Thoughts on Race Relations in America Today

A few weeks ago I had an experience that in light of recent events in Charlottesville I feel is worth sharing.

In late July I traveled to Florida and was checking in to my hotel. A very nice “high end” hotel by all standards which caters to what would be considered the upscale traveler and conferences.  As I stood in line waiting for my turn to check in I noticed something odd. With the exception of a couple hotel clerks, I was the only white person in the lobby and one of the few men. Everyone else appeared to be African American and for the most part were women.  I looked around and chuckled to myself and even thought, “so this is what it’s like to be a minority.” I figured a group of some sort was checking in and didn’t think much else of it.

I was early for my meeting so I decided to go across the street to a Subway for lunch. Upon arriving I noticed a long line there so I looked walked along the strip mall to see what other options I might have. Again, I noticed something was “off.” On the sidewalk were small groups of people of color here and there, many who were teens. Each restaurant I looked into was filled with more people who’s skin was darker than mine. Even the grocery store’s deli/sandwich line was made predominantly of so-called “minorities.”

I finally settled on the Subway and waited in line as the only white man in a sea of color – and one of the oldest people in the restaurant to boot.

I finally noticed that all the teens and most of the adults had t-shirts with religious slogans (Christian) and also realized there were several vans and buses in the parking lot with the names of area African Methodist Episcopal (AME) churches. The hotel I was staying at was hosting a large AME conference. Mystery solved. I finished my lunch and continued on with my day.

Why do I think this experience is significant now? Well, remember my earlier statement that I thought this is what it must be like to be a minority? Well, that thought was completely and utterly wrong. In fact, just being outnumbered by people with a different skin color barely even scrapes the surface of what I imagine is the experience of African Americans and others in this country.

Why? Because at no time did I feel unsafe or threatened. I was always treated with respect and courtesy by those I met (holding doors, etc.) and returned the same. In fact, I even felt a kinship with all these people when I discovered that they were from the AME church since I am a United Methodist and both denominations share the same Wesleyan roots. No security guard gave me a second look, no woman clutched her purse closer because I passed by, no one paid much attention to me at all in fact – except to take an order, hold a door or perhaps smile at me as they passed.

So when someone speaks about “white privilege” it’s worth remembering that many of us experience this privilege every day – even if we (white guys) didn’t get the job we thought we should have gotten or the spot on the team or any other transgression or slight or injustice we feel has befallen us.

Privilege isn’t always about the big things, but sometimes the small things that everyone should be entitled to regardless of skin color or religion.

My two cents.

 

 

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Christmas 2015

What a difference a year makes!

Last year at this time I had just resolved a year long “crisis of faith” started by the passing of my father on Christmas day 2014. I had recommitted myself to a new fitness regimen by simply walking more and I had been re-diagnosed with Crohn’s.  And, this blog was less than a month old. So much has happened since then…

First, and most importantly, I still have my faith. This has and continues to be sorely tested given all the horrible events that we have witnessed in 2015 both world wide and at home. But, I have an understanding that God provides us with the tools to be better human beings. It is not up to him to solve all our problems we are not his pets. We are his children and the best way sometimes for children to learn is to allow them to figure things out for themselves. I firmly believe that if we truly commit to our faith – without perverting it for our own selfish desires and the principles of faith, hope and charity – the world would be a better place, regardless of your religion.

Second, my health is pretty darn good thank you. I started Humira as my only treatment for Crohn’s and this, along with watching my diet better, has proven to be a very good move. I have not had a major flare up since starting the treatment (there have been very brief “upsets”) and my energy is better than it has been for years. I’m stronger in middle age than I was in my thirties and that’s a bit of a miracle right there!

Third, I may not have achieved all my fitness goals but I’ve clearly made progress. I’m back in the weight room and rebuilding some muscle that I lost in 2014 (the tape measure and my lifts prove it) and I now not only walk but actually run. I’m even planning on doing some mountain climbing this coming June (Long’s Peak). A feat I don’t think I could have even considered a year ago. Old age isn’t for sissies as they used to say and it isn’t for being bound to a bed or a wheel chair. Stay active, stay strong, and I’ll show those tight skinned whipper snappers that a few aches and pains aren’t going to keep me down. Heck, I don’t even miss the hair on the top of my head anymore…okay, maybe a little.

Fourthly, I’ve committed to expressing my creative side in different ways. I continue with tap dancing, I’m working on my play writing again (slowly but surely), and I find time to audition for plays that I want to act in.

