The news yesterday a grand jury will not indict a Cleveland police officer for the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice is very disturbing to me as a Christian, father, and African American. (You can see a video of the event here). In a period when America is in deep discussions over the 2nd Amendment, access to guns, and the relationship between the African American community and law enforcement, this lack of justice on behalf of Tamir Rice demonstrates the need for action beyond words.
Let me first say I am profoundly sorry and sympathize for the Tamir Rice family. A son was playing in his neighborhood and lost his life. As parents we hope our children can play outside our homes, in recreational areas, and enjoy life. We expect our children to come home when we yell down the street, tell them it is time for lunch, and be in the house when the street lights come home. This would not be the case for Tamir Rice. He was playing in the neighborhood with a toy and he lost his life. A mother lost her twelve-year-old son to violence. Violence which came not from the hands of another African American child, gang member, or drug dealer. He lost his life violently at the hands of one who is sworn to execute his duties in a professional and judicious manner. As a father, I believe I would be in a swirl of emotions ranging from profound sadness to rage. Wouldn’t you as a parent?
Tamir Rice was judged on the basis of his size and the possibility he held a real hand gun which he was never given the opportunity to prove otherwise. What does it mean his size warranted his shooting death? My son is an African American seventeen-year-old, standing 6’1’’ and weighs 200 pounds. How is he to be judged? Now stick a gun-toy or real- in his hand, how then is he to be judged?
Now when I listen to the 2nd Amendment crowd I hear these loud overtures to bear arms, I see pictures of guns popularized, affirmed, and even sexualized. What made Tamir Rice’s situation any different? Let’s assume for a moment it was a live hand gun? The 911 caller reported no shots fired. The film demonstrates a boy in the park with a gun. Therefore, what made this situation different? In this national discussion on the right to bear arms in order to protect oneself, individual property, and the possibility of a government encroachment if the 2nd Amendment crowd remains silent on this injustice they have lost moral authority. A cop shot and killed a young boy for simply carrying a gun.
But it is bigger than the 2nd Amendment.
As an African American father with an African American son who is a 6’1’’ 200-pound male, I need to communicate he cannot enjoy his constitutional right to bear arms. The murder of Tamir Rice demonstrates to me I must sit with my son once again and remind him the nation looks at him differently. While people pontificate over the virtues of gun ownership, concealed carry licenses, and open carry to protect themselves from ISIS, I need to tell my son to have no such weapon because “you may be seen as a threat because of your size and be killed by an American!” This is the reality in which I live and I must raise my son to live in as well.
I want my son to succeed in life and flourish. I want him to have greater opportunities than I have If that means telling him never owning a firearm so that his life has the same probability of existence as his counter parts then so be it. I wish desperately others could see life and hear life as we hear it. What I fear though is Tamir will be blamed, statistics on black on black crime will be put forward again, and another life will be implicitly deemed as forgotten.
But Tamir's life like my son's life matters.
Tamir Rice’s black life matters because he is a human being. His life matters because God made him beautiful. It matters because he was playing and pretending to live out his 2nd Amendment right which is supposed to be for all American citizens. His black life matters and he deserves a full hearing in order for justice to be truly served. His life matters because it powerfully reminds me that I must guard my son’s life and let him know he can enjoy nine of the ten amendments as an African American male.
So with all that said, how should we act?
Well it's December and I have been reflecting on the 2015 year. It has been a mixed year of success and failure, excitement and disappointment, birth and death. Overall, I have learned much about myself as a leader. I have learned three important lessons:
Learn how to respond to situations.
I have a great deal of influence.
Listen, listen, and listen some more.
Birth and Death
Nicolle is the birth apostle of Conway. She does amazing work assisting women who have the privilege to bring a life into the world. Being able to participate in the birth of an individual is a pretty life changing event. At the same time, being able to assist anyone in the development of a project or important matter has a similar level of satisfaction and excitement as delivery.
My doctoral studies in organizational leadership have afforded me the opportunity to assist men and women in the development of nonprofits to serve low income persons and communities. It is a great time to sit with people, hear their vision, and work through a process. The personal satisfaction I have in this birth process is the opportunity to work with people who have a desire to create opportunities for others. This fits in my "three spheres" approach to life (Email me and we can talk about this approach). I was blessed to be honored by the Chamber for my work to advocate for others and Governor Hutchinson appointed me to a cool opportunity as well. While there have been great opportunities to work in the birth process, I have also been reminded with birth there is death.
This year has been difficult because I closed the door on church planting. This closure happened in two very significant ways. The last Sunday in September brought to a close the Church at Oakwood. This church was a labor of love since 2007 when it was just myself and the family. Over the course of eight years, many beautiful people had the opportunity to experience "church" in a new way. It was called the "trailer park church," "TP church," and even the "cult." A nonprofit was produced, missionaries were sent out, and above all the Gospel was being heard. In 2012, I made the decision to step down as the leader of the church and in 2015 moved on to plant a new expression. I have to admit when I learned about the Church at Oakwood ceasing, I was deeply disappointed and questioned my own leadership decisions. At the end of the day, I first had to trust God in what he was doing and second trust the decisions of the leadership I had discipled through the years. Trust is a hard thing! I love to delegate and part of delegation is trust. So with the closure, I wrestled with delegation and reexamined how to best delegate to others. I am still in process.
The second death was Advocate Community Church. I thought we would catch lighting in a bottle a second time with a new church plant at the beginning of this year. We had some good interest. I worked through a process but as time went on and some good intense discussions with the family, we realized the season of being trailblazers as church planters was over. It was a great weight lifted off of me. I realized I could give greater attention to the opportunities God was giving me in carrying out the reality of the incarnation and resurrection in the context of loving ones neighbor.
