Christ Knew There Was More to the Story

The mercy of the Father is infinite. We know this. But WHY is it infinite? Why does it exist at all?

No, I do not claim to know the mind of God. But I do know that people have reasons for doing things. People may reasonably disagree about those reasons, but it seems that all action is undertaken because of . . . something. That thing can range from fending off starvation to seeking shelter from something harmful to wanting something to happen. The cause could also be nothing more than a desire to be entertained, occupied, or otherwise distracted from a present circumstance.

God knows this, and so should you. When the Roman soldiers arrested Jesus in the Garden, he forgave them. When Peter cut off the ear of one of the aggressors, Jesus forgave Peter. Jesus forgives. He understood that the soldiers did what they believed they should have done, and he understood that Peter did what he felt he had to do. The Lord instructed us to turn the other cheek not out of masochism, but out of understanding. Understand the other, see things as they do. Do not retaliate. Perhaps the thing has been done out of pure cruelty, perhaps not. It is even quite possible that the person does not want forgiveness at all, believing that either he or she has done nothing wrong, or that the wrong was somehow justified. We will most likely never understand the full, true motivation of an action, but we can make an effort to do so.

God, on the other hand, does in fact know the whole story. He knows what we have been through, and he understands why we do the things we choose to do. Jesus went so far as to ask his Father to forgive people who did not even ask for it, people who "knew not what they did." Think about that! It is a hard, hard thing to do. In my own life, I am about the furthest from being persecuted as a person could be, as far as I am aware. And yet . . . I struggle with harboring ill will towards a perceived slight. I know I should not, I know people did things they felt they had to do. I know that I am largely at fault for what led to the thing, by not trying harder to either handle or escape a difficult set of circumstances.

Do I focus on mea culpa though? Or do I instead choose to look at what they could have or should have done differently? Most of the time, it's the former, but occasionally the latter creeps in. The fact is, everyone should have acted differently than we did, and it is up to me to make my peace and forgive, even though no one is asking for it. Easier said than done, this business of forgiving; Jesus is indeed an impossible act to follow.

The main takeaway, for me, is that of all the reasons to do something to another person, the fact that they first did something to you is not acceptable. Do not strike someone simply because they struck you. Do not help someone simply because they helped you. Do not hate someone, or even love someone, simply because they first hated or loved you. Hate no one, love everyone. I believe the purpose of this instruction is to instill personal responsibility for one's actions, rather than making them dependent upon the actions of another. It leads us, as does so much of what God teaches and provides, on an expansive path to empowerment and freedom. If we can actually do it, then we can break the chains of limiting, self-destructive tendencies like revenge and retaliation. It is daunting when we are down here in the weeds, rather than in Heaven with our Father. But Christ was down here with us, and his trust in God that there is more to this story than being tortured and murdered is what enabled him to live that brief earthly existence walking among us. He understood that, yes, he himself would suffer. But the gift he gave us through that suffering and ensuing forgiveness would save billions of people, which is the REAL story.

Which Race Are You: Black, White, Other, or Human?

You are NOT a racist.  You believe all people are created equal.  You do not discriminate based on skin color.  You are NOT "the Man," keeping the Black Man down.
Or are you?  Do you, like me, engage in a kind of perceived racism by merely existing as a white person in America?  Are you part of an overarching white power infrastructure that makes it, if not more difficult for black Americans, then at least easier for whites?  Yes, you are if you are white.
White people have no concept of what being black or Mexican-American in America means on a daily, and even a minute by minute, basis.  The burden is often crushing for minorities whether you realize it or not, and for almost all of you, you probably never will.
This is not your fault.  Black people will not personally tell you, a white person, about this reality, because they either do not trust you or do not think you will or can accept it.  Let me rephrase that:  there are those who counter-productively talk "at" the white establishment on behalf of "blacks."  But individual, Charles Byrd to Tom Worth, person to person, soul to soul connections are really what has to happen.
When - not if, but when - our personal existence and experience is electrified by those connections, that will be but a short step in the long march.  Time, measured in generations rather than months or years, must pass, with each son and daughter doing more than their parents to change the world.

World Changers 2008

I've finally "won" something:  the opportunity to change the world via writing.

     "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change
the world; indeed, that is the only thing that ever has." – Margaret Mead

The above quote is provided courtesy of the Wizard of Ads, a.k.a. Roy Williams.  After reading his Monday Morning Memo that's been emailed to me for several years now, I'll finally get to meet the man himself this week at an intimate gathering of hand-picked writers down in Austin for 3 days.  The topics are journalism and racism, and the costs of the course and room and board are provided by his Wizard Academy.  It's modestly titled World Changers 2008.

This should be an extraordinary gathering of 2 instructors and about 12 writers who have all submitted writing samples, then been chosen from a pool of possibly millions (or maybe hundreds, or even tens) of applicants and who have agreed to write something on the topic of racism at least once a week for the next two years.  I'm one of them (note that I said the gathering, not the writers, would be extraordinary - I'm about as humble about my writing as one could be, and cannot begin to convey how honored and privileged I feel every time I think about this), and I'll provide additional details on the venue where the writings will be featured once I have them!

