A Nation That Mourns

                                 My Thoughts on What is Happening In Our Nation
It has been heartbreaking seeing all of the violence over the past couple of weeks. The violence which started (this time) with the murder of George Floyd and which has erupted into chaos everywhere around us. Everywhere I turn (Facebook, news, conversations with friends) people are debating who caused the chaos around us—who’s to blame—who should be called to account–and what should be done about it. And the conversations are usually not polite. They are filled with condemnation and angry calls for judgment and swift action.
 
So, who’s to blame? Who needs to be called to account? Imagine a scenario in which two of my daughters are in an argument (it doesn’t take that much imagination). One of them is pestering/poking at/annoying the other. The one that is being annoyed responds repeatedly with: “leave me alone! Please, stop!” But her pleas are met with even more harassment. Eventually, another chorus of pleas are added to the first ones: “Mom…dad…please make her stop!” But her mother and I are either unable or unwilling to respond. We’re busy…with important “things.” Finally, the conflict reaches its climax when the daughter who is being harassed lashes out in anger and hits her sister.
 
So, the question is: which daughter should be punished? In many families, the one who struck last or hardest is the one who earns the punishment. A good parent will know and understand that both children were in the wrong and need to be disciplined. But an even better parent will look at his/her self and ask: “why did the conflict have to escalate to violence before I chose to fully notice and intervene? Was the “stuff” that I was doing really more important? Isn’t it my responsibility to intervene, teach them and help them before the conflict reaches a violent turning point?”
 
As parents…as Christians…and as Americans we are primarily called to be peacemakers/teachers, not disciplinarians; we are called to breathe grace, not fire; we are called to be primarily proactive, not reactive. And yet, when push-comes-to-shove we naturally gravitate to the later, not the former. We wait until something tragic happens before we decide to notice and act, focus on who to assign blame to instead of seeing the underlining problem, and then shove it back out of our minds when the punishments have been rendered and act like everything is now okay.
 
I’m not going to debate or focus on the violence that Floyd’s death has precipitated—because I don’t believe that is the main issue in this matter. I’m also not going to focus on or debate about the specific police officers who murdered George Floyd. Because, again, I don’t believe they (or even other people like them) are the main issue. I’m the main issue. And, perhaps, you are too.
 
Here’s my point: George Floyd died, in part, because I didn’t do anything to help stop racism in my country.
 
Am I a racist? I don’t believe I am. I try to treat everyone equally. I try to act respectfully toward everyone. I have people of color that I consider to be friends and brothers/sisters and colleagues. But, I also haven’t owned what has been festering like gangrene in our country since its inception: the sin of racism.
 
Own the sin of racism? What does that mean? Most people today have a hard time owning up to their own, personal sin, let alone to the collective sins of an entire community…or nation. “I didn’t do it!” I’m not doing anything racist!” “I treat everyone the same, it’s not my fault!” are the arguments that I hear time and time again (and perhaps even have used myself). But, using the example I mentioned earlier, is it enough for a parent to not pester/poke at or annoy their children? Is a good example all that is required? Don’t get me wrong, being a good example is a great start…but it’s only a start. At home, as well as in our neighborhoods, communities and country we also need to speak out, teach, intervene, etc.—BEFORE the conflict reaches a violent turning point. Because, again, the violence isn’t the main issue—the overarching sin of racism and our active participation in or passivity toward that racism is. We’ve been so busy pointing fingers at who we believe started it, that we’ve ignored the fact that we’re all culpable. As astute children will often point out, whenever you point your finger at someone else, you have at least three fingers pointed back at yourself.
 
There is a man in the Bible who serves as a good example for this point. His name was Nehemiah. He lived in Persia, in the citadel of Susa—not by choice—but because he was a political prisoner. While many of the Jews were in exile with Nehemiah, many others still lived in Jerusalem. One day, one of Nehemiah’s brothers traveled from Jerusalem to Susa and met up with him. When Nehemiah asked how the Jews in Jerusalem were doing, his brother sadly informed him that they were living in “great trouble and disgrace.” Apparently, the Jews were not bothering to fix or rebuild the city after it had been ruined. They were stalled by fear and apathy. So, they were choosing to disobey God.
 
