The Value of Everyone: Notes to everybody who feels some kind of way

To whoever has chosen to read this: PLEASE READ THE WHOLE THING. Do not read part of it and get angry thinking that I am taking one side or another. I ask that you please remember the title of my blog, Common Subjects, Uncommon View. This story isn’t new, but my view might be.

 

Last night was full of tears. This morning was filled with even more. To be honest I did not go to bed until nearly 4 o’clock because I just couldn’t sleep. I was trying to comprehend the situation and look at it through the eyes of Jesus. When I did that I began to realize something. We have a situation in which two sides seem to be pitted against one another. On one hand there are those who feel oppressed and unheard, dying to be recognized by those who do not face the same circumstances. But those who do not face the same circumstances are not necessarily their oppressors. They are simply not oppressed and trying to maintain what they see as the status quo. But that status quo is changing, but not many people can see that. See the voices of the oppressed seek to be heard so that there may be peace and love. The voices of those not oppressed also seek to be heard as they seek peace. What has happened, instead of listening to each other and trying to find peace together, is our society has created an “us against them” mentality that continues to breed violence, hatred, and mistrust. The sooner we get to the same side the better. The goal should not be to end the killing of suspects or to keep every cop alive, those goals are one sided. The goal should to be to have a system that delivers justice while protecting both civilians and officers. This is the kind of goal that can unite everyone. It is a goal that says I don’t want peace just for those with whom I can identify; I want peace and safety for everyone, even those with whom I cannot identify or understand.

 

This morning on the news there was a video released showing a cop as he was gunned down on the sidewalk last night. That video shocked me and brought me to tears. I saw officers running towards the sound of gunfire protecting innocents and rushing to save colleagues. I an officer go from standing to down on his knees crying at the news of another officer dying. The tears flowed. But you know what else made tears flow? The videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. If I’m honest I can’t watch any of those videos more than once. That’s death y’all. That’s the real deal. No movie make up or special effects. Families are being broken. And who are we to judge whether they deserved to be shot? Are we God? Heck we aren’t even on a jury. People are losing blood and their lives, and that should mean something. Yet we have found ways to make them mean nothing.

 

To the families of those who have lost loved ones to police actions, I grieve for you and am sorry for your loss. Circumstances of a death rarely make it less tragic but can often magnify the pain. Hopefully I will never have to send my son or daughter out into the world and wonder if they will be shot over a misperception.  My prayers are with you, and I want to help. Know that their life means something. Change will not happen fast. For that I am also sorry. But I pray that it happens soon. Tomorrow will be another day filled with the same dangers, but I pray that it might be a little safer and you are a little stronger.

 

To the families of the police officers across the nation, thank you for your sacrifice. I cannot imagine the anxiety of watching a spouse or parent walk out of the house on a daily basis knowing that they might not come home. And to those who have lost a family member or friend in the line of duty, I cannot imagine the strength you must need to answer that phone or watch the officers walk to your door to deliver the news. My prayers are with you and I want to help. Know that their life means something. In the coming days those of you who still have loved ones serving will have even more pain and anxiety. They are targeted, wanted individuals, simply for wearing the badge, yet they do not back down. They are heroes.

 

To the law enforcement community, thank you for what you do. I know that the vast majority of you would lay down your life for me or the other 321 million people in the US. Most of you are not out to play God or execute a personal agenda. So thank you. Special thanks to the Dallas and Federal officers that rushed to the scene where their comrades had been shot and risked their lives to protect total strangers. There may be bad cops out there but I didn’t see any tonight (last night). Each and everyone one of you deserves a massive hug from everyone, not only to commend your bravery, but to console you on the loss of your friends. It is (was) a night full of tragedy but your actions to protect and serve were massive lights in the darkness. That being said every profession has some bad apples, and I ask you good apples to help root out the others. With as seriously as most of you take your jobs I’m sure this won’t be hard.

 

To the men who died last night, though you will never read this, thank you for your service and sacrifice.

 

To those who survived their wounds, get well soon.

 

To those who feel oppressed by the system, fear police, and/or have lost a loved one to police action, I am sorry that I cannot fully comprehend your position and neither can millions of others. We do not know what it is like to live your life. Though we may try we simply don’t know. That being said I want you to know that your voice matters, and there are people out here who want to listen to you. They want to help. But by that same token, many have been driven away by your rhetoric and actions. Protesting is fine. But shutting down highways, having chants based on lies (hands up, don’t shoot), and demanding dead cops is not. There are police and politicians who see the same injustice that you do and they want to help. But when you verbally or physically attack those who you are asking to change, things won’t go well. Think about this. Jesus was the most perfect unarmed man to be killed by law enforcement. Yet he did not resist nor did He slander the men killing Him. He knew that change would come and that His kingdom of love would reign. In the meantime, he simply showed love and grace as He asked God the Father to forgive his killers (Luke 23:34). He fought violence with nonviolence.