For practice, I've authored a couple of blog entries dealing with racism that you may have already read here, filed under the Harmony category of Worthreading:
     Don't Condone "Harmless" Racist Remarks
     Your Personal Endorsement of Slavery

It's gonna be enlightening, it may get ugly, and hopefully, maybe, a vast swath of the world will actually somehow change for the better.

Your Personal Endorsement of Slavery

The clothes you buy.  The electronics you have purchased.  Things that have the words "Made in China" or Hecho en Mexico" imprinted on them.  Bananas.  Diamonds.  Gold.

If you buy these products or virtually any other type of product that's grown or mined or manufactured in some way in a country other than America or a handful of others, you are directly supporting and personally benefiting from a contemporary form of slave labor.  But you may protest, "I NEED those things though!" and you may be correct in some cases.  But do you "need" the cheapest or best valued and shadiest versions of them?  Could you choose to spend a little more and get a legitimately produced version of the same thing?  Of course you could.

Since mankind began recording its activities, we have records of people enslaved by other people.  We still engage in the practice today, though it's almost universally condemned across societies.  The problem is that at the time it is occurring, many people do not recognize their contemporary forms of enslavement as morally objectionable; to the contrary, they embrace it as the way things are and must be.  So it was with the Egyptians and the Hebrews, the Spartans and the Helots, the Romans and the Slavs (from whence our word "slave" derives), the Europeans and whichever people found itself in the unfortunate circumstance of being indigenous to the lands that were "discovered" by the colonial powers around the globe - and once the supply of New World natives ran out, the forcibly exported Africans.

All of these societies viewed their enslavement of other races as their divine right.  The gods (later, God) smiled on them and blessed them with free and plentiful labor to accomplish what needed to be done in all facets of society:  building, growing, warfare, production of goods.  If people lost their battles and wars, they knew it would be their fate to be enslaved.  Not that they freely accepted their fates or were ok with it; in fact, the ferocity of battle was frequently ratcheted up to the extent that the combatants would do anything in their power to avoid capture and enslavement for themselves and their families, including death for all of them.

And so it is with our society.  We now view slave-wage and forced labor as acceptable, especially since many of us are so far removed from the actual working conditions of the sweatshops and mines.  I would say that, at least in the cruel days of African slaves working in the agricultural fields of the American South, the owners provided food and shelter for the people who were enslaved.  Many of today's slave class work in far worse conditions and have no food or shelter provided for them, but it is true that they are free to pursue something different.

For instance, in the Mexican border towns just south of Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, people could choose to pursue a better life in a land with greater opportunity:  America.  All they need to do is try to emigrate from Mexico to the U.S. legally (which would take years if it happened), or take their chances sneaking across the border.  Again, just as the ancient warriors faced with the prospect of enslavement or possible death, they may choose possible death as the preferable course of action.  Not just for themselves, but by sacrificing themselves for the prospect of better lives for their families that may or may not yet exist.

Do I propose a solution here?  No.  But I do imply that certainly 100 years from now, and maybe only 20-50 years from now, "civilized" societies will look back on today's reality and wonder how we could have been so brutal and barbaric to one another, just as we look back at the America of the 1960's and wonder the same thing.

Don't Condone "Harmless" Racist Remarks

The following is something I wrote today to answer a call by the Wizard of Ads to relate a personal encounter with racism.  I've subscribed to his "Monday Morning Memos" since at least July 2004, and I can't recommend them more strenuously! 

Racism is alive and well in Arlington, Texas, home of Six Flags, the Texas Rangers, and the Dallas Cowboys. It is not displayed overtly, and it is not shared with "strangers," but it is found in friendly conversation over a beer with friends. Off-handed, seemingly thoughtless comments along the lines of "I don't care if it's PG or not – there's no WAY 8-year old girls should be watching Hairspray! I mean, they have a white girl kissing a black dude!". There are also the always popular assessments of immigrant laborers, i.e. Mexicans, as housekeepers or outdoor workers, perpetually derided as both lazy because they're Mexican as well as really hard working; again, because they are Mexican. These are uncomfortable situations, especially when I call them on their racism.

The concerns I have about this "benign" form of racism are that: 1) it actually exists in suburban America in the year 2008; 2) it is exhibited by my close personal acquaintances, people who share my economic and social demographics ; and 3) even when the blatant racist nature of the remarks is pointed out to me through humor and good-natured disapproval, clearly letting them know that I do not share their views and that I in fact believe that they are wrong, it is often to no avail. Quite the contrary occurs, come to think of it:  rather than the expected blushing or embarrassment that one could see arising on the part of the offending party, there is instead a digging in that makes it tough to walk away from while agreeing to disagree. I have never actually said this, but have frequently wanted to push the matter with a comment along the lines of "we are not going to agree to disagree, because I will never agree about anything with a racist when issues of race are concerned!"

Racism, like poverty and diseases, may indeed be a pestilence that can never be expected to be completely eradicated, yet must always be battled against as if victory resides just around the bend. My belief is that the most effective thing any individual can do is to refuse to let "harmless" racist comments go unchallenged, whether made by family, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. The active resistance does not have to be confrontational or aggressive, and can be as simple as a look into the racist's eyes that conveys to them the sentiment that his or her view is not shared, it is not condoned, and it is not even so much as accepted as an opinion to which one is entitled. Racist views and actions are wrong, and there is no further debate required.