Cam Newton, the Super Bowl, & the Race Card

 

I’m not even close to unbiased as we approach the 2016 Super Bowl.

I graduated from the University of Florida. I’m a Gator fan. Gators do not like the Tennessee Volunteers. We struggle to acknowledge that one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time goes by the name Peyton Manning, a Tennessee Volunteer. And yet as extensive as his resume is, let me give you my favorite Peyton Manning statistic: 0-4. That would be his record against my alma mater.

Now we come to Cam Newton. Before he was Superman; before he was a Carolina Panther; before he was Mr. Heisman; he was a Florida Gator. I know Auburn fans claim him as their own, but I remember the kindness and patience of Cam toward children in general, but mine in particular, when he walked off the practice field in Gainesville, Florida. I like Cam.

A couple days ago things heated up as Cam made a statement about being a black quarterback in the NFL. Depending on who you are in the world, his words either ring incredibly true or they carry the stench of the race card.

Depending on who you are the race card is a tool people of color use to blame whites for things that are not their fault or the race card is a term used to disempower minorities and invalidate all claims of racial injustice without respect to current evidence or historical fact.

As I clicked through the comments below Cam’s article, it was once again apparent just how polarized we are. “There’s no bias here,” many argued, “Why is Cam trying to make this about race?”

So I started thinking about my bias.

Growing up in the Tampa Bay area helped me to never get emotionally invested in a football team, as the Bucs found a way to perennially disappoint. But my fan-soul was awakened as I stepped foot on the campus of the University of Florida. Little did I know that I was being immersed into an entirely new culture. Next thing you know, I’m looking at the football world through an entirely different set of lenses. (Orange and blue to be exact.) I didn’t really choose for it to happen; but my days of unbiased participation in the world of football were over.

And that’s why, Peyton, if you’re reading this, I respect your talent, but I want you to lose in a very big way. Cam, if you’re reading this, I hereby commission you to take this Volunteer down one last time. 0-5.

Back to the race card.

When I hear all these people claiming that they possess no racial bias, I find myself wondering, exactly what culture did you grow up in? Do you really believe that you live in a racially-neutral society? Or, if you recognize the inequities, do you really believe that your soul is somehow immune to the effects? “Stop trying to make something out of nothing,” people are telling Cam. But is it possible, that just as subconsciously as I became a Gator-partial man, that each of us slowly develops into adulthood with all sorts of biases of which we are surely unaware. It’s the air we breathe.

I guess I’m pleading with us to be humble enough to admit we are products of the environment in which we were raised. I want us to be courageous enough to say this publicly: Everything is not ok. And for me to bring up the New Jim Crow of our prison system or for Cam to bring up his experience as a black quarterback is not the problem. The solution to brokenness is never denial; but it almost always starts with humility.

The fact of the matter is, I’m a biased man. I prejudge. I hold on to my privilege. And it’s not just football. It’s my ethnicity. My gender. My nationality. The fact of the matter is we are divided. As awkward as it is to spend time with a dysfunctional family that pretends that nothing is wrong is as awkward as it can be in churches when Ferguson or Baltimore, Maryland or Cam Newton are in the news.

Which is why one of the greatest words to proceed from a human tongue is this one: reconciliation.

PERKINS blogWhich is why I can’t wait to see what happens in our partnership with Dr. John Perkins, a man who has given his life (and been beaten within an inch of his last breath) for Jesus, justice, and reconciliation.

 

My hope is that the body of Christ will be the hope of our nation in achieving reconciliation that comes from truth, humility and justice. And I want to be a part of the solution. Because division is not just an ethnic thing; it’s a human thing as old as the Garden where our first parents broke relationship with God. I know Someone who knows exactly what to do with division.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 NIV)

Game on.

 

Missouri & Yale & the gaps in our Gospel.

I’m reading the reports from Missouri and Yale and thinking about the gaps in our Gospel.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

Woe to those who consolidate their spirituality into their personal piety while neglecting social action. Woe to those who go to church and live moral lives and claim right theology while neglecting justice. Woe to those who claim a change on the inside that never makes a difference to those weeping on the outside. At least that’s what Jesus said.

