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When is Enough, Enough?

My friend Tquan called me yesterday afternoon just to check on how I was feeling after the events of the past week – the murder of Daunte Wright in Minnesota and the NBC 5 story about virtual “slave trading’ by ninth graders in neighboring Aledo ISD – https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/carter-in-the-classroom/students-of-color-slave-traded-by-other-students-in-online-game-at-aledo-school/2603399/.

I’m so grateful for Tquan and the other members of the Be the Bridge group I’m a part of. Be the Bridge is an opportunity to address issues of racial reconciliation with other folks seeking the same end. I’m grateful that my church has begun to speak openly and more frequently about race and racism, and more importantly, to listen and value the diversity of God’s kids. The relationships that have begun to form are a blessing.

Feelings are still difficult for me to figure out – at least on the spur of the moment. All I could tell Tquan is that neither incident surprised me but left me feeling a deep sadness and perhaps a bit numb – so much so that I’d taken a break from the news for the last two days. However, I hadn’t yesterday…

I hung up the phone and the NPR story came on about Daunte Wright. His mother and his grandmother were speaking. “You took him away from us.” Their words of unspeakable loss and cries of anguish broke my heart and feelings erupted like the explosion of a long dormant volcano. I began to sob uncontrollably as I barreled down I-30 toward home.

I know what it is to lose a child. The pain is indescribable. It cuts so deep that words cannot convey it, nor can the real damage be visible. It slices to the very core of your being. The thought of one’s grandkids without their father, of the coming Christmases, Thanksgivings, and birthdays steals all joy and hope. It leaves you permanently scarred and broken. A piece of your life has been taken away forever.

Still, I can’t even imagine what it’s like to lose a son to murder – especially murder at the hands of those who claim to serve and protect. They call may try to call it an accident, but it is murder plain and simple. The traffic stop itself was an intentional act. The racial profiling and treatment of People of Color by the police was, and is, an intentional act.

News reports have differed on the reasons why Daunte was pulled over. Many are saying it was because of an air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror. The ACLU reported last night that the stop was made because of expired registration. It doesn’t matter. The real reason, the one unsaid, is far more insidious – being pulled over for driving while black…

An air freshener hangs on the mirrors of many of the vehicles I pass every day. I’ve never been pulled over for it. I have been pulled over twice for expired registration. I had simply forgot about it. I was told to go get it taken care of and let go without a ticket. Then again, I’m white…

If Tquan called today to see how I was feeling it wouldn’t be difficult to name the feelings – outrage, anger, and furious. When is enough, enough?

I’ve already begun to hear the excuses made by many of my white acquaintances. “He should’ve just cooperated”. They wouldn’t have pulled him over without good reason”. “He shouldn’t have resisted”. Such responses are expected. Systemic racism runs deep. White privilege can’t possibly understand what systemic racism inflicts on People of Color.

The bottom line is a gun never should have been drawn in the first place. Had Daunte been white it would not have. There couldn’t have been an “accident”. Besides, if a twenty-six-year veteran police officer cannot tell the difference from a 9mm handgun and a taser, they have no business serving as a police officer.

There are no excuses. Enough is enough. Call it what it is – murder. Daunte died less than a year and only a few miles away from where George Floyd was brutally murdered by Derek Chauvin. There have already been over 230 people killed by the police since January 1st, 2021. How much longer, Lord?

Photo by Jakob Rosen on Unsplash

Yes, Tquan, I’m mad as hell. That’s how I feel today. Somewhere, buried deep in my spirit is hope that maybe we’ll realize enough is enough. Groups like Be the Bridge are moving in the right direction but there’s much to be done. Ms. Opal Lee, my mentor and friend, reminds us “that if hate can be taught, a person can be taught to love”. I hope and pray that the feelings of anger I have are felt by many others. I hope they’re channeled into positive action that teaches all of us how to love God’s kids better. I hope and pray I don’t hear the anguished cries of mother, grandmothers, and families because another child was taken by police violence.

“We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” – Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (1994)

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The Urgency of Now

When is it time Lord?

For Your will to be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

When is it time Lord?

For us to be one as You and Your Son are one.

When is it time Lord?

To believe the Red Letters in Your book and act like it.

We said it was time when a young lady stayed in her bus seat because she was tired.

That your will could be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

We said it was time when thousands gathered on a hot August day to share a dream,

That we could be one as You and Your Son are one.

We said it was time over and over and over again,

But we still don’t believe the Red Letters in Your book.

The Red Letters are just too idealistic, too unreal,

No one can do that,

Why, you’d have to be a white Jesus.

‘Cause it’s just too hard to believe,

A brown-skinned Palestinian Jew…

If we really believed them, we’d be cut to the very core of our being…

Our sin would be laid bare,

And we might have to change,

And who in the world wants to do that.

“Ignorance is bliss”, so goes the old saying.

