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.

Being Christian Isn’t Very American

From the Bible Belt to the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island, being Christian and being American seem to go hand in hand. Yet, today’s society tells a totally different tale. This tale is that the two do not go together like apple pie and ice cream in July. This tale shatters some of the truths we have taken for granted for our entire lives. Well the reality is that this tale is true. One cannot claim to hold true to Jesus and the ideals of American, as presented in the constitution, without running into some severe and unfortunate contradictions.

It all started in the late 18th century, when America was being established. Having fled for religious freedom, from the Catholic Church ironically, the colonists won independence from Britain. Now they wanted to establish a new government that would not betray them and that they could control. Enter the likes of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the men who penned the Declaration of Independence and Constitution respectively. They were leaders of their day, and today we look to them to claim that America is a Christian nation. Oh how wrong we are. Sorry Dr. Carson and Senator Cruz, America cannot return to its Christian roots because there really are not any. When Jefferson and Madison sought to create a new government they turned to the philosophies of five men: Niccoló Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Montesquieu. (I encourage the reader to read about these men as their full beliefs cannot be covered here.) While they differed in ideas, from the more violent Machiavelli to Locke’s ideas on life and property, there is one thing they agree on: religion should have little to do with government. Wait what? That’s not the story we have all been told. America was founded on Christian values by Christian men. Wrong again. Jefferson was a deist and Madison never really claimed religion. The truth is that our founding fathers and their role models thought that Jesus taught good morals. They loved him as a teacher and a prophet, but that is all they saw him as.  The founding fathers took some moral ideas from Jesus and used them to enumerate some freedoms. What they established was a constitution that is the basis as to what being American really means. But in doing so they twisted the spirit of what Jesus taught and switched the focus.

Surely that is not true. I mean could we really be this wrong after all of these years? When we begin look at the wording of the constitution and the objective it tried to achieve, we reveal more about the moral basis of our country. Jesus teaches that we should reflect Him, thus setting a certain standard of the heart. Not a standard to be perfect, but a standard to put Him first and others second, to love. The American Constitution says nearly the complete opposite. The Bill of Rights is all about what an individual has the right to. The first amendment says you can believe what you want, say what you want, and live how you want and no one should care, especially the government. The rest of the Bill of Rights, and the constitution really, is more about how much an individual can get, not about what they can give. The founding fathers were not concerned with making sure that people acted in love. They were only concerned that the government was held in check. Thus being American is about taking full advantage of the rights you have been given. That my friends, is quite contrary to how Jesus taught us to love one another and be more concerned for others than for ourselves. The constitution is self-centered and me-focused. It demands that the government, and often times others, give me something. The constitution is a conviction lacking, convenient and watered down version of what Jesus was trying to say, and today’s America people have taken that and run with it.

But what exactly was Jesus trying to say? He was trying to tell the people of the world that he had come to save them, to take them from being sinners to being saints (2 Corinthians 5:21), and the above all He loves them like His father does (John 3:16). But that move requires something. It requires us surrendering our hearts and repenting of our sins (Acts 3:19). There must be that inner change of focus from doing whatever pleases me, to doing whatever pleases the Lord. We do not exist here on earth to glorify ourselves. We exist to glorify God. Are you beginning to see the rub between being American and being Christian? From the constitution’s point of view there is no need to repent, apologize, or anything like that because as human beings we have the freedom to do as we please. Americans have the right to “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness[i],” whatever that may mean, and they love it. They have the right to live life our own way and no one, not even the government can interfere. Thus, other Americans have no right to tell them that they are wrong or that what they are doing is wrong. The constitution teaches tolerance, not love.

This thought process could not be farther from the truth of the Bible. God has laid down firm commands which we are to live by, and can be summed up in two commands. In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus says this, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’” This love is completely different from the tolerance seen in today’s America. Love is about putting God first by obeying and glorifying Him and others second by serving and loving them. This obedience often comes at the price of having to step on some toes occasionally, and being held to a higher standard. But that is what love really is, speaking the truth so that someone might be saved. Tolerance on the other hand is about putting up with others so that one can get what they believe they are owed, and telling people that they do not need to repent from their ways to avoid confrontation. Where the constitution says stay as you are because you have that right, Jesus says come as you are because I love you and want something better for you. Yet Christians fail to deliver this message with love and compassion like Jesus did. Because of this, many people would rather be American than be Christian. As an American anything goes, and there is none of that seemingly hateful Christian judgement (post about this coming later). Who cares if you don’t donate to the poor? It’s your money. Who cares if you think you can get to heaven by doing nothing? You’re entitled to believe what you want. No one should say anything. Being a Christian is harder than being American because it requires that we humble ourselves, love others. Not to mention the fact that being a Christian means we are held to higher standards.

As Christians we have a job, to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations of the earth. Well, I think that our home nation is a great place to start. Here we have ideologies that say everyone is accepted and can do as they please because you have that right. Even Jesus says you have that right on earth, it is called free will. But Jesus offers more. When we follow the constitution and today’s society the best we can get is the ever elusive America dream. We can obtain a life where no one tells us we are wrong and we have what we think is a great life. With Jesus there is more. More money, power, or success is not guaranteed. There is however more love, joy, compassion, peace, and a lot of eternal life. When we claim to be Christian we put others first. We live to love them and serve them as we love and serve God, and we hold ourselves accountable to the commands of Jesus. When we claim to be American we hold tight to our rights and fight anyone who tries to take them away. That is selfish and arrogant. We are to be humble and love others. My name is Chuck Schober and I am a Christian, not an American.

[i] Declaration of Independence