Friday, December 26, 2014

Your Life in Six Words

If you had to summarize your life in six words, what would they be? Several years ago an online magazine asked that question. It was inspired by a possibly legendary challenge posed to Ernest Hemingway to write a six-word story that resulted in the sad classic "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." The magazine was flooded with so many responses that the site almost crashed, and the responses were eventually turned into a book. Not Quite What I Was Planning is filled with six-word memoirs by writers "famous and obscure." Here are some of the memoirs that range from funny to ironic to inspiring to heartbreaking:
  • "One tooth, one cavity; life's cruel."
  • "Savior complex makes for many disappointments."
  • "Cursed with cancer. Blessed with friends." (This one was written by a nine-year-old boy with cancer).
  • "The psychic said I'd be richer."
  • This one was only five words: "One long train to darkness."
  • "It all changed in an instant."
  • "Tombstone won't say: 'Had health insurance.'"
  • "Not a good Christian, but trying."
  • "Thought I would have more impact."
  • "I can't keep my own secrets."
Just six words, that's the rule, and that requires us to focus on what matters most. So, I'm working on mine and I promise to post my six word life summary before New Years. Will you join me in this exercise? Not a bad time to look back and to take stock of things and life in general. Give it try. And I hope you'll share yours, too. Your life in six words. Go for it. (Nope. That's only three words.)

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Fallout From Ferguson

The decision of the St. Louis grand jury, far from bringing any closer to this tragic situation, has revealed a gaping chasm of mistrust, racism, and violence separating the passionate people of Ferguson, Missouri and concerned people all across our country. It seems obvious that the tragic confrontation between Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown took place in the emotionally charged atmosphere of violent threats and alleged racism, blatant disrespect and perceived injustice. It seems certain that if Wilson were black or if Michael Brown had been white, this whole incident would have gone down differently.

So long is the history of mistrust and so deep is the anguish of past injustice, that the facts of this case - what actually happened - seem almost secondary to the issues that this confrontation represents. I have been amazed and disturbed to hear and read so much testimony that was grossly distorted, if not outright fabricated. Shot in the back . . . shot on the ground . . . hands up in surrender . . . apparently not so at all. Testimony presented to a grand jury by those who later admitted that they didn't actually see what happened - it's all very disturbing. Somewhere, lost in the reports is the fact that this young man physically threatened and assaulted a police officer. Also rarely mentioned is the truth that though the officer may have felt he was at risk there on the street, he was not. Could bloodshed have been avoided? No doubt. For God's sake, just get on the sidewalk. Don't pull that trigger until you have no choice. And maybe that's the way it went down. Who knows? I'm not the judge or jury. But one young man is dead and another has lost his career and lives in fear for his life. Both families are greatly in need of our prayers and support.

In the smoke of such a firestorm of controversy, two primary issues need to be addressed: the rule of law and a culture of mistrust. In this democracy, the courts with their juries made up of ordinary citizens have a sacred and vital obligation - to lay aside any personal prejudices or vendettas, to hear all the testimony, examine all the evidence, and find the truth as best they can. Is it a perfect system? Of course not. It is made up of imperfect people. Has the system faltered and failed at times? Yes, it has, and there are still many wrongs waiting to be righted. But it is the best chance we have of finding the truth and dispensing justice especially in high profile, emotionally charged cases like this.

And so, when the gavel hits the wood, the matter is decided. This is the rule of law. An appeal process is available. Civil charges can be filed. Peaceful, non-violent protest is valid and appropriate, part of our birthright as Americans. There are valid means of regress and expression in the face of injustice, but the senseless violence, looting, and destruction that has taken place in Ferguson is not about the cause of justice. It is the further damaging and violating of a community that has already been tragically torn apart. Citizens and their property must be protected from those who seize such opportunities to pillage and rob and destroy. The rule of law must be respected.

Second, we must address this culture of mistrust, this long backlog of hatred and hostility that seems to pass from generation to generation with ever deepening animosities. Our cities are teeming with crime-ridden neighborhoods filled with desperate people, economically oppressed, under served and disadvantaged, fighting to survive, and finding little hope of change or opportunity. Families are often broken and forgotten. Children grow up among the gangs and the gangsters, the drugs and the dealers, and there doesn't seem to be any way out.

Police quickly learn to approach such neighborhoods as war zones, hostile territory where they are often an unwelcome, trespassing presence. And this is where the race issue often plays an important role, although I'm convinced that this is more of a black and blue issue, rather than black and white. Predominantly white police departments like Ferguson's patrol ethnically diverse communities, and you can bet that not many African American children from such areas want to grow up to be police officers.

How do we identify and address the issues that have created such a culture of mistrust in our cities? I don't have the answers, but I do know that somehow honest face to face communication must take place. It's time to talk, and we will likely identify many problems that we must all work together to address. You and I can no longer just congratulate ourselves for living in some safe place far removed from such heart-rending tragedies. We all have work to do, because nothing spreads faster than hatred and mistrust unaddressed and unrestrained.  I am praying for bold and brave souls, both black and white, who will come together with respect for one another to listen and learn how to live together with peace and justice for everyone. 

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other."

Can it really happen? Can change ever come? Praying . . .