And we’re a blissful lot.

We hide behind our stained-glass windows,

and under our steeples,

and talk about how God loves us all,

except He loves some more than others.

You can tell by the color of their skin…

(as if blessings are determined by color)

We all worship You, Father, but “they” need to worship over there,

Maybe it’s just so white folks won’t have to look at themselves.

I don’t know Abba.

I don’t even pretend to understand anymore.

It’s our prayer that…

Pictures of a white man on a black man’s neck have opened our eyes,

Screams of “I can’t breathe” have opened our ears.

We can’t be blind.

We can’t be deaf.

But some of us still choose to be…

I know the time is coming.

when Your will is done on Earth as it is in heaven.

I know the time is coming,

when we will be one as You and the Son are one.

I know the time is coming,

When the words of Your Son shine as bright as the sun in our lives

When people will know of Your love by our love.

When men are “no longer judged by the color of their skin,

But the content of their character”.

I know the time is coming,

it’s long overdue.

To be silent is to be complicit.

It hurts too much to be quiet.

The time is now Father.

My time is now.

Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com
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Murals and Toads…

It’s been busy the last few days. Spring planting is in full swing at the farm. New areas are being plowed and tilled making for a full acre expansion to Opal’s Farm. Meetings, continuing education classes, and discussion groups have filled my evening schedule. It’s all good stuff, mind you, but then the rain came…

Work is great therapy, but eventually the rain comes. It slows me down long enough for my mind to wander into places I’d rather not visit. Unfortunately, I must. It’s part of the grieving process. I only mention it because I got a text today that Jeremy’s mural at Manana Land will be taken down at the first of April. It’s to be replaced by one of Deborah Peoples, a local candidate for Mayor, to encourage folks to vote. A worthy replacement most times – getting out the vote, even in local elections, is a great endeavor – but not so much right now. I simply don’t want to let go.

Jay Wilkinson’s mural of Jeremy at Hop Fusion Brewery is the one I spend the most time visiting. Jay was Jeremy’s long-time friend and art partner. It means more to me a Jay wasted no time in getting the mural done. It was an incredible effort by someone who knew Jeremy well and painted as such. Still, I drive by the one at Manana Land on the way home some days and wave hello to my son. I won’t be able to do that much longer.

I didn’t want to hear that right now. I’ve been a ball of feelings the last couple of weeks. I’m not even sure how to label them as they change so rapidly. Grief is like that. I’d love to define them and to put them into words, but everything seems to fall short – shallow and meaningless.

The other day I was out at the farm. Roman, our Volunteer Coordinator was out there with me. He tilled one last row before he headed on to other obligations. I stayed behind to seed the newly turned soil. About halfway down the row I saw a toad that had been hit on the shoulder (do frogs have shoulders?) and was bleeding. I took him to the side of the bed and put him in a cool shady spot to rest. When it occurred to me that it might be a fatal wound I began to sob uncontrollably – over a dying toad.

It seemed like it the weeping would never end. What was wrong with me? “It’s a damn frog Greg! Get over it. It’s part of farming, right? He didn’t mean to hurt it. It was an accident.”

I don’t when it happened but suddenly, I realized that the tears weren’t only for some old frog. They were for my son. They were for the folks in line at the food bank up the street. They were for all the broken people in a broken world that no one sees nor tries to help.

They were for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Armaud Aubery, for Tamir Rice, and the list goes on and on and on.

They were for the 500,000 plus people that have died from COVID and the over 81,000 people that died from overdoses in the wear prior to May 2020. The tears were over the families of those lost – the fathers and mothers that lie awake at night, tears rolling down their cheeks, asking God why – why their child, their parent, their brother, or sister.

They were for Sandy Hook, for Columbine, for Parkland and all the schools, places of worship, or public spaces where mass shootings have taken so many.

All of that because of a bleeding Texas Toad…

Sometimes I simply need to let go, to cry it out, and even question the God, the Abba, who loves me more than I can possibly imagine. Why’d you let it get this way? Why, why, why? “My God, why have you forsaken us?

My sobbing eased and the tears began to slow. I slowly gathered myself together and resumed planting. The smell of freshly turned soil filled the air around me. The sun felt a little brighter and warmer. I remembered the days Jeremy came out and worked with me. God, I miss that, but at least I have that memory. My grandkids will soon be out here more when school is out and I get to see Jeremy in them.

My sadness and anger had passed. God didn’t make or let any of this happen. We did. Perhaps that’s where the anger comes from. I’m not doubting God as much as I’m doubting myself and doubting people. People let us all down at some point. That’s what all humans do. No one’s perfect, right?

Then I remember all the people I’ve met along the way that work diligently, often with little or no reward, to make our community a better place. I have faith God will set all things right one day. I dream of the promised “new heaven and new Earth”, but what’s my part today? God can create universes. I’m sure He could straighten this earthly mess out right away, but He invites me to be a part of the solution. He reminds me that we can do this so just do it…

We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live, not just to acquire things. That is what we are put on the earth for. Solitude with God repairs the damage done by the fret and noise and clamour of the world.”