 

To those who do not know what it is like to be oppressed or fear police, please try to understand the fears of others. If you are like me, you have had very few run ins with police, the ones that you have had have been pleasant and respect was a two way street. With interactions like that it is easy to back the blue, and your voice in saying that matters. At the same time, try to understand someone who does not see police the way you do. Even if you can’t, at least acknowledge that their fear is legitimate and that they don’t need facts to rationalize their fear. Fear is not always rational but it almost always based on some truth. Whether it comes from a bad experience or a simple fear of the unknown, fear cannot always be explain with facts and numbers. Do we ask children to explain why they are afraid of the dark? When their answer is not acceptable because monsters don’t live in closets, do we turn the light off and close the door saying there’s nothing to be afraid of? Absolutely not. We walk around the room, open the closet, check under the bed, and then leave a night light to comfort the child. We show them that we care and are willing to do extra so that they feel safe. So it is then our job to listen to the oppressed and do the same for them. We must do our best to try and comprehend what we are being told. But from there it is not enough to simply agree. Martin Luther King Jr. made a statement that parallels Jesus’ comments in Revelation 3:15-16, “Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” If we find that monster there needs to be action.

 

That being said, if you feel oppressed and someone has done this for you by checking the facts, enacting changes, and studies show things are getting better, don’t hold on to the past. You can look how far we’ve come and continue to push for even better practices. What you cannot do is continue to harp on the past that many people played no part in. Yes the system was there, but if the system is changing why are you stuck in the past?

 

To everyone, it is time that we end this war. We need to stop labeling the people that we disagree with as “misguided and racist,” because when we do, we only “[widen] the racial divide and [block] the path to understanding” (Obama speech Mar. 2008). All of us have our own valid opinions that carry the same weight as everyone else’s. So instead of quarreling, let us remove the wool from our eyes and realize that we cannot deem societal changes to be mutually exclusive. Just because someone supports an activist group concerned with the killing of unarmed black men, does not mean that they cannot also support police officers. In fact, as Christians we are called to love and support both. Personally, I do not want to see a young black man die any more than I want to see a white cop die. Yet society has begun to tell me that I need to choose, and that I must value one life more than the other because they both cannot hold value simultaneously. That’s a load of bull.

 

I don’t care who you are, your life always means something. It should mean something to me and to everyone else on the earth, because, more importantly, it means something to God above. We are all created in his image (Genesis 1:27). So when we fail to see the tragedy of the death of someone who doesn’t look like us then we are spitting in the face of God. We are effectively telling Him that we do not think He did a good enough job when he created that person. We are saying that their life was a waste and should simply be forgotten about. Is that what we want to say? Do we want to elevate ourselves to such a high pedestal that we are telling God that He can do better? The most unfortunate thing is that this happens from both sides. It is time to stop. It is time to value life as a gift from above and work towards a solution that keeps everyone safe.

 

It is not enough to only want safety and protection for those who we think deserve it. That is attitude of someone with too much pride and not enough love and grace. How do we determine who is worthy of what? Are we claiming to be better than others and thus worthy to judge their worth based on actions or deeds? Heavens no. “For all have sinned and fallen sort of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That means we are all equal sinners in need of a savior. We need the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus and we need to share it with others. So let us “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:9). When we lay down our pride and submit to God and to one another we allow God to work through us and enact that change that sees everyone safe and protected.

 

Last night and today, all I wanted to do was to write, to draft, to find a way to tell the people of this nation that they are loved, and also that they are important. But that time is over and I believe that now there is much more to do. There is more to this than to tell someone that you love them. Love is an action and not a feeling. It is not enough to offer condolences over the airwaves or pray in the comfort of our own homes. There are people in this nation who do not feel safe, and there are others whose professions are under attack. Both groups need our help and helping one does not mean you are alienating the other or telling them that they are valued less. Instead of choosing sides, let us follow what Paul told the church in Galatia and, “Bear on another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Go march with someone who is grieving and cook dinner for someone who lost a spouse in the line of duty. Don’t do just one. Do both. No matter what your opinion is the facts remain the same. People are dying. People are grieving. People need the love of Christ and it is our job to bring it to them.

