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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On Race Tensions

Acts 6:1ff gives a brief insight into life in the early church. There is a daily distribution of food, which leads one to assume this group was poor and lived communally. The love of one for the other was a stunning witness to the Ancient world. However, this love was still human love, how ever much the Holy Spirit was at work among them. We read that the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews that their widows were being neglected in that daily distribution. Racial tensions!

The apostles of Jesus respond by having that community choose seven men of good standing to serve as "table waiters" (deacons). One of them, Stephen, becomes a central figure for a long narrative with an extensive proclamation of salvation history and the ultimate martyrdom (with abundant parallels to Jesus). The spread of the faith and growth of the church are the main point, but I am drawn to the tension between Hebrew and Hellenist.

Recently, another tragic shooting death has left a family mourning the loss of a young son and a community in chaos. While many are full of sadness and pain, other have turned to rage. Riots with mass looting, a too common feature of our daily life, are seen as an expression of criminality or despair at injustice, depending on who is analyzing the events.

Back when I was a counselor of teens, I had the experience of being present when three of my kids were kicked out of school. They were troubled young men and had anger issues. They were in a verbal conflict with the principal (a Black man) and the Assistant (White). The three boys were Black. In my opinion, the adults were fair and patient and the young men were disrespectful and deserved their fate. The boys claimed that they were unfairly treated and being picked on. (as they refused to go to class and were walking the halls it seems that it was fair)

However, all three of these kids were raised in negative circumstances. The mothering they received was poor. There had been abuse and a plethora of bad role models. Fathers were rarely part of their growing up. There are lots of reasons (excuses) for why they turned out as they did. They also made choices, many times bad choices, which added to the load of problems. I know that they were difficult, verbally  aggressive and physically violent. They were also sad, lonely and lost. My work with them, in the end, may have made no difference. I do not know. What I do know is for one year of their life there was an effort made...

The policeman, the young man, the family, the communities all have different perspectives on what took place and why, what should happen and how. Like ancient Hebrews and Hellenists, we see things from our own community perspective (racially and politically). The truth is hard to come by. There is blame to go around for everyone. Tragedies are generated by all manner of circumstances and choices.

In the end, it is the willingness to serve and die (Stephen) which is the best witness to love and truth. Yet it takes a faith of a different kind to make such a choice.

13 comments:

  1. > There is blame to go around for everyone.

    And you know this how, Jeff?

    Do you know more than the Washington Post, which reported that Michael Brown's friends said he had never been in a fight in his life?

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mike-brown-notched-a-hard-fought-victory-just-days-before-he-was-shot-a-diploma/2014/08/12/574d65e6-2257-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html?wpisrc=nl_hdtop

    Do you know more than his friend and eyewitness Dorian Johnson, who reported that Brown, unarmed, had his hands up in a posture of surrender as the policeman shot him?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Michael_Brown#Witness_accounts_of_events

    Or do you think you know it simply because three young black men you knew were "disrepectful and deserved their fate," and as far as you are concerned, if you've seen one black, you've seen them all?

    Actually, as far as being disrespectful, both the New York Times and the Washington Post reported that it was the white cop who approached Brown by saying "Get the f___ up on the sidewalk." But perhaps you think that young black men should simply accept this, and if they don't, they have "anger issues" due to "poor parenting"--is that it, Jeff?

    Or is it, despite the refusal of the Ferguson, Missouri police department to so much as identify the officer involved, you have learned who he is, through spiritual discernment, and have interviewed him--is that how you know there is "enough blame to go around," Jeff?

    Or is it just that, as you showed in your comments on Trayvon Martin, you are pains to demonstrate that you are an ignorant, bigoted fool?

    Just curious.

    Well, almost. In fact, you know nothing about this matter at all, except what you (didn't) read in the papers--right, Jeff?

    But not knowing anything has never really stopped you from commenting, has it, bud? Like you did with the Steubenville rape case.

    So you resort to a comparison with Jews and Greeks in the early church. The Greeks complained that their widows and orphans were being neglected in the daily distribution. That was, indeed, a problem.

    But it had nothing to do with Michael Brown. The Greek Christians were not being accosted cursed, and killed by the Jewish Christians. The Jewish Christians were not refusing to so much as identify the person who had killed the Greeks.

