kevinglenn.net

website and blog of Dr. Kevin D Glenn

I prayed, “How long, O Lord?” He answered, “Until you change.”

July 8, 2016
kevindglenn

This week has been filled with tragedy, the most recent being Thursday night’s ambush of Dallas Police officers protecting the participants of a Black Lives Matter protest. At this time, 5 officers have been killed and 11 injured in the worst attack on law enforcement since 9/11.

My heart breaks for so many involved in these troubling times. I grieve with friends, colleagues, and loved ones who are black have been so patient with me over the years. See, I grew up in an environment that proudly waved confederate flags and referred to minorities by their first name – only after inserting a “title” containing a slur. Some of my earliest memories of interacting with African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and even Native Americans involved learning terms like, nigger, spook, coon, spick, wet-back, chinc, slant, gook, and in’jun. It wasn’t until friendships were formed with “those people” that my prejudices were challenged and changed. It was long and hard work that involved a great deal of me shutting my mouth unless it was to ask a question, listening, learning, and seeking to understand the stories of these folks as individuals and as a people. In doing so, I learned how many areas of daily life are points of caution, contention, and even confrontation to them while being non-issues to me in my white skin.

None of this was to make me feel guilty. Guilt motivates one to little more than a self-serving act that removes the feeling, but does little to actually produce change. No, the stories of these friends was shared to make me aware of my responsibility. My responsibility as a member of a privileged part of the population to speak up and speak out in support of equality, dignity, and justice for the multi-ethnic members of our singular human race. This has required much of me. I can not only speak of change, I must act in ways that demonstrate change.

I also grew up around first responders. My dad was a firefighter, so those guys were like a group of second fathers to me. Since the police and fire stations were next door to one another in those days, I knew most of the officers. My childhood best friend’s brother was (and still is) a cop, and that same best friend grew up to become a cop himself. I saw these men and women risk it all to serve, protect, rescue, and help members of the community; even those I had been conditioned to despise. Fast forward a couple decades and once again, I’m very close with folks from the military, fire/rescue, and law enforcement. I’ve prayed at the commissioning of military officers, police academy graduates, and led invocations at memorials for fallen soldiers and police officers. As one of my closest friends and active police officer wrote this morning, “The police are the last line between good and evil (thin blue line).” I am grateful for and supportive of the men and women who put their lives on that thin blue line everyday to protect each of us, and I grieve with those who have lost brothers and sisters in blue.

However, I can see and understand that there is a need for serious evaluation and change in aspects of law enforcement regarding their connection to, relationship with, and performance of their responsibilities toward the African-American community. There are simply too many complaints, cases, and confirmations of interactions between law enforcement entities (police, prisons, judicial systems) and African Americans that have resulted in oppression and tragedy.

So here they are. Real people with stories, concerns, responsibilities, and most of all, common humanity. But something has gone very wrong, resulting in the violence we have seen. There are very real points of concern, tension, misunderstanding, and even malice among these folks. The way forward is not with political spin, not with premature speculation, not with misinformed blame, not with useless guilt, and for God’s sake, not with vindictive violence.

As the news was breaking, I wrote a single question in my Facebook status, “How long, O Lord?” It’s a question of lament. A question that calls for change.

Indeed, things must change.

Some advocate for change.

Some will lobby for change.

Some will demand change.

Some will campaign for change.

Some will protest for change.

Many will pray for change … in other people; in THEM.

And we will expect that change to take place … in other people; in THEM.

That kind of change won’t happen. Why?

Until I addressed my own racism, privilege, ignorance, and participation in the problem did God begin to answer my prayers for change. Not until we stop looking through the window at others and look in the mirror at ourselves is change possible.

We will see change not when we merely talk, advocate, lobby, demand, or offer prayers that others change. Only when we take responsibility to embody the changes we seek will anything actually change.

Change must be done. Like justice, mercy, and love, change is an act of the will. It is a decision – an action. I must be and do differently. Is there a prayerful plan of action for that? There is, but I wonder who is serious enough about change to pray it for this will be the most dangerous, uncomfortable, sacrificial, liberating, and effective prayer you will ever pray – because it is answered in your being and doing it.

