Friday, October 30, 2015

In Response To The South Carolina Student Assault

The video went viral this week of a school law enforcement officer at Spring Valley High School in South Carolina assaulting a black female student he was attempting to remove from her classroom.  He is shown grabbing her by the neck and slamming her to the floor.

Before I go further I need to say a couple or three things by way of disclosure.  I grew up in South Carolina.  I know that the underground streams of racism run deep, some of them at a level bordering on unconscious.  I know because I am aware of them in myself, having spent years trying to root them out.  So I have to ask what they are like systemically and personally for those who may not have made an effort to confront them.

Second, I have worked in settings (prisons in two separate states and a residential treatment center for severely delinquent male youth) in which confronting aggressive and/or resisting individuals is part of the job.  I was trained as a Riot and Hostage Negotiator and I was trained, and have trained others, in how to deal with a potentially explosive confrontation.

Having said this, what I viewed on the video of this assault was unwarranted, unnecessary, and unprofessional.  Not only did the officer escalate the situation by his behavior, he damaged the ability of future officers at that school to engage students without them being fearful and consequently more prone to aggression.

Recently I read the story of a school which has greatly reduced its expulsions by employing a model of intervention which focuses on the student.  In this case, that intervention would have begun by sitting down next to the student and saying something like, "Hey, what's going on?  You must be pretty upset today to be acting this way, let me see if I can help."  If necessary, the room could have been emptied of other students so that the girl in question did not have to feel like she would be losing face if she should comply with the officer.  Nothing is lost by talking...especially as long as the student is sitting in the chair and not being physically aggressive toward the officer.

Should it look like physical intervention is called for, I was taught that you never, if you have any control over it, engage 1:1.  A lot of confrontations deflate when an individual is faced with 3 or 4 folks who they know will restrain them if necessary.  It ceases to be a personal thing.  And if physical intervention is called for, it can be done with minimal risk to all concerned.

One thing I learned early (and unfortunately the hard way) is that you can always escalate....but once you've put your hands on an individual in a violent fashion (and it is possible to intervene physically in a non-violent fashion) your ability to work with, relate to, help that individual is drastically reduced...if not totally destroyed.  Is violence sometimes necessary?  Yes.  As a very last resort.  If I have to defend myself from a physical assault from which there is no other way to remove myself....yes.  The situation in that South Carolina classroom was not an example of such a time.

Beyond all this, the incident is symptomatic.  Not just of the inherent racism against which we battle...that is bad enough.  It is a battle that must go on.  But also of an attitude which has become more and more prominent in our dealings with one another; an attitude that the bigger, the stronger, may use whatever means necessary to get what they want.  An attitude that jumps over discussion, negotiation, alternative options and goes quickly to violence.

There is an anonymous saying that goes, "Violence is a sword that has no handle, you have to hold the blade."  Perhaps it's time we listen a little closer.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When Did It Become Wrong To Welcome Others?

I haven't written in a while.  I don't really want to write today; but I am feeling driven to by events I have encountered in the last 3 days in my own life.

Today I read an article which you can find here

 This article describes how Pine Belt Baptist Association in Mississippi decided to withdraw fellowship from University Baptist in Hattiesburg .... not because it had defined itself as "Open and Affirming"..... but because it has a policy of excepting anyone that dates back to the days of integration.  Apparently having the phrase "Jesus Welcomed Everyone. So Do We." on your billboard brands you as too soft on the issue of homosexuality.

If that were not bad enough, I recently attended the annual meeting of a local Baptist group which in philosophy claims to represent the breadth of Baptist beliefs.  I was appalled at the thinly veiled anti-gay sentiment expressed in presentations, workshops and sermons.  A sentiment no one wants to talk about.

Apparently it is not enough to be open to others who may be uncomfortable with homosexuality, but open as well to those who seek to follow Jesus and happen to be gay.  No. You have to be aggressively, militantly opposed to anything that has rainbows associated with it (time to get rid of My Little Pony) and manning the barricades because the Political Correctness Police are going to come force you to perform same sex marriages.

Really?!?  Is this what we've come to?  Is this what Autonomy of the Local Congregation and Priesthood of All Believers means now?  Somehow it sounds like the line from Animal Farm:  "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."  Whatever happened to Jesus saying, "All which the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37, in the King James brothers and sisters).  When did we become the judge of who the Father is giving to the Son? 

I know that people are afraid.  I understand that.  I know we often disagree...we're Baptist, scraping with each other is a requirement for membership.  But at our best we've made room for the differences.  We've said, "I think that you're wrong, but I know that Jesus loves that makes you my brother or sister."  There is at our best room at the Table for everyone....Love'em All And Let Jesus Sort Them Out used to be our approach.  But now?