We always like to think of ourselves as the protagonist. When the preacher tells the story of David and Goliath, well, I’m David. Of course. The application is always along the lines of, You can do this. Find your slingshot. Trust God, and your enemies will fall. The story concludes with little David triumphantly removing the head of his massive and arrogant adversary. All the little Davids leave church happy. Yet I’ve never heard a preacher land the sermon with, Hey big man, don’t lose your head. Because I’m always the protagonist. I couldn’t be Goliath.

As I watch the cultural challenges unfold before us in the news and social media I keep thinking of Jesus’ words to the hypocrites of his day. I’m sure they thought they were David, and yet Jesus calls them Goliath.

Don’t lose your head.

Don’t neglect the weightier matters of the law.

Weightier matters. What an interesting thought. Jesus says justice is weightier than tithing. Listen, I’m a preacher and we take up offerings every week, but I don’t want to lose my head. I wonder what would happen if we printed out all the sermons preached around the country on tithing and put them on one side of a scale. And then we printed out all the sermons preached on justice and placed them on the other side of the scale. Which pile would be weightier?

Which brings me to college campuses around our nation. Let there be justice.

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What is justice? It is the equitable application of God’s moral law in society. Dr. King would write from a Birmingham jail that a just law is a law that squares with God’s law. If he is right, there is no true justice without the true Judge. Which means, of all the people on planet earth, those who claim to know the Judge should be the very most vocal about justice.

And herein lies our problem. When the people who should influence the conversation do not influence the conversation, we leave a vacuum. When the people who should address injustice do not address injustice, justice becomes a moving target. Our protagonist David had a son named Absalom (2 Samuel 13-20). He turned out to be wicked, but I’m not so sure he started out as twisted as we might assume. His treachery begins when his sister is raped, and then subsequently disgraced. For reasons we cannot explain, King David does nothing to address the tragedy. He loses his head. Failed justice embitters Absalom’s soul and turns his heart sour. The story ends with tragedy and unnecessary bloodshed. But the point is this: in the presence of failed justice and unresolved bitterness, hearts become poisoned. Absalom would not sit by and do nothing.

But a bitter activist is a bad answer to a justice problem.

Which is why I am praying that the people of Jesus will listen to Jesus and learn to do good, seek justice, correct oppression. (Isaiah 1:17). Hey Goliath, don’t lose your head. Black lives matter. Justice is at the top of God’s agenda. And maybe we will hear what the Spirit is saying to the church in these days.

Things always go south when we neglect the weightier matters of the law.

Our world needs activists – but not like Absalom. I think about men like John Perkins (who will be with us the final weekend of January). He is an activist, but he found the way to beat bitterness. He has washed the feet of a nation and turned the hearts of multitudes by doing what ordinary people would not: finding a way to truly hate the injustice – and fight the injustice – without allowing the injustice to sour him. I want to follow him.

It’s justice and mercy and faithfulness.

Just like the Cross. At the center of the Gospel is this breathtaking truth: the ultimate Judge was judged in my place. Justice was served and mercy prevailed as the faithfulness of God was poured out on a Goliath like me. Selah.

Pray for Baltimore.

Specific prayers get specific answers; general prayers get general answers. I suggest we get specific. Feel free to add your prayer below, but join us in calling out to God.

PRAY AGAINST: Fear. Divisiveness. Hatred. Racism. Hopelessness. Despair. Deception. Faithlessness. Injustice. Cynicism. Lawlessness. Lack of understanding. Arrogance. Violence. Racial caste systems. Class bias. Superficial treatment of systemic problems.

PRAY FOR: Love. Unity. Healing. Hope. Justice. Truth. Understanding. Discernment. Appropriate outrage. Willingness to listen. Wisdom for all in authority. Protection for those in the line of fire. Right voices to be heard. Actual change moving forward. Churches to come together. God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done in Baltimore as it is in heaven. Eyes to see the relevance and transformative power of the full gospel of Jesus.

God forbid that we only pray. And God forbid that we fail to pray.

#WalterScott

Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot dead by a police officer this week, and I’m still chewing on what this means to us.

1. Can’t shake these words: Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression. (Isaiah 1:16-17) Perhaps it requires humility to recognize that justice is learned. Let’s learn.