Nehemiah hadn’t been to Jerusalem in years. It was a long distance away (coincidentally—he was about 900 miles from Jerusalem…while we, here in Chardon, are about 780 miles away from Minneapolis). He could, very easily, have simply said: “Look at what those people are doing! How dare they! God should discipline them! They can’t get away with this!” Instead, Nehemiah took a different type of action and prayed a much different prayer:
Nehemiah 1:4-7 4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.
 
He didn’t go on social media and begin to debate and gossip with his friends about who’s fault it was or become angry with self-righteous indignation. He mourned and cried with and for his people. He chose to stand in solidarity with them. He chose to see the sin for what it was and to recognize his part in it—even though he wasn’t physically present in Jerusalem. And he chose to pray and ask God for forgiveness. If you read further, you would find that out of that pray time, God gave him a specific plan of action for him to follow; a specific way in which Nehemiah could be a part of dealing with the sin in his nation and help bring healing and a path forward.
 
So, what are we supposed to do? How do we own the fight against racism in our country? How do we stand with our brothers and sisters of color in meaningful, constructive and healing ways? How do we move past fear and apathy to action? What does that look like?
 
A fellow Alliance pastor/brother of color wrote on his Facebook page within the last week, this advice (in which I have, interestingly, found many parallels to Nehemiah’s prayer and journey):
 
1. Your prayers and voice as an advocate are most important right now. Silence is violence. Pray for the dismantling of systems and structures of racism. Pray for repentance, restoration, reconciliation, and the healing of our land.
 
2. Educate yourself on the history of racist systems and structures that still exist today (it really is exhausting for people of color to do this for you). I recommend “Be the Bridge” ministry as a great starting point. Their Facebook page and website have excellent resources. https://bethebridge.com/btb101
3. Use your voice as an advocate to speak out against the sin of racism when and wherever you see it amongst the White people in your circle, especially in the Church.
 
Another pastor/friend of color recommended this website/article: 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice https://medium.com/equality-includes-you/what-white-people-can-do-for-racial-justice-f2d18b0e0234
I’m using my voice to reach out to you—right now. And will continue to. Your turn.

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2020-03-25

One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 46.  God always speaks to me in and through it, and this week has been no exception.  The Psalm begins by saying:
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
It’s times like this, when the Coronavirus threat is raging around us and we are locked inside, wondering how long this is going to last, that we truly discover who or what we are truly making our refuge.  Our refuge is what makes us feel secure, safe, protected.  Is our refuge God?  Is He the one we rely on?  Is He the one we are trusting to get us through each day?  Or, somewhere along the way, did we make something else or someone else our refuge?  Many people make their spouse, their kids, their job, their reputation, their things, their bank accounts, their country, their hobbies, or some addiction their refuge.  All of these people or things will eventually fail us…as we have seen many of them do so over the past few weeks.  And when our refuge fails us…we become agitated…insecure…afraid.  But when we place God as our refuge, we will not be shaken because He will NEVER fail us, just as the next few verses tell us:
“Therefore we will not fear; though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
Having God as our refuge doesn’t mean that nothing bad will happen to us.  It does mean. though, that we don’t need to fear when it does!  We can trust God to take care of us!  Nothing is to big for Him…even a Coronavirus!  So if we make God our refuge, He will produce peace in us, and take away the fear.  We will be like a calm spring in the midst of raging waters.
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.  God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at the break of day.  Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts His voice, the earth melts.”
You and I are that river!  The image that the Psalmist is creating is of a calm, slowly meandering stream that is making its way to its destination while everything around it (nations, the earth) is in an uproar.  DO you want to be like that stream?  You can!  You just need to make God your refuge (security–what you trust in).  So…how do you do that?  A few verses later, the Psalmist (but really God is the one saying it) gives this advice (really its a command):
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
Other translations say it this way:  “Cease striving and know that I am God.”
What is God saying?  Let me explain it with an illustration of my own:  there are many people each year that drown in the ocean even though there was a lifeguard present.  Why?  Because they are flailing around so much, trying to save themselves, that the lifeguard can’t reach them to save them!  Just as many of us try so hard to save ourselves in hard times, that we don’t see (or maybe care to see) God holding out His hand to save us.  So, cease striving.  O,r perhaps, my own translation:  “Cease flailing and know that I am God.”
Over the next few weeks or perhaps even months, you will be tempted to “save” yourselves.  Don’t do it.  You’ll fail…and the result will be fear.  Instead, let God be your refuge–rest and be still in Him–and you’ll discover peace…and rest…and freedom.
“The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
 
Pastor Andy

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