One thing this is teaching me:  You have to really love Jesus to be a gay Christian who wants to join a Baptist church....cause no one who didn't really love Jesus would put up with the crap you have to wade thru.  

May God forgive us for the roadblocks we put in the way of those who try to come to Jesus....But I have to wonder whether we haven't stepped over the line.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

In Praise of Amazing Grace

The pleas for grace and mercy
from Pope and theologians
Priests, pastors, and struggle sisters
Bounced like pebbles off the walls of Empire.
Empire said that it knew best
who she actually was.
The stain of all those years ago
was permanent:
didn't we know nothing could wash it away
not even Amazing Grace.
And so they brought her
to the place of execution
where she sobbed in fear and doubt
mixed with trust and longing
as they tied her to the gurney
and she sang Amazing Grace.
Empire put a needle
into the trembling arm of my sister
as she wept and prayed as we did too
while she sang Amazing Grace.
Til her light went out in that cold tile room
strapped cruciform on a table.
Father forgive them, even though
they knew exactly what they were doing.
What they don't know
is that Empire is but empire
and she woke to a Light brighter than day
and ran into the arms of Amazing Grace.

-In Memory of Kelly Gissendaner, who ran into the arms of the Light on Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

On Being Life Affirming: One Christian's Perspective

Yesterday's10 deaths in the mass shooting at Umpqua College in Roseburg, Oregon; coupled with the execution of my Sister in Christ, Kelly Gissendar, on Wednesday morning in Georgia have me rethinking the whole spectrum of what it means to be "life affirming" in our culture today.

Jesus said, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).  I do not believe that this means only some individualized inner spiritual condition until we are snatched up to heaven, but includes the totality of life.

This has lead me to explore a variety of the nuances involved in being a Christian seeking to be life affirming in following Jesus.  While I would not claim that where I have currently landed in my thoughts is the only way that a Christian might respond, nor even that this is the final point in my own thinking, I would offer these thoughts as the result of prayerful consideration.

Let's begin at birth.  I am neither "Pro-life" nor "Pro-choice."  I am strongly opposed to abortion as a form of birth control.  However, I favor birth control being made available to everyone who is sexually active.  Teaching responsible sexuality that is in keeping with our faith is the responsibility of church and family.  I also acknowledge that there are times when due to the situation (pregnancy as the result of rape or incest) or the medical issues of the life of the mother being at risk, a woman needs to have the right to make decisions about her own body.

If we are going to take such a stance, it needs to include the responsibilities that go along with it.  Such responsibilities include making sure that a mother who carries to term has adequate prenatal care so that the child comes into the world as healthy as possible.  Once that child is here, we need to ensure that it has adequate health care, education, housing and food. 

The idea that our laws might force a mother to carry a child to term and the that same society would abandon that child to a level of poverty and social marginalization which would stack the odds in favor of that child being drug or alcohol addicted, exposed to trauma inducing levels of violence,  and potentially being imprisoned is frankly obscene.

Mental health services, substance abuse treatment, basic healthcare all seem to me to fit into the category of "Life Affirming."  As does protection from gun violence.  When Jesus said, "whoever causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for them that a millstone be tied around their neck and they be thrown into the sea," (Matthew 18:6) speaks to the protective nature of our role as life affirming persons.

I am curious to know what would happen if we approached gun violence with the same level of concern and legal intervention that has been applied nationally to lead paint. Or to tobacco.

Christians historically (the Quakers and Anabaptists chief among them) were strong proponents of prison reform; advocating that the opportunity for penitence and self improvement to be part of the prison experience.  How do privatized prisons and capital punishment fit into a life affirming approach to those who violate our nations laws?  I have blogged previously about the Biblical questions raised about our responsibility to Christian brothers and sisters who break the law. 

Finally, we need to ask in what way being Life Affirming is expressed in our care for the aged and aging.  Cuts in Medicare have reduced what is included in a "wellness check-up" til the yearly visit covered is little more than a blood pressure and temperature check. 

My point is this: if we are going to take Jesus' commandments seriously, then we need to think long and hard about the complexity of what it means to be Life Affirming, to strive that those around us have life and have it more abundantly, and not just cherry pick what fits our own favorite hobby horse.

Are their other ways to express our faith in regard to these questions?  I'm sure there are.  I just don't believe that "let's get rid of Roe v. Wade while we kill healthcare, fight gun control in the face of mass shootings, and continue and an international leader in executions" is one of them.