2. Worlds are colliding. I keep hearing versions of the same question: Are things getting worse, or has it always been like this? If someone has lived in the mainstream majority culture, they have never had to seriously consider moments like these. But the world has changed, and everybody is now confronted with what many have seen for generations.

3. This is not an isolated incident. Let’s be honest; there just happened to be a witness who happened to have a phone and an angle where he could record what took place. Without such clear evidence, the original, official story would have been accepted. The only narrative we ever hear is that of the survivor, which can obviously incentivize someone to not have a survivor.

4. Non-minorities need to wrestle with the fact that black people, especially men, fear the police and regularly fear for their safety. If I’m working late it never crosses my mind to stop working, hurry up and get home, so I’m not out on the streets. When I am stopped by an officer, I never think to call my wife, put the phone on speaker, and start praying for my safety. My wife doesn’t begin to tremble, praying that God will spare my life. When my daughter drives around town I have never warned her not to drive with too many white friends because she might get pulled over for DWW, driving while white. I never warn my sons not to wear their clothes in certain ways or to be out at certain times of the day. My majority experience can leave me ignorant and unaware of the minority experience.

5. It is indeed ironic that so many of the people who publically disrespect the office of the president are the quickest to demand honor and respect toward the office of a policeman. Romans 13 is a good read for all of us.

6. Accountability does not change the human heart, but it does restrain human behavior. And restraint is a big part of the justice-working function of government. We behave differently in the context of acountability. I am a pastor of a church and I certainly hope that people trust me as a spiritual leader. Yet we have very real measures in place to help me stay above reproach, because accountability makes it easier to remain virtuous. I assume that the overwhelming majority of police officers are faithful, dignified, and trustworthy – just as I assume most pastors are above reproach. They lay their lives on the line on a regular basis. Thank God for their service. But just as the position of a pastor could be a snare for those given to abuse of authority, the position of a police officer could easily set people up to abuse power. How do we functionally learn to do good and correct oppression in our context? I know it’s costly, but I’m sold on putting body cameras on officers. And when tragedy occurs, the investigation should be from outside, not inside the local department. Seek justice.

7. We now have another opportunity to do something unique. Everybody expects all the kids to run to the black side of the cafeteria or the white side of the cafeteria. Everybody expects Sundays to remain the most segregated time of the week. Everybody expects whites to be predictably insensitive (“Look at all that back child support.”) and blacks to be predictably hard (“Nothing has changed!”). Everybody expects people to define themselves by their race.

But what if we embrace our race, while defining ourselves by His grace? While governments and systems and cameras can restrain our hearts, only the grace of Jesus will change our hearts. What if we found our ultimate identity in the grace-family of God. What if we offered the unpredictable alternative made possible in reconciling power of Jesus Christ. God with us. But we’ll never find a way to understand one another until we look to the One who made a way to understand us. Black-white. Men-women. Hispanic-gringo. I can name a thousand ways to divide, but there is one way to reconcile.

At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light.

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For further reading about contemporary American policing and the possibilities for improvement click: here

Death by Affluenza

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Not sure if you read the story about the 16-year old from Texas who got drunk, got behind the wheel of his pickup truck, and mowed down four people who are now dead. You’d think the young man would be bracing himself for significant jail time, but his well-paid defense team pulled together an argument that seemed good enough to keep him out of prison. “The witness for the defense, a psychologist, said [the young man] was the victim of a lifestyle of privilege and entitlement, raised without consequences for bad behavior” (full article here).  

A victim. You can’t fully blame him, he’s spoiled rotten.

The verdict? He got off with 10 years probation and a few months in a rehab to be paid by his loaded father.

The story disturbs me on so many levels, but it has me asking one question in particular. What if he wasn’t rich? What if his “disease” wasn’t affluenza, but poverty-uenza?  How would this trial play itself out if the same crime, the same manslaughter, and the same death toll took place at the hand of a 16-year driver from the wrong side of the tracks? With nothing but a court-appointed public defender?

But we know the answer, don’t we. The prisons are full of them. The poverty-to-prison and prison-to-poverty cycle is undeniable. Remove dad from the home and kid is eight times more likely to end up in prison. Get a kid to bail on his eduction, and his likelihood of jail time goes through the roof. I wonder how many of these inmates wish they could have used their childhood as a leniency-inducing explanation for their destructive behavior. But it does’t really work like that for the poor, does it.