– Dolores Huerta

I looked back on saw that everything had been planted before the forecasted rain for the next day. I felt strong, no longer defeated, and hopeful. My tears washed away the frustration and grief that had been building up inside. Now I had a little more clarity. Vision returned. All of this because of an old toad…

I walked back to where I had laid the toad. He wasn’t there but I could see a place where he’d burrowed into the planting bed. Maybe it wasn’t a fatal wound after all. He may end up scarred like me, but we’d both be out there doing out part at the farm. That’s all we can do…

Photo by Lucas van Oort on Unsplash

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6:00 AM on Christmas Morning

6:00 AM on Christmas morning…

The sun hasn’t yet begun to rise. The darkness is silent and still – “not a mouse was stirring”. Even the freeway sounds are absent this morning. The temperature dropped below freezing last night in honor of Christmas I’m sure. It was seventy degrees here in North Texas last Monday and the weekend promises more of the same: but that’s tomorrow and this is today. I’ll pull my coat a little tighter, have another sip of steaming coffee, and relish the quiet.

I think back to Christmas 1982. At 4:00 AM my ex (she wasn’t my ex then just so you know…) shook me awake. “I think I’m in labor”.

I turned over and asked, “how far apart are the contractions?”

“I haven’t timed them yet”.

“Oh okay. Let me know when the next one comes”, I said sleepily.

I had awakened enough to know I needed to head upstairs to the bathroom. As I walked past the picture window along the stairs, I saw the snow coming down hard. Only about half of the chain link fence was visible. “This is not good”, I mumbled. When I returned to bed, she told me she thought it was a false labor. I crawled back in bed and fell back asleep.

I awoke a couple of hours later and once again slid out of bed and headed upstairs to make coffee. As I passed the window once again, I noticed that only the pointed tops of the four-foot fence were visible. I opened the back door to check on my car. All I could see was its blue roof poking through the snow. The driveway and the alley were covered in three feet of snow and even larger drifts. This really wasn’t good…

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Adrian, our oldest, woke up and he and his Mom came in the kitchen. She put down and he promptly ran to the living room to see what Santa had brought. I poured the coffee and went into the living room. My Christmas morning excitement was tempered by the realization that my ex might really be in labor.

The snow continued to fall – and fall and fall and… You get the idea. Denver was in the middle of a “hundred year” blizzard.

About 9:00 in the evening my ex looked at me and said, “I really am in labor now”. The contractions were now seven minutes apart. I knew there was no way we could get my car out of the drive. I called 911 and explained our situation. Apparently, labor is not an emergency. It would be a four to five hour wait for an ambulance and we were told to go the nearest hospital labor and delivery rooms. I figured I’d been through one birth already. I mentally prepared to deliver a baby at home. I prayed – a lot!

There was a knock at the door about thirty minutes later. A gentleman had responded to the pleas for citizens with four-wheel drive to ferry paramedics around. Three paramedics greeted me as I opened the door.

We gathered go-bags and our son together and filed out through the path the paramedics had made to the door. They assisted my poor wife who, at 5’3”, was trying to make her way through the four feet of snow. Once to the care, the 6 of us (and all the paramedic kits) piled into an old Jeep Waggoneer. The driver informed my very pregnant wife that between contractions she would have to reach outside and keep the snow of the windshield as the wipers didn’t work. Of course, they didn’t…

We found ourselves in a strange hospital with a strange doctor who had obviously been there long past hi original shift (he was a bit cranky). We were just getting settled into the labor room when the nurse said, “it’s time”. My wife was wheeled down to the delivery room and I changed into scrubs. Less than an hour later I was holding a brand-new bundle of joy – Jeremy Alan Joel.

I slept in a nurse’s lounge that night. When I returned to my wife’s room, I was greeted with a Christmas gift that I’ll never forget – Jeremy in a red stocking with a Santa hat on.

When Adrian, my oldest son, was born, parenting didn’t seem as difficult as we thought. Then we had Jeremy. We’ve often joked (kind of…) that Jeremy made his appearance in the world with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other demanding to be fed NOW. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

Sitting here on Christmas morning I’m reminded how blessed I am. For thirty-seven years I was given the gift of a son I miss dearly today. I was also given a Savior – God With Us – to walk me through the grief I have today. I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life who know what losing a child is like. I have a God that knows my grief even more so – “This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and Only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help and put the world right again” John 33.16-17 (The Message).

My son was a brilliant artist (our first home had the marker and crayon marks to foretell this), but his greatest achievement was threefold – Baillie, Izabella, and Lucas. Today I will think of the wonderful gifts he left us. The gift I offer him is honoring his gift to me.

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Jeremy