Silence Says Something

Silence Says Something

Note: Back in April 2014, I wrote this post as a part of an online series on Race and Justice for Transform Minnesota, a local, evangelical organization here in Minneapolis. Since that time, several things have happened that have deepened my resolve to call for cross-cultural dialogue among Christians:

  1. Death of Eric Garner – On July 17th, a 43-year old New York man died after being placed in a prohibited chokehold by police as they tried to question and arrest him. In video of the incident, you can hear Garner screaming that he couldn’t breathe. The incident is under investigation.
  2. Creating Options Together Conference – CRU Inner City, a Christian organization with partners in nearly every urban center in the country, hosted a week-long conference designed to practically equip leaders to minister in urban areas.  It was a great week that provided a glimmer of hope in the midst of evangelical culture.  
  3. Death of John Crawford – On August 5th, a 22-year old Ohio man was shot and killed by police in a Wal-Mart store while holding a toy gun, a BB/Pellet gun that he had picked up in the store.  Witnesses report that Crawford screamed, “It’s a toy,” just before being shot by police. His death has been ruled a homicide and is under investigation. 
  4. Death of Mike Brown – On August 9th, an unarmed 18-year old Missouri teen was shot multiple times and killed by police.  The incident is under investigation and details really are unclear.  The incident, however, has set off several days of protests and confrontations between police and residents. 

Each of these events has impacted me in its own way, and they leave me more determined than ever to keep sharing this message. Grace & Peace! 

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I love communication. I feel it is one of the greatest abilities given to humanity. Be it the cry of an infant, the excited squeal of a group of teenage girls at the mall, the cheerful banter of a family over a meal, even the sobbing that accompanies the loss of a loved one—I can’t imagine what life would be like without the gift of communication.

“In a loud, painful public discourse, white evangelicals have been largely silent, absent and evasive. Why is that?”

The things that we say—our spoken words—are probably the most recognizable form of communication, but many people would agree that everything about us communicates something: our facial expressions, outfits, posture, choice of friends or spending habits. They all communicate something about who we are, what we value, where we are headed.

Even with all of that being true, there is an aspect of communication that we often misunderstand or overlook altogether. I’m referring to silence. Silence communicates.

When I think about the nearly 13 years since I met my wife during our college years and the eight years that I’ve served in vocational ministry in Minneapolis, I’ve had to become a much better communicator. Being married and being a pastor have taught me to listen for words, to watch for nonverbal cues, and to pay attention to moments of silence.

I’ve become acutely aware of the ways in which silence can be just as effective an indicator of a person or group’s thoughts, feelings, values and intentions as a mouthful of words. At times, silence conveys a message that causes one to have great hope. At other times, silence is deafening, harmful and cowardly.

“Unfortunately, there has been an undeniable silence among white evangelical Christians.”

Let me explain one example of the latter.

Jordan Davis is a name the average American probably had never heard before 2012 and probably had forgotten again until last month. That’s understandable, though. Jordan was a regular young man from Florida. His life was not in any way remarkable or noteworthy. He lived the life one would expect of a teenage boy: full of music, sports and time with his friends.

What separates Jordan’s story from that of the vast majority of other American teens is that in November 2012, he had an encounter with an armed adult at a Florida gas station. At the end of that encounter, Jordan Davis lay in the back of a friend’s SUV with two gunshot wounds in his legs and another that had ripped through his liver, lungs and aorta.

Jordan died that night and his shooter drove away, returned to his hotel and had a drink before falling asleep. The shooter was later arrested, but not until he and his fiancé had driven 130 miles the next day back to their home.

Fast forward to February 2014. Just months after handing out a not guilty verdict in the murder of another young black Florida teen named Trayvon Martin, the state sat on the brink of another pivotal legal decision in the trial of Jordan’s killer. Despite the testimony of Jordan’s three friends who were also in the vehicle that night and the damaging testimony of his own fiancé, Jordan’s killer was found not guilty of first-degree murder.

In a strange legal ruling, the jury convicted the shooter on the charge of attempted murder for firing 9-10 shots into the vehicle, but did not convict him of first-degree murder when three of those bullets found their target. The public outrage was immediate and fierce. Unfortunately, it was mostly divided along racial lines.

In the weeks since the verdict, there has been a lot communicated by men and women who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. There have been calls for boycotts of the state of Florida, appeals to the moral conscience of our entire nation, prayer for the safety and protection of our children and much more. Cries for God’s justice have echoed from pulpits, pews, prayer benches and street corners.

Unfortunately, there has been an undeniable silence among white evangelical Christians. In a loud, painful public discourse, white evangelicals have been largely silent, absent and evasive. Why is that?

I believe there are a few reasons, some understandable, others a bit more difficult to excuse. Here’s my best estimation of why many white evangelicals chose silence in this and other cases of racial injustice:

Fear

Many white evangelicals realize that confronting racial injustice is dirty, messy work. The terrain is full of land mines and any misunderstanding—any comment taken out of context, any assumption made—can potentially “set things off.” I’ve seen situations where well-meaning friends have been accused of being prejudiced, ignorant, even racist. For many, that possibility is enough to keep them quiet, even when biblical justice calls for them to do otherwise.