It’s part of what makes the Christmas season so ironic to me. I hear Christians fighting to keep Christ in Christmas, but it’s pretty unclear which Christ they’re talking about. ‘Tis the season of unrestrained covetousness; maxed out credit cards and jam-packed shopping malls; of dreams of promotions and winning lottery tickets. All this materialism to honor the birth of the King who became a nobody. It’s why if you get anything else from the birth of Christ, you have to ask what God was saying when he was born poor. In a manger. Among animals. To an unwed mother.

Remember the poor.

These were the three words the apostle Paul heard when he met with the leaders of the early Christian movement. Of all the advice, of all the suggestions, of all the topics to discuss with this man who would turn the world upside down. And yet, “all they asked” was that he remember the poor. (Galatians 2:10)

I don’t have a million instructions for the Christmas holiday, but I can tell you this. More than we need to find another gift to please another person to feed their affluenza; more than our kids need another gadget to postpone their boredom; more than we need another Facebook marathon to compare our affluence to somebody slightly better off; we need to embrace the soul-shifting wisdom of the Scriptures.

Are you suffering from affluenza? Are you lonely? Empty? Stressed? Remember the poor. And don’t be surprised when you find Jesus.

They borrowed a tomb for the Crucified One,
No monument royal for God’s only Son.
His were the planets and stars in the sky;
His were the valleys and mountains so high;
His, all earth’s riches from pole unto pole,
But He became poor to ransom my soul.
(Byron Carmony)

I don’t want to be a white Christian.

I don’t want to be a white Christian.

And I don’t want you to be a black Christian. Or an Hispanic Christian. Or a Chinese Christian. Or an Indian Christian.

At least grammatically.

Because when I say white Christian I place my race in the position of an adjective, and it’s the job of an adjective to modify a noun. And when I allow the adjective of my race to modify the noun of my Christianity I always run into trouble.

What I need is the reality of my Christianity to modify every other reality of my life. Easier said than done, but that’s what grace does.

A white Christian’s reflections on Trayvon Martin

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1. White America still doesn’t get it.

Please forgive the obvious overgeneralization, but some version of this sentence needs to be wrestled with.

There are many points to be made in the aftermath of the Martin-Zimmerman tragedy, but I’m not sure we’re even ready for that dialogue if we can’t first acknowledge this painful fact. For many whites, the idea of white privilege has never crossed their minds. Most whites never consider the benefits of being white.

When I was learning to drive my mother did not have to tell me to never drive with more than two of my white friends because I might get pulled over for DWW – driving while white. She never told me not to wear my clothes in certain ways or be out at certain times of the day. As a white man I do not walk through department stores looking over my head because of suspicious sales people. I send my children to a public school where I don’t wonder if their teacher will discriminate against them. When I’m late for meetings or miss a social cue I never hear people attribute it to my race. Even as I write this blog, I feel fully able to express my viewpoint and not have people roll their eyes because it’s the white party line. In other words, I go through life expecting people to view me as a unique child of God, not just another member of a racial group.

This is a big deal.

2. We need to get honest about the messages being communicated. I keep hearing the arguments. “Our system may not be perfect, but it’s the best system in the world.” As many times as I’ve heard that, it dawns on me, I’ve never heard that from a person of color. “But racism has gotten so much better.” Maybe this is true, but it’s like hearing a child abuser brag that he’s cut back to beating his children once a week. It’s pretty hard to celebrate the progress when you’re the victim of the beating. Or when you’re the one burying your son.

This is from a facebook post forwarded to me this week. Person 1: ‘9/10 statuses this morning are about the Trayvon/Zimmerman case. If only we could get people to care this much about more important things…’  Person 2: “This status message is a consistent witness of the mentality that dead black bodies are not important things. Do you know what your words testify? That dead black bodies are not worthy of our conversation, not worthy of our righteous indignation, not worthy of our attention, not worthy of our compassion, not worthy of our concern, and, apparently, not even worthy of the time of day it takes to update a status on social media. And that hurts.” The grief of a black family is valued as less than the grief of a white family.

