring him home.  Someone says, “The boss wants to see you.”
  5. Your neighbor stops telling you about his militia meetings, saying they have a certain image to maintain.
  6. Your string of investments are clipped up on the bulletin board at the investment firm next to the Dilbert cartoons.
  7. Your auto mechanic always talks to you like he’s your oncologist.  He always starts off by saying, “Gary, you just don’t know how much I hate to tell you this, but we tried replacing the fan belt.  We were sooo hoping that would do it.  But no.  I’m as upset to tell you this as you are to hear it…”
  8. The Tea Party returned your membership application, citing that your views are too far out of the mainstream.
  9. Steve Croft of 60 minutes leaves a message on your phone and asks if you happen to have the cell number of your mortgage broker for a story he’s doing on the foreclosure crisis.
  10. Your children were foreclosed and laid off so you offered to let them come back home to live and they declined, saying they already had a nice arrangement with the Salvation Army.