 

This is no longer a time for words. It is a time for action. The Sunday school answer about loving our neighbor is no longer acceptable. This world needs Christians and it needs us now. In this specific instance both sides of the issue need us to be involved in getting everyone on the same side so there no longer is a divide. It is not enough to have two sides come to an agreement but still stand on opposite sides. There need to be cops marching in protests and activists serving donuts. Some lady that marched last night was on the news today and talked about how she will be going to the funeral of the officers killed. She wants to show her kids that there are not two sides of society. We all must live, work, and exist together. We do not have to be the same or agree on everything, but we must love one another. Just because someone wants accountability for police actions does not mean that they hate cops. Just because someone backs the blue does not mean that they think black lives don’t matter. There needs to be an end to violence. There needs to be an end to “us against them.” There needs to be a world filled with Christians not just praying, but acting and showing God’s love to everyone in this world because everyone matters and no one’s death should mean nothing.

I’ve Seen My Church Close

My church closed last week. As of last Sunday, 2705 Virginia Parkway, McKinney Texas is no longer the place of worship for a Methodist congregation, and Wesley United Methodist Church, a church that existed for 107 years, is gone. That made today weird. For the first time in 17 years my family went to a church in McKinney not named Wesley. Sure we have been to other churches over the years as we have traveled and been guests in the churches of other cities. But I have never known a day when we all got up and left our house for a different church.

 

Well today it happened. To make it even weirder, we went to the Lutheran church right across the street from where we used to worship. Where we usually turned right into a parking lot we went straight, driving past the building where my sister and I grew up with Jesus. We passed the gym where we were both baptized, the playground I had made friends on, the sound booth I had worked in, and countless classrooms where my life was changed on a weekly basis. The outside looked the same, but I knew the inside was different and was why it closed. Over the next few weeks my blog will follow my family’s journey to find a new home church and explore what churches today are doing. But first I want to touch on the church’s closing.

 

We hear it all the time: the people are the church not the building. To me it is one of those sayings that many people are very of lackadaisical about. Yeah it seems true and it’s a good Sunday school answer but what does it really mean? If we take a moment and look around, we can struggle to find this ringing true as many churches seem to focus on things like new buildings and TVs all over so that people getting coffee can still catch a sermon. While these things often great and can aid the preaching of the gospel, they are only what I just called them, aids. Well, in reality do we really need them? Is there anything that we can add to the gospel to make it more fulfilling, packed with more grace and love, or offer a better salvation? The answer is no. We don’t need things to spread the gospel we need people.

 

Wesley used to have those people. Ever since I was a kid, and up until high school, the church was full. It was never a mega church or even the biggest church in town, but to me the fact that we had two services that easily passed 125 in each and packed Sunday school rooms meant that for a smaller church we were doing well. There were countless mission trips to Mexico, retreats to bring friends to to share Jesus, and assorted community programs. The church had members and visitors wanted to come. We were growing.

 

But then something changed. As I child and teenager I never knew why nor could I understand what happened, but as I grew things began to become clear. There were pastor changes, people held grudges about decisions, there wasn’t that same level of participation from the members that there was in the past, and new churches sprang up. So over the course of the past 8 years our church saw a pretty steady decline in membership and visitors. Looking back it makes me sad. The church is supposed to be a place where Christians truly practice what we preach. Out in the world we can face persecution and many people who are hard to love and serve because they don’t have the same attitude that claim to. The church shouldn’t be like that right? Wrong. Christians aren’t perfect. It can be hard to serve other church members, to make time in schedules to volunteer, to sacrifice time to teach, or to stick it out when times get tough with seemingly constant pastor changes. So while there is no one person, group of people, or single event to blame, I think that an idea is at fault.

 

Too many people looked at the church as something that they should benefit from and not something that should benefit from them. They, and occasionally me, looked at what the church was giving out and not what it needed. If the church truly is made up of the people then it is up to them to make the church what they want it to be. It is not enough to want the church to be better or to have a Sunday school class that interests them. The people must act to make it so by welcoming visitors and perhaps stepping up to create a study group for their demographic. Whether it be young singles, old singles, business people, sports fans, or whatever there can be something for everyone at a church if they are willing to give a little of themselves not only for their own sake but also for others. But there is even more beyond that. A church must expand itself outside of the walls it meets behind. There is a community right outside that needs Jesus. If you thought that there was diversity inside the church you best believe that there is more outside of it, and not to mention a lot more people who need to be served.

