Another White Man For Justice…

What a horrible week or two for the nation’s Black men. More horrible than the week before for Black men? I don’t know. Why? Generally it doesn’t get this far, so I don’t hear about it. “A Black man here, a Black man there, what’s the difference?”, it seems like the media says.

I knew that Black men and women had lost some of the gains that they had made post-Civil Rights movement. I didn’t realize we’d gone back to 1954. How does an all-White or nearly all-White police force work in an urban area. How does a predominantly White grand jury get convened after two weeks of violence? How does a White policeman who even allegedly shot an unarmed teen still walk the streets? Why does the Attorney General of the United States have to go down to Ferguson in order to get the ball rolling toward justice? Why are there no public documents that contain real information? How does a unit of policemen get broken up due to racist leanings and nobody follows through? In short, what on earth is going on down there?

Then there’s the phone video of another Black man being shot by White officers which contradicts the police report. The dead man seemed to have problems, but he does not seem to be a threat to two people with a gun. But even so, when did perjury become an acceptable thing?

My friend Barbara Marsden posted an article on Facebook about “What White People Can Do About Ferguson”. It’s a good article with some suggestions and I recommend it. I may give money to the United Negro College Fund, or join the NAACP or support the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mostly, I want my Black brothers and sisters to know this: This shooting of young Black men by police has to stop. I don’t like seeing films of water cannons being used on crowds. I like real cannon type-things driving down the streets of Ferguson or anywhere in America even less when people stand up for their rights.

I’d feel like an idiot wearing a “don’t shoot” shirt or raising my hands in solidarity, because I am not the person on the wrong end of a gun. But here’s what I am going to do: anything I can to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I am going to do anything I can to support justice in Ferguson. I will not be violent, in honor of Martin Luther King, one of the greatest Black men (or men in general) this country has ever produced. You tell me what you want me to do, and I will do what I can. Things should never have gotten this bad, and they should never get this bad again.

I suspect I’m not alone in this, but in case you haven’t heard it, I am another White man for racial justice.

Peace,

John

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I Remain Convinced…

This week and last, my wife and I are chaplains at a Christian summer camp called CYC in Ocean Park, Maine. This is the fourth summer camp I have worked on as staff, after being a camper for four years at Deering Camp and Conference Center, in Deering, New Hampshire as a teen. Last night, as we gathered around a campfire, I saw glimmers of each of my previous camps and I remain convinced that they offer some of the greatest good available to our youth, to our faith, and to the world. If that sounds like a stretch, witness the events of last evening.
The teens here were simply asked what they had learned after being here a week. According to them, what they had learned was that their lives could be changed forever by having their spirits loved into life. As we sat around the fire, I noticed that the songs said things like “How could you be seen as anything less than awesome?”. Who couldn’t respond to being told that for two weeks in a row? The camp director told one camper publicly that it was okay if they got angry at God for a big loss in their life, that God was big enough to handle it. What kind of a place gives people permission to safely express their anger and doesn’t grow healthy individuals? People talked about finding family here in ways that regular life simply couldn’t offer. Youth who had lost a parent at a young age talked about filling that hole with camp staff here and feeling whole for the first time. Children of poverty and crime and drugs spoke of having hope for the first time in their lives. Children of the suburbs spoke of feeling connected in ways that they thought only schools or their family life could offer.
I have served on staff at Deering with its roots in my denomination (the United Church of Christ), Skye Farm near Albany attached to the United Methodists, Silver Lake Conference Center in Sharon, CT (also attached to the UCC), Camp Wightman in Griswold, CT, and now here at Oceanwood, with its connection to the American Baptist Churches. In each of those places, people have become attached to their camps, their experiences, their friends for life. In each of these places, community leaders have arisen and changed hundreds of lives — many through being ministers, but others through teaching in schools, working with special needs children and adults, others through being social workers or community organizers, nurses or doctors. Each of these people sees the beauty and possibility in the people they work with because they now see it in themselves, and believe that God sees it in them as well. They have self-esteem and meaning writ large in their lives. How many organizations can say that?
These are not judging, critical, Bible-thumping, apocalypse-seeking, literalists who talk about sin and fund-raising in the same sentence, as Christians often are on television. The staff and campers here are loving, caring adults, teens and children who come for the sake of their spirits and their lives and their emotional well-being and do it for no or very little money. This is fun people having fun in ways that don’t involve sex or drugs or guns or gangs or anything that is killing children in Chicago this summer. This is the alternative to lives of jealousy, greed, skepticism, and violence which passes for life these days for far too many of our children. This is good people making good things happen from good lives –and terrible ones. This camp — like each of the others — is full of emotionally whole people coming from — and going back to — desperate places. I can’t stress enough that the world needs places like this.
And yet, denominations are closing places like this because … well, I do not know. Maybe the model of “summer camp” is dying, but as nature suffers, our connection to it becomes vital to life. Maybe the costs or liabilities are too much for denominations to handle, but what about the costs of having leaderless denominations or cities and towns rife with need? Maybe it’s a reflection of churches that are losing members in their own pews or don’t know how to reach out to youth, but if we don’t reach out to them or make worship mean something to them, how are there going to be lives which focus on meeting. Maybe kids don’t care or know about places like this, but introduce them to it and they clearly do care.
Five camps, in different places, with different roots, and having different traditions all have the same results — people with lives that matter, who are excited by hope and willing to help the people around them. I remain convinced forty years after my first experience at Christian camp that lives are changed and leaders are built by and I literally know hundreds of people who feel and act the same way. They are worth investing in. They are worth attending. They are worth so much to the church and society as a whole. They change lives. I hope you or your church or your family — or all of those — will be a part of the experience and make your community and the world a better place.
Peace,