Perceived Lack of Skills

Similar to the previous reason, many white evangelicals don’t believe they have the right skills to navigate this type of situation. They believe they lack the right words or the necessary experiences. Being silent often seems less treacherous.

Distance

Some white evangelicals are so emotionally disconnected from the likes of a Jordan Davis that they really have no reference point in which to identify. The idea of their teenage children leaving home and losing their life at the hand of some troubled adult just isn’t a reality for them. They remain quiet, often while harboring thoughts like, There must be more to the story. Stuff like this doesn’t just happen. Social distance makes it difficult for us to identify with those in other stages of life.

Unresolved Guilt

Finally, many white evangelicals remain silent about racial injustice because in order to address situations like the Jordan Davis case, we would have to address the historic, systemic roots of racism and injustice based on race in this country, including in the American church. Unresolved guilt, even for Bible-believing Christians is a struggle.

One of the underlying reasons that evangelicals are more committed to international missions than they are to missional living at home is that in order to do the hard work of justice in America, it would require us to acknowledge the deep, dark legacy of racism and racial injustice that haunts the American church. It’s easier to do compassion work on the other side of the globe than it is to let justice roll down our own streets.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood well the complexities of balancing the call to follow Christ with the challenge to fight injustice. In fact, his work to eradicate racial injustice was fueled by his love of God and his proper understanding of the Imago Dei. In 1956, Dr. King said: “There are not gradations in the image of God. Every man, from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that.”

I join Dr. King in pointing us toward a day when every human life is equally valued in our churches, our communities and given equal protection by our justice system. Even more so, I look with eagerness to the day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, freeing us from all vestiges of sin, death and hatred.

Until then, let us not give in to any impulse that would keep us silent! Until then, let us refuse to be silenced by fear, ability, distance or guilt!

Silence

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It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part IV)

It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part IV)

A Generation of Fathers

I’m an 80’s kids.  The 80’s and 90’s, for a number of different reasons, seem to have been a turning point where fatherhood began to decline tremendously, especially in urban areas and communities of color.  The war on drugs, mass incarceration, even certain welfare reforms led to remarkable changes to the family structure, as more and more fathers found themselves either locked up and/or separated from their families.  I was one of countless young men who grew up without their dads, having to navigate those early years without the guiding hand of their father.  I fear that the negative effects of this won’t be fully understood for many decades to come!

Even with that being the case, I see a growing trend that gives me great hope.  Many young men who grew up without the strong hand of their fathers have grown up and are now making pledges to reverse this debilitating trend.  Nearly every one of my friends is a young, active, ambitious dad.  The others are young husbands with real dreams of someday becoming dads that are present, active, and involved.  We have ongoing conversations about raising our kids together, as an extended family.  We dream about our kids playing sports together and bringing championships to the city.  We mentor and counsel other teens and young adults, giving them a vision for the day when they will become husbands and fathers.  My friends and I are working to exponentially increase the number of good fathers.  We’re serious about legacy, not just for our families, but for so many others that cross our paths.  We really are working to raise up a generations of “good dudes,” as my buddy Jesse often says!

It’s Not About Me…It’s About You

I get teased from time to time about my passion for fathers.  Some wonder if I’m being a little self-serving. I’m a good sport about it…often it comes from one of my sisters and I give them that privilege of ragging on me! In the end, though, I remind them that what’s good for the father is, ultimately, good for the family. A good father is a blessing to his family, his community, his city.  My passion is to see my city saturated with good fathers, men who are present, active, engaged, and….celebrated! I think raising up good fathers is one of the secrets to transforming our communities!

So go for it…let’s do a better job of celebrating dads and watch what happens.  Maybe one day, the norm will be that children will be able to celebrate their dads like this young brother, Joseph, does in a poem called Words for My Father. You’ll find it at the end of this post.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here now: Much of what we believe about God is impacted by what we saw in our earthly father.

May we build a generation  of fathers who will represent Our Father well!

 

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It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part III)

It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part III)

Over the last week, I’ve been sharing a 4-part blog about our collective need to do a much better job of celebrating dads.  In Part I, we tried to get some explanation for why we hesitate to celebrate dads.  In Part II, we tried to discuss what’s at stake and the question of why this even matters at all.  In this 3rd part of the series, the conversation will move to a more practical place and offer some tips for getting started. Feel free to read it, share your thoughts, and pass it along!

 

Father & Child

 

Start Somewhere and Just say Thanks 

 Knowing that I will alienate a few of my feminist friends, I think that the journey to celebrating fathers well begins by acknowledging that men and women are not the same, and that we contribute distinct things, especially within the context of family. On his best day, a father is not a mother.  The same rule applies to a woman attempting to replace a man.  If you need help working through this concept, try wrestling with this question: What abilities/skills/quirks/traits/etc. did you get from your dad that your mom could not have given you? Contrary to what society seems to be leaning towards, there are some very unique and valuable things that a father contributes to the family.  Recognizing that one small truth will begin a process that will allow us to move to the next step – look for those praiseworthy things and affirm him for them. 