Fifthly, I did have some challenges and disappointments professionally this past year. But, by staying true to my work ethic and with some good fortune I’m still happily employed. The reality is that none of us is guaranteed work in this day and age regardless of how well you do your job and sometimes you are viewed as just a number on a spreadsheet. It doesn’t help to worry about it, but be smart. Keep the resume up to date and keep sharpening your skills!

And lastly, I’m talking to more people. Which has turned out to be good for me (I don’t know how the people I’ve talked to feel about it). I made a goal to not be the wall flower anymore. This has lead me to some interesting conversations with strangers and to even adding a few new friends. And thanks to social media I’ve even reconnected with people who I thought were long in my past. The only difficult part of social media is learning to ignore the negative and argumentative people…of which there seems to be an endless supply.

So, to sum up, I’m looking forward to 2016. If it’s like the past year it will be a wild ride, but I’ll be better for it. I hope you will be better for it as well.

Onward!

 

A Journey of 10,000 Steps

So, I’ve started using an UP 24 (by Jawbone) which like Fitbit and other devices along with the appropriate telephone apps is a device to aid and push a person towards better fitness. In a very basic way though it’s a glorified pedometer that does some other nifty things too (it lets me know how often I wake up at night for example – usually once) and one of the first goals to achieve is taking 10,000 steps through the day.

My first day I did okay and took over 8,000 steps. So 10,000 should have been easy right? Wrong! I got to 8,000 only because we went to see “The Lights Before Christmas” at the Toledo Zoo (yes, yes, we saw the “Lights BEFORE Christmas” AFTER Christmas so sue me). The next day (Saturday) I only got in about 1,800 steps. Granted I was at home and not at work but clearly I needed to step up my game so to speak (“step up” get it?). So today I took a walk around town…and when I say around town I mean around the entire town. I followed a path that roughly estimated the city limits of the small town I live in (actually near) and after about an hour in the cold guess what? I only added about 4,000 more steps to my daily total. This left me without about 2,000 more steps to take.

So, on a whim I came up with a different idea. Instead of walking around town, what if I walked around my yard? I paced the perimeter of my yard off I discovered I could get in about 400 steps by doing this. Then I thought what if I also went around my house? Bingo – another 200 steps. What if I went around every bush and tree? Well, what do you know I could get almost 1,000 steps just by tracing a path in my yard. Then while walking around, counting to myself I had a thought. Gosh, this is almost like a labyrinth.

Now many of you may know that labyrinths, patterns drawn on the floor of a church, were a tool used by many early Christians, and presumably other religions, for meditation and prayer purposes. It’s also my understanding that many of these early Christians used the labyrinth to take the place of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There’s a nice article on labyrinths at the Washington National Cathedral’s website if you want to know a little more: http://www.cathedral.org/worship/labyrinth.shtml

So all in all, I’m pleased with my day. I got a little healthier by getting my steps in and stumbled on a way to clear my head and meditate and prayer in my own backyard. No the only question is what will the neighbors think when they see me wandering around and muttering to myself. I better get one of those blue tooth headsets so it looks like I’m on the phone.

Onward!

Christmas 2014

I believed in God, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

I was raised in a household with a strong Christian tradition. My parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends all believed in God and that Jesus Christ was our Savior. Like my mother, I was raised, baptized, and confirmed in the United Methodist church (technically I was first baptized as a Methodist Episcopal as the church was known before 1968). My family believed in the grace of God, in redemption, and forgiveness. I was taught that God was present everywhere. In the whisper of the breeze through the forest, the grandeur of the mountains, the song of the sparrow. I was taught that God was good and God was great.

As I grew in experience and intellect I pondered the mysteries of the infinite and eternity. I asked my self often “is this all there is?” and I came to the spiritual and logical conclusion that there must be more to existence. There must be a God. I studied the Gospel and found that the teachings of Jesus Christ were good and right and that to follow His footsteps was to walk the path to salvation. I’ll be honest and say that like many early Christians I question the divinity of Jesus. However, I have never questioned that he had a relationship with God which was unique in all of history and that he spoke with the authority of one who knew God and understood the meaning of life.

So, I’ll say it again…

There is no doubt that I believed in God. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.

My father died on Christmas Day 2013. I’ll never forget being by his bedside that morning in the dim light of the hospital room, surrounded by family, as he took his last breaths. This was made even more difficult because it seemed to parallel the death of his mother many years earlier and by the fact that his sister died just the year before. My father died on Christmas Day, the “best time of the year.”

My spirit and faith were crushed.