This is a prayer that can turn red and blue voters to purple, bring gun lobbyists from both sides to the same table, bring black lives matter and blue lives matter to solutions that matter, and bring together diverse perspectives under the unifying hope of peace and common good.

But do we really want to be the embodiment of this prayer? The answer to that question is what will determine where we go from here.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.” – St. Francis of Assisi

Dare to BE this prayer.

 

 

 

 

Mourn with those who are mourning; no exceptions.

June 13, 2016
kevindglenn

My mind and heart are still processing the tragedy that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on Sunday morning. As I preached this morning, my iPad (I preach from my iPad) was lighting up with notifications from friends of mine (I grew up in Central Florida) using the “I am safe” feature on Facebook to report they were ok. A childhood friend was at the club itself. He escaped through a back door unharmed but reports the loss of around 20 of his personal friends.

It’s difficult to put into words the many things I’ve been thinking and feeling since the story broke. I mentioned the tragedy in my sermon today. After church, in what was perhaps a mistake, I checked my Facebook newsfeed and was dismayed at how quickly this event is being trivialized by politics, social causes, and religious pontificating, all at the expense of civility and compassion toward the victims and their loved ones. To be sure, there will be a time to discuss and debate gun laws, sexual orientation, national security, and religious fundamentalism. Those are necessary conversations, but not now.

At this point, information is still being gathered, facts are still unclear, speculation is rampant, and fear is front and center. Add to this the frustration of a fractured and polarized population and you have every reason to react in ways that simply deepen the divide, increase the fear, and add further insult to these tragic injuries.

The Scriptures provide a better way. They call us to mourn with those mourning (Romans 12:14). I know many Christians will be concerned with when “they,” be they Muslims or members of the LGBTQ community, need to be “told the truth.” The truth will come through in your living example of grace. Remember, Romans 12 is the same chapter that calls Jesus’ people to demonstrate their worship by presenting our lives as “living sacrifices to God.” That would appear to remove any exceptions we’d like to put between the command and our obedience. Some Christians will object, thinking this call to mourn and bless only applies to fellow Christians. Think again. Just before verse 14, is a two-word command; “practice hospitality.” Hospitality here is a mash-up of two greek terms, phileo – brotherly or familial love, and xenos – stranger, foreigner, or one who is other. Philoxenian – familial love for the “other.” That means love toward those you may not understand, agree with, or otherwise consider to reside in your circle of comfort. The Way, Truth, and Life who is Jesus will shine through as you put flesh and blood hands and feet to work in tangible, visible, and practical ways. Want to be in a position to speak the truth? First, earn the right to be heard.

How?

Now is a time to be present to weep and mourn with victims and their loved ones. It really doesn’t matter what your views are on same-sex attraction, gay bars, alcohol, gun control, ISIS, or what Trump and Hillary had to say. Now is a time to go and give blood. Now is a time to prepare and deliver a meal. Now is a time to provide a shoulder to cry on or hand to hold. Now is a time to cover your co-worker’s shift because their loved one is being treated in a hospital; or being prepared for burial. This is a time to give comfort and stand vigil with those grieving. Now is the time to stand in humble protection over those who would be further victimized by ignorant and insensitive rhetoric from “religious” people whose hate-filled words are not much different than the terrorist’s bullets. Followers of Jesus are bound to those hurting. These are people. People created in the image of God. People for whom Jesus died. People that belong to the one and only global tribe we call the human race. While I understand and agree with the call of many to pray, I would encourage praying people to become active people. As the old African Proverb says, “When you pray, move your feet.”

It takes courage to love. That’s why it’s easy for this tragedy to be made worse by reactionary words and actions. Love takes the time to cultivate and bear the fruit of patience, kindness, truth, generosity, humility, dignity, selflessness, mercy, forgiveness, and perseverance. That’s what love does, and it’s why love never fails.