If you want the evidence of such an assertion, just go google search the connection between the death penalty and race (you can view some graphics here). Bottom line, the pattern of racial discrimination is astounding. And embarrassing. Probability of execution rises dramatically if the killer is black, especially if the victim is white. Generations of black children watch this take place, and the message is clear.

Which is why Black America was much more interested in the Zimmerman trial than White America. This was more than an isolated case of a youth in a hoodie; it was a thermometer to assess the temperature of a nation. How do non-blacks value black dignity in the year 2013? The question was, what will happen to a light-skinned man who kills a dark-skinned youth? What would a jury say about this man who pulled a trigger and killed another human being?

Not guilty.

3. Which brings up forgiveness. It’s hard to forgive when there is no “guilt”. Listen to the heart of a grieving black friend from our church:  “Yesterday I wanted SO badly to be mindful of the power of forgiveness, and to be desirous of mercy, but what I realized was keeping me from being able to was the fact that there was not (and seemingly never has been) a confession and acknowledgment of the grievousness of the sin committed against blacks by the US & it’s people & policies. And that struck a nerve with me in this case. I would be SO thrilled if Zimmerman actually WAS forgiven, and actually DID receive mercy, and actually WAS allowed freedom — but with a ‘not guilty’ verdict there is no sin to be forgiven, no punishment requiring mercy.” Forget the details of this trial; do you hear this man’s heart?

4. Just because something is “legal” does not make it just. Many people have pointed out that the Zimmerman jury made the correct decision based on the law, the charges, and the evidence presented. But human laws are only just to the extent that they line up to divine law. Hitler enforced laws in his land that were not just. Slavery was once the law of this land, but it was not just. And abortion is now the law of the land, but it is not just.

5. I want us to do the hard work of trying to understand. After church on Sunday I had multiple black brothers and sisters in Christ expressing their deep pain over the verdict delivered the night before. Several had been weeping for hours. If you’re white, do you feel where they are coming from? I’m not trying to put you on the defensive. Guilt trips never work, so don’t twist these words into a guilt trip. Read this as my fallible attempt to cause our little faith family to truly understand. And love. And communicate. And struggle. And feel. And mourn. And weep with. With.

I need us to get over ourselves and any sense of self-justification or self-condemnation. I can’t weep with those who weep when I’m squirming in self-centered guilt. Or hardened with self-righteous excuses.

In case you missed it, we have the opportunity to do something special right now. Everybody expects all the kids to run to the black side of the cafeteria or the white side of the cafeteria. Everybody expects Sundays to remain the most segregated time of the week. Everybody expects whites to be predictably insensitive and blacks to be predictably angry. Everybody expects people to be defined by their race. But what if we embrace our race, while finding our ultimate identity in the family of God? What if we offered the unpredictable alternative made possible in reconciling power of Jesus Christ. God with us.

6. We’ll never understand each other until we look to the One who understands us. Black-white. Men-women. Hispanic-gringo. Easterner-Westerner. I can name a thousand ways to divide, but there is one way to reconcile. The gospel. Listen to these words from my grieving friend. “I have been greatly encouraged,  meditating on the sacrifice of Messiah. By understanding that divine gesture as a type of solidarity with oppressed people everywhere, whose blood is spilled without mercy and without justice at the hands of men greedy for power & control. Yesterday I wept in service because I couldn’t understand how this Man could pray ‘forgive them Father for they know not what they do.’ The men beating, and mocking, and scourging him didn’t know who they were killing and beating and spitting on. They didn’t know his power, beauty, and worth. They didn’t know who he was because they couldn’t see past his form, couldn’t see past his race.”

Yet it’s more than solidarity. There was a price to be paid and a dividing wall to be removed. Because we need something more than a cosmic example; we need a savior. We need someone who can turn away wrath, pay off debt, and soften the embittered heart. I’ve seen nothing but the Cross do this.

But it keeps going deeper. The gospel is no mere pillow to soften the blow of painful reality. The final scene of the gospel narrative is not just a feel-good happy ending; it’s a resurrection. I dare you to read the story to the end. It’s so real that it deals with the Cross. It’s so potent that it faces the pain and sorrow and tragedy of real life. This story takes injustice and sin and loss and pain more seriously than any other. Nothing less than the death of God in the flesh is enough to cover the severity of human offense. But hope rises out of despair. And life rises out of death.

Redemption.