John
P.S….
Deering has closed, as I said, and is now owned by someone else.
Here are links to the other camps I talked about.
Silver Lake: <a href="http://silverlake.ctucc.org/&quot;
Skye Farm:
Camp Wightman:
Oceanwood:
Christian Youth Conference (CYC):
(BTW, I get no money for talking about these places/groups. They’re just good places.)

We “Tortured Some Folks”????

President Obama this past week admitted that a Senate subcommittee’s report was coming out and he announced it by saying, “we tortured some folks”… and then continued on that we “shouldn’t get too sanctimonious” because “they were tough times and people thought we were going to be attacked again”.

Really?! Are you kidding me???!!! I like the President’s manner, but “torture” is not something you can say with a folksy charm. It’s not like “we took some folks fishing”. This is torture we’re talking about! This is the worst of humanity and we were culpable for it. This is what the Nurenberg trials were held for. This is why we have the Geneva Conventions. This is a big deal!

In that whole “winning hearts and minds” thing, this will have serious and severe consequences as the antithesis of that. This is the kind of thing we need to understand — when the next bunch of terrorists comes about, it will be because people have seen pictures of, or heard stories of, Americans torturing their people. It will be because the child of someone we tortured is reasonably angry about what happened to their parent. If we had pictures of Americans being tortured, wouldn’t we be on the first plane over there (where ever “there” was) with bombs and guns and tanks? So now when they come here looking to do the same, we can’t be surprised. It’s not because they’re monsters. It’s because we were, in response to some of them.

I’m not saying I don’t understand the impulse when an attack has happened or we’re afraid another one might. I do. But that’s why we have rules. As difficult as it is, we always have choices. We need to figure out why this happened. We need to apologize to those we tortured, and we need to do something different next time.

And we’re not going to do anything about it? Really??? I get that it’s politically a bad idea for one President and party to blame previous leaders, especially when trying to take the high road against partisanship. When will it end? I get that. I really do.

Here’s my problem, though: When pictures of torture from Abu Ghraib happened, there were court martials. Soldiers, who supposedly “went rogue” were punished, and there was talk back then that there were people higher up the chain of command who either gave orders or suggestions and then looked the other way. I supposed that they were soldiers trying to please their bosses. They were proving that they were doing their job. I could be wrong about that. What I’m not wrong about, though, is that these soldiers were punished while other people (CIA? NSA? We still don’t know) weren’t. It’s another example of the law applying to the people doing the work, while leaders who order it done have no consequences. The rich and/or powerful are different. Why?

Last I looked, the law was the law was the law. Justice was for all. Is that not true? Why not?

This is the most basic of all moral questions for a people. Mr. Obama, regardless of what else he does in office, has lost any ability to say he’s a moral leader at this point.

Peace,

John