It is only through active love that the tide of hate and violence can be turned. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? pp. 62-63

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

 

 

Hands and Feet in Ferguson or wherever you are

November 24, 2014
kevindglenn

In a matter of minutes, the Grand Jury will announce its decision regarding Officer Darren Wilson’s actions and their relation to the death of Michael Brown. There is a collective silence as the nation holds its breath. A pregnant pause exists as everyone from police to protestor, business owner to bystander waits to see what will be birthed from the pangs of anticipation experienced since the shots were fired in the streets of Ferguson back in August. Some seek indictment, some seek no charge, all are hoping for what they perceive to be the best while preparing for the worst.

The incident is seen from differing perspectives within the Body of Christ. In the past week, forwards have come to my inbox with calls to rally Christians to support Officer Wilson and first responders. Others call for protests against law enforcement, citing scriptures in support of standing with the Brown family. My prayer is that the Body of Christ avoid setting up walls of division, but rather see and seize this moment in a redemptive and restorative manner.

The Scriptures do not promise that God’s people will live in a world free from pain, injustice, hopelessness, and strife. Instead, followers of Jesus are assured of God’s redemptive purpose taking place within and throughout the mess of this world – even as God’s people serve as bearers of hope, beacons of light, ambassadors of peace, agents of justice, and catalysts of change. Jesus enters the fray by way of his people – Christians – the “little christs” walking and serving as his hands and feet.

I envision Christ’s hands outstretched in invitation to those in pain. There may never be full discovery or disclosure of all the facts in this case. What is clear is the call to examine the systems, procedures, processes, and practices by which non-white men (African American and other men of color) are searched, arrested, sentenced, and killed at a rate disproportionately higher than that of white males. The voices of those impacted by this reality must have a place at the table to tell their stories, to share their pain, and to challenge assumptions.

The invitation must also extend to those officers who seek to protect and maintain peace. What challenges do they face in the field? What circumstances do they encounter for which they are not prepared? How has the unresolved pain of losing their partners in the line of duty contribute to a deepening divide with those they are meant to protect? The hands of Christ must comfort, while also helping to locate handles by which to honestly and redemptively grapple with these issues.

I envision the feet of Jesus moving the conversation toward productive and practical change. Reactions to the Grand Jury’s decision will eventually subside. Streets will clear, businesses will un-board their windows, schools will have classes, and the exterior of life in Ferguson will resume. That is when there must be workable, reasonable, meaningful, and productive response. The feet of Jesus must keep moving for redemptive change. The presence of a pastor on the Independent Ferguson Commission is a good start. The voice of the Body of Christ can respond to the concerns and challenges from both law abiding citizen and law enforcement personnel with conversations leading to lasting and sustainable change.

So what can we do as the Body of Christ?

Pray – Before you say anything, before you take to Facebook, Twitter, email, microphone, podium, or water cooler conversation. PRAY. Pray for sensitivity. Pray for discernment. Pray for your own prejudice. Pray for the Browns. Pray for the Wilsons. Pray for Anonymous. Pray for the protesters. Pray for the officers and National Guard. Pray about what you think you know and pray for the honesty to admit you don’t know that much. Did I mention the need to pray about your own prejudice? In fact, maybe instead of saying anything for a while, just pray.

Get informed – So much of this tragedy has been the result of incomplete, misleading, inaccurate, or just a simple lack of information. Even with the Grand Jury decision, it may be a long time before we know much more than we know right now. Do your best to become as informed as you can from as many perspectives as you can. Seek out people who have a different view than you do. The Body of Christ is diverse. Find a brother or sister with whom you can ask honest questions. Prepare to have your assumptions challenged. Don’t enter the conversation if you’ve only been in an echo-chamber.

Look for ways to be feet-first and hands-on – Seek out ways to just be part of a faithful, peaceful, redemptive presence. Stand with the hurting, listen to those who want to talk, pray with people. As a Christian, you have been strategically placed in your family, your town, your school, your office at this time in history. You’re not there by accident. Pray, listen, be present.

Open your hands, move your feet – Go.

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