 

Now with this increase in variety and number of people there must be more commitment from the church. No longer are we sacrificing so that we may also benefit, but we are sacrificing solely so that others may gain something. Needless to say that there will be many ideas for both outreach missions and internal projects. However, many may never come to fruition because people do not have the time or money to give so that the programs might succeed. Or so they say.

 

We often need to closely examine ourselves when we say that we can’t do something for whatever reason. If we truly have no time or money to give that is okay. But perhaps we should look at why. Personally I used to find myself staying up late watching TV not really doing anything. Then I would put off working out or going to work in the mornings because I was too tired. Then I would sleep late and maybe wouldn’t have the time for something else like serving others. Now while I truly was tired and didn’t have time why was that? Was I truly busy or was I wasting time? I was wasting time. I put myself above others. I would rather stay up late entertaining myself, sleep in, still get a workout in, and get paid than get enough sleep, have time for everything, and be able to serve others with free time. My love for others did not surpass my desire to entertain or make life better for myself.

 

When that kind attitude takes over a church it can and probably will be fatal. See a church is not exempt from the selfish thinking that has a hold on the world. This “you first after me” mentality is not healthy for us as individuals and certainly as a church. The most unfortunate part of that in a church setting is that instead of sitting by and doing nothing but still attending, members can do something even worse, simply leave to find a place where the grass is greener. That is what killed our church. In 2003 average attendance was near 275, dropped to 175 in 2005, spiked back to 225 in 2008, and has been falling since to our current number near 80. Sure, something can be said for things just not working out, and I don’t really know all the details of every member, but I wonder how many of the moves were for self-serving reasons. The most cliché joke about church quarrels is over the color of the carpet. I’m sure that happened, but was there more? Did people just not like the way things were going and decided to leave rather than help fix it? Were there people who simply followed their favorite pastor around from church to church? I’m not sure. I would just say that when it comes to having a problem with a church or thinking of leaving, we should make sure that those reasons are rooted in scripture and not in selfishness.

 

We need to stop going to church and start being the church. Start that program that no one else has started. Help that lonely volunteer who has started their own program that needs help fulfilling their calling. Heck, just stack up tables after the monthly church luncheon. I know that that’s what I used to do, and after our final luncheon last week one of the oldest members of our church, a man who used to volunteer and vacuum the whole place and stacked tables himself late into his 70s told me how thankful he was for the help over the years. He told me he about the first time I helped him stack and a plethora of other stories, many of which I didn’t even remember. My help made an impact on him. He felt loved, and since (my parents originally told me I had to) I sacrificed my time to help, the church gave him something nearly every month because in that moment I was the church serving him. What did I get out of it? For 15 years nothing really, but on the final day the acknowledgement and thanks from a man I looked up to was all that I needed.

 

I hope you never have to attend the final service of your childhood church. I hope you never have to stand in a row with your family, struggling to sing the last hymn through tears as the cross, bible, candles, and cloth are removed from the altar. It sucks. I cannot even think about what it must be like for those who have attended the church for over 50 or 60 years to see their church die before they did. It was a hard time and will be for a little while longer. But it is not the end. While Wesley United Methodist Church no longer exists after 107 years, the people who made up that church live on. Even more importantly, the impact that Wesley has had on the lives of its members and guests lives on as well. Perhaps that impact has even multiplied as those who found Christ because of what God did through Wesley have been able to bring others to Him as well. That is part of the marvel and glory of God. Just because one portion of His children are unable to pay the bills and keep the doors to their building open He does not die and neither do they. I do not know what will happen next. I do not know where I’ll go from here or where my family will go to worship. I do know that God is using this in His plan to bring glory to His name. While I do regret that my childhood church closed its doors, I do not regret having gone there, played there, cried there, laughed there, been forgiven there, made friends there, and hopefully impacted someone else’s life there. I will miss it but life moves on and God guides it.

A NOTE AFTER THE FACT: after posting this I realized that I did not make something clear. There were so many people and families who attended Wesley that changed my life. Many of them moved away as God called them elsewhere and that made me sad. I am in no way blaming anyone for what happened. Without this expression of thanks to the amazing people who played great roles in my life, this post can seem like a self righteous blame game. That’s not what I want it to be. I am thankful for every person who ever went to Wesley and regret what happened. My hope is that this blog can perhaps change the course of another struggling individual or church by learning from a few things I noticed about myself and my church.