    Do you understand, Jeff? Do you see that your strange comparison has nothing whatsoever to do with Michael Brown?

    Did I really have to teach this to you? What's next, Jeff--will you post about the movie "The Blind Side" and say that if Michael Brown had just watched that, he might be alive today?

    I know you'll probably delete this. And if you don't, you'll hide behind your daughter, as you did before, because you're too much of a moral coward to face your own pathetic lack of willingness to acknowledge your own bigotry.

    Too bad for you, bud. You can delete this, if you choose. But you can't hide from the truth.

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  2. there is blame to go around for all of the prejudice and abuse that takes place in he world. I know it because it is obvious.
    I know that eye witness perception is shaped by assumptions (psychology 101).
    I know that the context for conflicts is previous events and experiences.
    I know that this death is a tragedy for many people and that the riots are another tragedy and the ongoing racial tensions are a tragedy which has been with us for a long time.
    I know that you do not care what I say, you just want a chance to vent your anger.

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  3. >there is blame to go around for all of the prejudice and abuse that takes place in he world.

    Your post was not about "all" the prejudice and abuse that takes place in the world.

    It was about the incident in Ferguson. And in so commenting, you showed, once again, that you are willing to voice an opinion while having no idea what you are talking about.

    No one can say, at this point, that there is "blame to go around." Neither you, nor I, nor the Attorney General, nor the President, nor the Ferguson Chief of Police, nor the Governor of Missouri.

    No one can say these things for some very simple reasons:

    The police have not completed their investigation, which will take weeks.

    The FBI has not completed its investigation.

    The best-informed eye witness did not come forward for several days.

    When he did, he commented that the officer accosted Brown unprovoked and in a hostile manner, that he shouted a curse word at Brown and his friends, that he tried to open his cruiser door so close to Brown and his friends that the door bounced back on the officer himself, making him even angrier, and that he shot Brown multiple times even though Brown was unarmed and had his hands raised in surrender.

    No video record exists of the shooting, according to the Washington Post, because, even though dash cams were made available to the Ferguson police via a government grant some time ago, they have never been installed on the department's 18 police cruisers.

    The points above represent the state of information of most of us at this point, Jeff.

    So you see, neither you nor anyone else had any grounds for saying "There is blame to go around." Maybe there is. Maybe there isn't. Maybe Michael Brown actually did provoke his shooting. Maybe, on the other hand, the shooting was unprovoked and itself illegal, as the eyewitness alleges.

    Right now, no one can know.

    But not knowing something never really stops you, does it Jeff. It certainly didn't this time.

    What is worse is that, being called on your ignorance and presumption, you resorted to an evasion and tried to portray your uninformed remark as a general reflection on "all the prejudice and abuse that takes place in the world."

    In other words, you don't even have the courage of your own uninformed convictions.

    So what have we ended up with here? A minister of the gospel who:

    1. Hasn't read the police report (none of us have, because it isn't finished).

    2. Hasn't heard from the officer involved (again, none of us have, because his department won't even make his identity available).

    3. Hasn't seen a video record of the incident (no one has, because there was no dash cam).

    4. Doesn't care what the eye witness says because "eye witness perception is shaped by assumptions."

    5. Can't know whether the shooting was justified or not.

    And, thus, concludes that there is "blame to go around."

    But, when called on that, tries to deny that he was referring only to Ferguson but meant this only in a general sense.

    Please.

    >I know that you do not care what I say

    Should anyone? I've already told you that your posts remind me of the passage in Job where God asks "Who is this that darkeneth counsel without knowledge?"

    How is that any different from what you've done here?

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  4. I certainly was talking about "all" of it, and if you do not see how this tragedy is connected to a larger spectrum of events that predated the cop, the boy, their families and friends, you and I, the rioters, all police and all the world then you are blind. And if you think past interactions of policemen and African Americans did not play into this then you are not logical. And if you read what I said you would know that I was talking about the wider phenomena (including rioting) and the impact that being part of a group has on perception.
    "Why are "they" doing that?" is spoken by all manner of "we's" about everyone who is different. Much like I wonder why you write what you write and try to make sense of this constant rage. Sometimes the hostility cannot be bridged or reconciled

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  5. >I certainly was talking about "all" of it

    No, Jeff, you weren't. You were talking about Ferguson. You know it, and I know it. You only grasped at that flimsy out when I called you on your ignorance.

