Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; you set me free when I am hard pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer. I picked up the phone and dialed one of the most respected ministers I knew: Gilbert Hellwig, the German American pastor of the storied First Baptist Church, Cleveland’s equivalent of Manhattan’s Riverside. Dr. Hellwig listened to my heartbreak, as all good pastors learn to do, then replied wistfully in that ponderous voice of his, “You know? We Christians claim to be people of resurrection and yet we are so afraid to let some things just die. But if we are who we say we are—that is, people of resurrection–we must be willing to let some things die so that new life can spring up, albeit in a very different way.” Continue reading
This post starts off talking about babies, but it’s really about prisons and what you can do about them. Actionable items at the end!
Having a baby is an emotional roller coaster, even when you’re not the one whose body was playing host. When our twins were born six weeks early in January, one was in the NICU for one week, one for three. Shortly after the first came home, they moved the little one to a different part of the hospital for babies who were considered low-risk. We did not think much of the low-risk part of the NICU. The main part was a much more loving environment. There were more babies, more family members, and it seemed to us, more attention from the very gifted nurses. The low-risk ward seemed very much like an afterthought. It was a converted patient room on the recovery floor with six or seven babies in incubators tended by two nurses. With a few notable exceptions, we did not find them to be as good as the nurses in the main ward. There were fewer family members coming and going. It seemed that our little baby was just in a glass cage all day, except when we were able to come take him out. I speak of how it seemed, not of how it was. Objectively, the care he received was perfectly adequate. Continue reading
During my final year at Stanford, our newly appointed police chief died suddenly and without warning. Chief Marvin Moore was the first African American to hold the position. I found the officers devastated when I went to visit the department and offered whatever help I could. It had been their good fortune that they never lost a serving officer in or out of the line of duty for as long as anyone could remember.
After expressions of forgiveness from the families of “The Beautiful Nine,” a few articles have been written that counter the dominant media narratives focusing on the beauty of the unconditional forgiveness offered Dylann Roof contrasted with the hatred and terror wrought on the community. As I mentioned earlier, I laud the family members for opening themselves to such extraordinary grace, particularly during a moment when the temptation to lash out with hatred and vengeance must have been barely resistible.
Now that the perpetrator of the Emanuel Church massacre has been apprehended and charged, the media is ablaze with heart rending images of family members struggling through their grief to offer forgiveness to Dylann Storm Roof. Many colleagues in ministry, most of whom are faithful allies in mainline churches like my own, the Episcopal Church, where people of color are few and far between, are waxing poetic about the power of forgiveness. I do not doubt the sincerity of my friends and colleagues. But I have to admit, even as a man who works so hard to lead with thoughtful compassion and introspection–much to the consternation of my more pointed and eloquent black colleagues–the readiness to laud forgiveness too early and too often horrifies me.
I learned of the dreadful massacre at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina while lying on a sleeping bag on the floor of my empty apartment. This is the very church of Denmark Vesey (1767-1822), a former slave who bought his freedom. He attempted to organize what might have become one of the largest slave revolts of the U.S. antebellum era. Those who recruited black soldiers to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War invoked the name of Denmark Vesey.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.” -Romans 1:18
The first post I wrote for this blog was about love and anger. I stand by everything I said in that post, but I’ve learned more since then. I wrote that I believe God is leading me to be more attentive to my anger, and often to let it go. Like the feelings associated with my depression, sometimes my anger is just a wave on the surface of my being. It comes and goes. I acknowledge it, but shouldn’t chase it. It doesn’t touch the deepest part of me, what the Hebrew writers called the heart.
But sometimes it does.