Now, we all know that death is part of life and I’m certainly not the only person to lose a loved one on a holiday. In fact, I know a woman who lost her father last year over Thanksgiving – and then lost her mother this year over Thanksgiving. A cousin lost both her aunt on Christmas Eve and her uncle (Dad) on Christmas day.  I have many friends who have lost one or both their parents, including most of my cousins (how they have been living with the pain all these years I’ll never know). So why should Dad’s passing cause a crisis in faith for me? Was this crisis all because life wasn’t going according to my internal script? Going by MY plan?

Or was it because after we had returned from the hospital Christmas Eve, with the knowledge and understanding that Dad would not pull out of this, I whispered a simple prayer, “please let him rest through the night without incident, please give us a miracle and let him recover.”  Then seemingly within moments of whispering this prayer the phone rang, we needed to get back to the hospital quickly if we wanted to be with Dad in his final moments. Not what I wanted at all. I drove back to the hospital with my mind filled with grief and anger.

Though 77 years old, Dad was not supposed to die yet. He was remarkably healthy except for this small spot of cancer that had formed in his mouth several months earlier. He was fit and strong with a clear, sharp mind. The surgery went well and he followed all the recommended protocols and the advice of the doctors – difficult though it was at times. “There’s no sense in hiring and expert if you are going to ignore his advice” he said. He tolerated the chemo and seemed to be doing well with the radiation treatments. “Seemed” being the operative word. What we didn’t know is that the radiation was weakening the muscles in the back of his throat so that he could no longer swallow properly. Our first clue came in October when he developed pneumonia. But, he was out of the hospital in a few days and seemed to recover. Then mom noticed he didn’t seem quite like himself and he wasn’t bouncing back when all the treatments ended like he should have. We learned later that he asked his primary care physician “what if I don’t get better? I can’t go on like this.”

He was weak and drained for no reason. Sleeping a lot more and then about a week before Christmas I get the call from Mom, “come home, you’re Dad is not acting right we need to get to the hospital.” He was confused, didn’t know basic facts. In the emergency room he got some oxygen and seemed to be recovering. He was admitted overnight for observation. One day stretched to two, then three, then four…

Aspiration Pneumonia is what the doctors told us he had and there was no chance for recovery. They could extend his life through drastic measures but he would need assistance breathing for the rest of his life and once incubated would never come off that breathing tube. We knew that Dad would not want to live like this so the most difficult decision of our lives was made. We knew what Dad would do and want. We let nature take it’s course.

Let God’s will be done.

In that moment I hated the universe for playing such a cruel trick. I hated God for His apparent lack of mercy. I was angry beyond words. If this is what faith brought you – faith in medicine, faith in God – then what good was faith?

After Dad passed our Pastor was called and one of the first things my mother said to him was that we were converting to Judaism. When he asked why, she said “because we can never celebrate Christmas again.” She felt much the same way as I did. But, she was not giving up on God altogether – just the holiday. Her faith through those next few days was much stronger than mine and perhaps always has been.

I continued to go through the motions of a good church goer this past year. I still had duties to fulfill as chairman of our Pastor Parish Committee after all. Plus, I had invested nearly my entire life with this particular church. It’s where I grew up and I had many fond memories there. But, my heart was no longer really in it.

Looking back on this past year in church this past Sunday morning though, I had a revelation. We often talk about faith getting us through difficult times. I’m not sure that this is exactly true. Faith doesn’t get you through the difficult times – faith gets us through the times that follow. In moments of crisis there is no time to think and reflect on faith, you can only act and feel. I didn’t reflect on faith or God while Dad was dying. I only thought about how he had suffered, how my family was suffering, and how I was suffering. I did not muse or wax poetic on the meaning of life faith was of no use to me at that time. I prayed, but I prayed from a selfish viewpoint. No matter that most anyone would do the same in that position. The prayer should not have been to save Dad, his faith had already saved him long ago. My prayer should have been to let him transition to the next life peacefully. That was the prayer God answered. I believe that he did transition as peacefully as any of us can, with the aid of kind and caring medical professionals and surrounded by those he loved most and those who loved him most. And I have faith that he was greeted by his Maker with a hearty “well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” and welcomed by all those who went before.

Anger kept me from understanding the real purpose of faith. Faith is a tool for us to understand that there is more to existence than our mere mortal shells. More than can be understood by any person. Faith is what brings us together as communities.  Faith lets us move beyond the mere words of the Gospel and moves us to action.  Faith is what helps us to understand that by caring for each other we are doing the work of God. Faith is what allows us to go beyond logic and reason and reach into the mind of the Infinite.

Faith is what makes us human. Regardless what we think about the stories of Christmas and their accuracy, that’s for the biblical scholars to debate, faith is what Christmas is truly about. Faith is why I can now say without hesitation:

I believe in God.

Merry Christmas, and God bless Us, Every One!