Begin by spending some real time discovering the unique contributions that your husband, your dad, your brother makes to his family.  Discover the ways that he blesses his family and celebrate those things.  Maybe he’s a fixer who goes to great length to keep the house functioning and moving along. I’m not that kind of dad, but I appreciate those kinds of dads.  Maybe he’s an encourager who cheers his kids along in everything – academics, sports, hobbies, even relationships. It’s ok to let him know how that adds to the life of your family. Maybe he’s a strong, silent type who brings a certain calm to every situation.  You’d be crazy not to acknowledge that! Maybe he’s the hardworking dad who sacrifices so that mom can stay at home and care for the kids.  More and more these days, I even see dads that stay at home while mom has the career.  That’s incredibly courageous and deserves some thanks!

To the question of how, let’s remember that the “right” way to say thanks is as unique as each dad is.  My wife would never spend $1,000 on a power tool as a gift for me.  She knows that it would never get used.  Much more awesome in my book is the assortment of random e-mail or text messages that she sends me out of the blue to say thanks for being an awesome husband and father!  When I read them, I feel like there is nothing that I can’t accomplish!

Honestly, there is no one image of fatherhood and no universal “right way” to celebrate fathers; However, there is one common desire that I’d argue all men have and that is the desire to know that what he is doing is appreciated and is worth something!

 

Ladies, you’re welcome in advance!!!

 

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It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part II)

It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part II)

We Recreate What We Celebrate

Values are, in my opinion, both taught and caught.  With our words, our corrections, and our daily actions, we are communicating our values to others.  Most would probably agree with me there.  What we often overlook, though, is the fact that the things we celebrate are the things that we, ultimately, recreate.

Here’s one way to think about it. When a child is young, they quickly learn that certain actions will earn them positive attention from the people around them.  Over time, they can be seen repeating those actions, often hoping to earn more positive attention and praise.  As parents, teachers, and others with influence over young children, we learn to celebrate certain things, rewarding desirable behaviors and attributes. At the same time, we withhold celebration and reward when that child exhibits some undesirable behavior or attribute. In doing so, we are teaching that child, communicating certain values.  The goal is always to pass along those desirable values and behaviors, getting that child to internalize and reproduce them. I’m convinced that this manner of teaching and passing along of values does not end with childhood.

If this true, what are we communicating to young boys, teenage boys, young adult males and young dads about fatherhood? I would argue that our society is sending a resounding message to boys that says fathers are expendable. The message seems to be that fathers are a “nice to have,” but not essential.  We give the impression that what the father brings to the family is dispensable, nonessential, extra.

Here is one simple truth that every woman would be wise to figure out: Not one man in this world flourishes in an environment that tells him that he is simply extra!  

All that being said, I’m admonishing the wise people among us to begin to think critically and act swiftly to start celebrating fathers.  Let younger males see that fatherhood matters and is desirable.  Better yet, let them know that our expectation is that every father would be present and active in the lives of their children.  Only when we change expectations and become more thoughtful and intentional about what we celebrate will we begin to see meaningful change.

After all, the things that we celebrate are the things that we eventually recreate!

 

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It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part I)

It’s OK to Celebrate Dads (Part I)

If you’ve followed my blog over the last year or so, you know that I write primarily about family and fatherhood.  In fact, telling stories and raising awareness around those two topics were huge motivations for starting the blog in the first place.  Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and you’ll see that a huge portion of my content relates, in some way, to family and fatherhood. Check out my Instagram and I’m sure you know by now what you’d find.  That’s right…many of my pics capture moments that reflect family and fatherhood.  All of this is true not by accident or by consequence.  There are many other topics that I find interesting, but I’ve come to believe that few things are more important and worthy of discussion than family and fatherhood.

That is why even after the Father’s Day holiday has passed, I feel inclined to invite all of you, my friends and associates, to join me in celebrating fathers and the contributions that they make to our families and communities! This post is one in a series of four that I hope will free us up to celebrate fathers in more genuine ways!

My message is pretty straightforward: It’s ok…Go ahead and celebrate dads!

 

 

Why is Permission Necessary?

 When I think about family dynamics and reflect on what I notice in society, I observe a growing reluctance to acknowledge and affirm the role of the father in the life of the family.  It seems that we have formed this false dichotomy where celebrating fathers is degrading to mothers.  Similarly, we often hesitate to celebrate fathers who are responsible and present, fearing that we might offend families where fathers are absent. In the name of sensitivity, we are often quite muted towards fathers.  On one hand, we wave the banner saying that fatherlessness is an epidemic.  On the other hand, we struggle or refuse to say thanks with any regularity and clarity to men who rise to the occasion day after day.  We know better; yet, we hold back.  My hope is that we can begin to address that breakdown!

So, If you’ve ever hesitated to make a big deal out of a father handling his business, take this opportunity to go bananas!

It’s a celebration!

 

Discussion Question: Would you say that it’s more natural to celebrate mothers? Why or Why not?

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Part II: We Recreate what we Celebrate (Coming on Friday, June 22nd)

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