    >this constant rage

    This constant rage is provoked by your constant folly and dishonesty. Hope that clears it up for you.

    One day, you may actually stop lying to yourself and your readers. You can't lie to me, because I see through you, but not everyone does. One can always hope.

    And now, back to your sandbox.

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  6. Michael I read the Bible that morning, it made me think of how the different groups in the early church perceived the apostles differently, it made me wonder what a third party would think, it made me think about the wider phenomenon of perceive slights and maltreatment... Meanwhile, recent coverage of the riots and looting, which some think are an example of social protest and I view as criminal, made a connection with the text in my prayer... It made me ponder the reasons why we perceive the events differently. The social setting and contributing factors to the tragic event are also part of the story. So I offered Stephen as a Christian model of the appropriate means of breaking that cycle. Power and control issues combined with our own assumptions that we are 'the victims' (whoever we are) and seething rage contributed to the event and the events that followed. It is TRAGIC. It was avoidable. It should not have happened. And we all have a part to play in it because of our beliefs and assumptions.
    God bless you Michael.

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  7. > I offered Stephen as a Christian model of the appropriate means of breaking that cycle.

    Then you misunderstood Stephen and current events equally. Stephen's death was completely unrelated to what goes on in today's society generally, with regard to race prejudice, as well as to Michael Brown's death in particular.

    First, as I already pointed out, Jewish Christians were not accosting Greek Christians, cursing them, and killing them, as happened to Michael Brown. Nor are white cops inviting blacks to fellowship meals and then merely failing to share with them equally, as was true in Acts.

    Other than the fact of two groups having negative views of each other, the circumstances are dissimilar and logically unrelated.

    Nor did Stephen's death have anything to do with friction between Jewish and Greek Christians.

    Stephen was not arrested and put on trial before fellow Christians but before the Jewish authorities who objected to his testimony about Jesus. This, again, had nothing to do with friction between Greek and Jewish Christians.

    Nor did his death resolve the issue of friction between Greek and Jewish Christians, as you seem to think. It was still present in the mind of Peter when he was summoned to the house of Cornelius, it was present to the Council of Jerusalem when they had to decide to what degree to subject Gentile converts to the requirements of the law, and it was present to Paul when, later, finding that Peter still tried to make a difference between Jewish Christians and Gentile converts, he "withstood Peter to his face, because he was to be condemned."

    Finally, at no point in that entire series of events did anyone reflect, as you did, that "there's plenty of blame to go around." The blame in that case lay with those who couldn't realize, as Paul wrote, that "In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek...but all are one in Christ Jesus." Neither Paul (nor, I suppose, Peter himself) nor any other discerning observer would have looked at that situation and said, as you did, that it was all a matter of perception depending on circumstances and "there is plenty of blame to go around."

    So you see, Jeff, your attempts at meditating on these circumstances don't even do justice to the events in the Bible, much less the events of today.

    (Continued)

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  8. (Continued)

    As to the events of today, you looked at them and seem to have concluded "there is enough blame to go around." Really, Jeff? Why? Do you mean that blacks are somehow responsible when whites are prejudiced against them?

    Do you mean this is true because once, you knew three black teens who talked back to their principal and were expelled? Did this convince you that in general, if black civil rights are violated, then "there is enough blame to go around"?

    And what of Michael Brown, Jeff? In his case, as I commented earlier, no one is in a position to say whether "there is plenty of blame to go around," since the police and FBI investigations have not been completed. So what, in your mind, do the circumstances of his death have to do with Stephen? Stephen surrendered his life voluntarily, through a testimony of Jesus. If the eyewitness testimony of Michael Brown's friend is true, on the other hand, Brown, unarmed and unresisting, was shot multiple times by an angry policeman. Should the facts bear that out, what will that have to do with Stephen's death?

    There is a very important difference between you and me, Jeff, that has nothing to do with God or no God. It has to do with our respective opinions on race, and it also showed in your comments on Trayvon Martin last year.

    You formerly worked with blacks as a counselor and had some unpleasant experiences. The memory of those experiences caused you to write, last year, concerning Trayvon Martin, that young black men could be pretty scary and this year, that young black men could be angry and disrespectful. Yes, they can be all those things, but if you mean, as you seem to, to insinuate the likely guilt of any black who is subjected to excessive force by police, you only show the limitations of your own thinking, to put it mildly.