So birth and death have been two enjoyable and painful experiences. Birth and death have one commonality, both experiences move you to a new state of being. For that I thank God.
Opening My Mouth
There is this song by Emeli Sande titled, "Read All About It, Pt. III." The song contains two powerful lines which pretty much summarize my feelings about using words and influence. The artist states,
"You've got the words to change a nation, But you're biting your tongue."
"You've got a heart as loud as lions, So why let your voice be tamed?"
Those two lines touched my soul because this past year I was in this horrible place of having many things to say but withholding those words out of some type of fear. Fear can be paralyzing emotion. It can stall momentum and lead us to consider other people and other things determine our value. But fear can be a good thing as well. Fear is what helps us discover courage, fortitude, and resilience. Fear can be a tool which removes the dross from our souls revealing characteristics we desperately need for the next stage of our journey.
So in the last few months I have taken fear as my ally leveraging its influence for the benefit of others. In choosing to open my mouth and say things in the hope of changing my small city it has had it's consequences. I have had painful realizations people whom I perceived as friends held that relationship on a conditional basis. It was on condition I towed the line, speaking and saying things to which I had to agree. When I have chosen to offer a different perspective relationships were severed, my integrity challenged, and my nonprofit organization lost donors.
By nature I am a loner. I like to be by myself or in very small groups. So when I had folks step out on me by default reaction was, "Bye!" I must say I went through these emotions of sadness and anger, bitterness and relief. Eventually I had to shake the dust off and keep moving forward because the season was over and the lessons learned. Honestly, I think my emphasis on loving one's neighbor has been more for me than anyone else this year.
I believe I am pretty clear on my purpose in life. God's saving grace empowers me to advocate for the poor and speak on what it means to love one's neighbor. So when I lost relationships or had my organization impacted because I say or write things which are consistent with my purpose I ask myself, "Why are you surprised? Are you not paying attention?" Yes, I am going to address homelessness, racism, poverty, immigration, criminal justice, and other issues because it what I deal with on a daily basis. I am only seeking to be consistent.
These experiences have also reminded me I have a responsibility to people. I have a responsibility to my family, the organization I lead, and the people I speak for on a daily basis. So I think deeply. I pray about what I am about to communicate. I have to trust God. Ultimately, I have a responsibility to say and do what is right, not what is popular, expedient, or political. Why? Because human beings are impacted by our thoughts and ideas. Thoughts and ideas become plans, policies, and strategies to be implemented on a local, national, and global stage. If we are not willing to communicate boldly and lovingly about people and their general welfare, we are in trouble.
So in 2016 I will grow as a lion whose mouth is meant to influence a nation. Thank you for that song Emeli!
I am looking forward to waving goodbye to 2015 and embracing 2016. I have great anticipation and excitement for family, my organization, and I have a dissertation waiting on me. Yes Lord! Birth and Death remind me all of us move from one state of living to another. So pay attention to the things which have come alive and passed on in your own life. Finally, more of us need to open our mouths. I believe there are many more lions roaming the countryside of America. We are in need loving, reasonable, and passionate voices who are concerned more about people than systems, human flourishing rather the famine of compassion. We are in need of creative voices who are willing to take fear as an ally and inspire our humanity towards
One day, a Christian of America made up in his mind to test Jesus, saying, "Teacher, remind me on how I am to inherit eternal life." Jesus said to him, "What is written in the New Testament? How do you read it?" And he answered, "I must have faith in him whom God has risen from the dead. It is a living faith which leads me to love God and my neighbor." And Jesus said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."
But the Christian of America, didn't fully appreciate the answer. He straightened his back. Cast a smirk of a smile and said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Jesus replied, "A man was going from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, and he was car-jacked by several persons, who stole his clothes, seized his smartphone, broke his ribs, cracked his skull, leaving him unconscious on the side of the road. Now it happened to be the time of a great conference and a pro-life group was passing by, and when they saw the man, they passed on by. Likewise a missionary group who just returned from India, when they came to the exact same location, they too passed on to the other side.
But a Muslim, as he traveled to work, saw the man on the side of the road, and when he saw him, he entered into his suffering. He pulled out his first aid kit, tended to the man's injuries and then called 911 for emergency assistance. He followed the ambulance to the hospital and sat over night with the man in ICU. Next morning he told the hospital billing office, "Here is my credit card. Take care of him and whatever he needs."
Jesus looked at the Christian of America and with strong eyes asked, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man carjacked?"
The Christian of America clenched his fist. He looked around fumbling with the keys in his pocket. He finally looked up to Jesus and said, "The one who showed him mercy."
And Jesus says to the Christian of America,
"You go, and do the same."
This retelling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) was inspired by my friend Jared Wilson who tweeted on Monday December 7, 2015:
"If Jesus were telling the parable we call The Good Samaritan to many evangelicals today, it might be known as The Good Muslim."
This year has proven we need to revisit this parable and others like it to recover how we are to live as Christians in this current climate. We are seeking to justify ourselves and how we treat others on the basis of our citizenship, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Such justifications lead us only to love those who are like us. This parable demonstrates the power of transformative love when those who are in conflict share in each other's suffering. This parable is spoken to those who ask the question, "What must I do to inherit life?"
Jesus is speaking to us today.
Jesus is telling us a old story in a new way.
Jesus who has showed us mercy now says,
"You go, and do the same. It will cost you time. It will cost you resources. It will cost your life. But because I have give you the power of an indestructible life. You go, and do the same. Show mercy as an act of gratitude for the mercy you have received."