    I too, used to deal a lot with inner city blacks--not because I was working "with" them but because I was hounding them as a debt collector. I walked through North and South Memphis by myself at night, unarmed, knocked on their doors, demanded either money or information on the whereabouts of those who owed my company, and was lied to, cursed, and threatened. That was all long ago, but occasionally, I am still reminded of the poor attitudes of some black youth. Only a couple of weeks ago, on the Shelby Farms Greenline, three black teens came riding their bicycles directly at me with obviously mischievous intent. Their leader came so close that he could have knocked me off the path, and if he had, I would have fallen down a steep embankment. Prudence dictated that I quietly step aside, but because I don't scare as easily as you seem to, Jeff, I stood my ground. He veered aside at the last moment and shouted in my face, "Get the F___ out of the way, M___ F____." Then they all burst out laughing and rode on.

    Of course I was offended by that and texted the Shelby Farms Park Ranger, whom I happen to know, and told him about it.

    But unlike you, Jeff, I am not as shaken up by such incidents as you seem to be, nor do I let them influence my impression of police treatment of blacks in general or, specifically, events like Ferguson.

    (Continued)

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  9. (Continued)

    Your writings strongly suggest that you have some racist attitudes, Jeff, and that, indeed, you are a racist of the worst kind--the kind that says "Now I'm not a racist, but..."

    You were deeply shaken up, offended, etc. by your long-ago experiences with black teens and, thus, when you read about a Michael Brown, you apply your unresolved fear and anger and say "Well there's plenty of blame to go around."

    I, on the other hand, was all but knocked down a steep embankment by black teens two weeks ago, but when I read about numerous instances of police brutality toward blacks, I think, as any reasonable person must, "Racial profiling has no place in police work. It's got to stop."

    In a way, I'm glad this thing came up. I know the people who read my comments think I'm just some crank who is mad at you because you won't stop believing in God, but what this episode shows, as did your Trayvon comments a year ago, is that you are a foolish, frightened little man who is shaken up by unpleasant experiences of long ago and who misapplies an unrelated instance from the Bible to cover up his own unacknowledged bigotry.

    Will you ever face yourself, Jeff? As long as you're searching the Bible, you might start with I John 4:18. How odd that an atheist should have to point that out to you.

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  10. "Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth." - Senator Rand Paul, writing in Time, yesterday

    http://time.com/3111474/rand-paul-ferguson-police/

    Of course, I guess Senator Paul doesn't understand two things:

    "There's plenty of blame to go around."

    If blacks would just let themselves be martyred, like Stephen, all would be well.

    Why don't you write to him and explain those two simple truths, Jeff?

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  11. http://m.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/08/how-an-integrated-swimming-pool-incited-race-riots-in-st-louis/375943/

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  12. http://www.ijreview.com/2014/08/168698-eyewitness-recalls-important-detail-background-video-mins-ferguson-shooting/

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  13. Thanks for sharing that, Jeff. I didn't watch the video but am willing to take the word of the article that it contains the dialogue referred to. And I agree with the article--if verified, that information will be a game-changer.

    Of course it still doesn't address my two major concerns in this discussion. The first was how you knew already on Wednesday, before this information was made public, that there was "enough blame to go around," and apparently for no reason than that you had known three black teens who were rude. Did you have a prophetic dream, like Joseph dreaming about the years of plenty and the years of famine, and you were just waiting for this article to come out to confirm it?

    Because if you had no way of knowing these "game-changing" facts, bud, it could kind of sound like you pre-judged the case--a behavior, that, come to think of it, is known as *prejudice*!

    But then, that was my whole point.

    My other concern that the article doesn't address is how the example of Stephen the Martyr might have resolved this situation--or, perhaps, forestalled it. I'm still not clear on how you think the example of Stephen applies. I don't suppose you think the Saint is comparable to the kid who stole a box of Swisher Sweets and ran off, nor do I imagine you are comparing Stephen to the cop who feared for his life and shot a hostile suspect. Maybe you are thinking of the nurse who, as I read, was on the scene and wished to perform CPR on the dying Michael Brown, but the cop wouldn't let her.

    Anyway, it was important information, and I know it's important for you to justify yourself. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete