Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 3

“Another Pair of Shoes – Part 2”

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

28 days ago, I wrote a devotion entitled, “Another Pair of Shoes.” The day was May 6th and it was devotion #52. I shared the story of an elderly white woman who lived in Minnesota. As I read her story, I figured many of us, men and women alike, could relate. Gloria Jackson had no health, hunger or shelter issues. But she was single, alone and considered high risk regarding the coronavirus. In the article, she described her physical setting, her emotional struggles, her spiritual wrestling and brewing anger. I heard back from many of you. You could relate to her story and were walking in similar shoes. I also felt that it was important that those who do not share these same struggles, recognize another pair of shoes.

This last week, we have been overwhelmed by another story that has come out of Minnesota. The pain, anger, rage and frustration that has been unleashed over George Floyd’s death, indicates just how many people are walking in these shoes. This story and these feelings of this type of injustice are probably not very familiar to most of us. To wear these shoes, it will require us to open our heart, listen carefully and learn a story very different than our own. It is a call to empathy. It is not a call to sympathy but rather to understand more clearly the feelings of other human beings.

The call to understand the feelings and conditions of another is difficult. Yet this is the call of the Christian. We are directed to carry one another’s burdens. Christ carried our burdens, and as followers of Christ, we are called to carry on Christ’s mission and help lift the burdens of others. Much of the world’s story, in all reality, is different than our own. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to help us accomplish this call. And we are promised that He will do this.

The disciples faced many challenges in trying to carry out Christ’s call. Much of their world, as with ours, was deeply shaped by racism. Racism, by definition is, “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Jews held judgments against gentiles. Jews held prejudices against Samaritans. The Romans displayed outright antagonism towards the Jews. Racism circled and swirled around these people groups just as they still do today in the Middle East and around the world.  

Jesus certainly found himself in the middle of racist judgments. Sometimes I think we forget about the painful shoes he would have worn. Jesus grew up in a small town, born to an unwed mother. He was raised by a father in which the community would have judged him weak. Jesus grew up on the wrong side of the tracks – he grew up in Nazareth. And as the story goes, “nothing good comes from Nazareth.” As a man, Jesus was labeled a radical, targeted as a troublemaker, and judged to be in opposition to God. He was accused of driving out demons in partnership with Beelzebub. He was listed as a threat. He was charged with heresy. He was illegally arrested, beaten and retained in jail. He was falsely accused, falsely arrested and falsely crucified.

Jesus lived his entire life under the weight of racism. Yet, this is in part why he knows our human story so well. Jesus became fully human so that he could know the entire drama. Because of his becoming fully human, he clearly knows humanities hurts, pains, weakness and frustrations. He knows an elderly white woman’s isolation and loneliness. And he also knows the pain and injustice of the African American community. And he truly knows your particular pains and hurts that you are struggling with at this very moment.

Jesus not only knows our pain, he also came to bind up all those who are brokenhearted.

700 years before Jesus took on our story, the prophet Isaiah identified the role, character and call of the coming Messiah. He declared, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…” (Isaiah 61:1)

Matthew 9:36 reveals Jesus’ heart towards hurting people. Matthew records, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus felt the pain. He recognized people’s hopelessness. And he healed them.

May God help us maintain a heart of compassion and point all those who are hurting to the Good Shepherd who can bind up any wound.

Two days ago, I heard Ray Roberts, a former Seattle Seahawk football player, share his story on the radio. His story is very different than my story. His story is powerful, painful, and provokes me to want to know more. I am thankful to be exposed to another pair of shoes. I hope you will find his story helpful as well.

God Bless You!

Pastor Mark

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Ray Roberts Shares his truth as a black American.

I first want to say thank you to those that are down for the cause and willing to sacrifice more than their words to create change. I am not a fan of the looting, robbing, stealing and violence, however I am unapologetic as it relates to the intensity of the peaceful protesters and the discomfort it may produce for those sitting on their hands and finding every excuse imaginable and choosing to be distracted from the underlying issues.

This is my truth – agree, disagree, or agree to disagree, I really do not care. My truth does not represent the truth of all African Americans, but it was influenced by similar and often the same life experiences we all share. I have a lot on my mind and most of it is fueled by anger, frustration, disappointment and sadness, so what I’m going to say is what’s on my mind at the moment. I would like to take this time to paint a picture that I hope will replace the images of the last few days and lead to a level of understanding, sympathy and empathy, and actionable, measurable change. I do not have all the answers and this is not intended to help you figure out what to do. That’s your work.

In 1619, the first Africans were kidnapped and brought to this country. They landed on the shores of Virginia, a place called Point Comfort of all places, and were auctioned off and sold into slavery. From that moment, the blood that ran through the veins of this country did not run for us. The heartbeat of this country did not beat for us. We were never intended to share in its success or live freely within its borders. Think about that, then consider this. Enoch Waters, who graduated from Hampton University in 1933 and worked for the Chicago Defender, the nation’s largest black daily newspaper, and became the editor of the Associated Negro Press, wrote a piece entitled “The Only American.” It reads: “The black man is the only American who came here not seeking freedom, because he had been robbed of it. Not looking for a home, because he had been snatched from his. Not as a fugitive from persecution, because it awaited him. Not in search of opportunity, because it was beyond his reach. Not in pursuit of happiness, because he had left it behind. Not hoping for love, because there was none for him. And not willingly, because he came as a slave in chains.”

Think about that. Paint that picture in your mind and sit with it.

Also sit with this: There were multiple generations of black people born in this country that never experienced freedom. I will say it again: There were multiple generations of black people born in this country that never experienced freedom.

Fast forward to the life and times of my grandfather, Warren Henry Roberts. He served and fought for this country. He fought for freedoms and rights that he did not have access to in this country. When he returned home, he was still called the n-word. He could not eat in the same restaurants or drink from the same water fountains as his fellow white soldiers. He could not sit in the same classrooms or live in the same neighborhoods. The back door was still the expected entrance to most establishments. He did not have the same access to healthcare, education, jobs or housing that the white soldiers had. He could be beaten or even murdered for just looking at a white woman, and many of the perpetrators of these actions were white dudes who fought alongside him. So when I think about Colin Kaepernick kneeling and all of the shouts are ‘He’s disrespecting the flag, the military and this country,’ my blood boils. Our sacrifice for this country is unmatched, and it’s not even close.

Now fast forward to the life and times of my father, Richard Ray Roberts Sr., and my uncles – and in this moment I don’t want to forget all the black women who suffer the most when black men are snatched from their lives and they’re not fathers, they’re not providers, they’re not husbands and they’re not someone to love on. They were denied opportunities, were tormented and had to face and endure blatant racism and hate, and had to bite, scratch and claw for limited resources and essential jobs. It saddens me to know that my dad’s best self was diminished and limited because of systems, mindsets and people who did not value him as a man or as a human.

Then I think of my life. The things I’ve seen. As a kid I witnessed Klan marches in my town. The summer before ninth grade while on a bike ride with my cousin, I was chased by a group of white dudes. I crashed and broke my wrist. I missed the beginning of the football season because of it. And I cannot count the number of times I’ve been called the n-word. My mother was told by my elementary school principal that I should attend a college that focused on football because I would never graduate from the University of Virginia. I felt like I wasn’t completely welcome at the University of Virginia. Even as a player in the NFL while a member of the Detroit Lions, I was pulled over and asked to explain how I could afford such a nice car, or what work did I do to afford it. I was also stopped through my own neighborhood and asked why was I there. I was stopped in Redmond, Wash., just a little ways from my home, and asked if I was lost.

Then I think of more recent things, like athletes being told to stick to sports or players being called SOBs by the president. To African American men being murdered by those who are sworn to protect. When it comes to people of color and protests or push back in this country, it more times than not is met with force and aggression, while whites toting guns, assault rifles and who knows what else are free to move about and within a state capitol building, screaming in the faces of law enforcement and taunting them. Then I think to white mass shooters being apprehended alive and even taken to Burger King or even taken water to be made comfortable. And I see black men have died for selling cigarettes and CDs, while being stopped for a traffic violation, being killed while in cuffs, and like Mr. Floyd begging to breathe and shouting out for the comfort and safety of his already deceased mother. I can’t help but have images of slaves being beaten and hung to death, begging and shouting out for the comfort and safety of their motherland.

I could go on and on.

I believe and feel that what we are seeing and witnessing in this moment is an uncovering or exposing of a wound that was never meant to be tended to nor healed. We were expected to lay down, obey, fall in line, or bleed out. And honestly, guys, there is financial gain for some to keep it that way. CNN, FOX, other sports outlets, other media outlets and platforms all feed the beast. They lack cultural and racial representation, cultural awareness and competence, and engage in divisive language, opinions and programming because it drives listenership, and that fills bank accounts. It’s like a competition or sport in and of itself – who can be the most outrageous, the most controversial, the most divisive. It has become a game to gain the most listeners so that they can pat themselves on the back and feel good about their ratings and put money in their pockets, and although I appreciate the opportunity to speak freely on this station, Bonneville is just as guilty.

So to close, this is bigger than George Floyd, or Trayvon Martin, or Ferguson, or Martin Luther King Jr., or Malcom X. This is about a historical mindset and system that was never, never intended to benefit us, and we were never expected to defeat it or overcome it. And to those of you who are participating in the riots: Know that there are those who see this as an opportunity to destroy, rob and steal. Know that there are those covertly involved to instigate so that the peaceful protestors are blamed. Know that destruction and violence is how the other side expects and wants you to respond, so that they can use these actions so that they can distract themselves from the real issues and use as an excuse not to hear us. Know that if they can’t hear us, they cannot be challenged to defeat their own biases, isms, flawed mindsets, perspectives and actions, and if they can’t do that, they can’t have their hearts changed. And if they can’t do that, then policies and laws do not change. And if that happens, the future is bleak and we continue to lose and injustice continues to prevail.

And to those on the other side: You know the game that is being played. You know what the issues are, and you are choosing to be distracted. By doing so, you protect your level of comfort, and your comfort will be the reason our country will never be its best self. Choose to engage the discomfort of putting in the work. Challenge and defeat yourselves. It is an individual and personal journey, and use your privilege, access, resources, influence, knowledge and power to help make a difference and deliver change.

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 6

“Another Pair of Shoes”

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

 

Last week I wrote a devotion entitled, “Empathy.” In it, I described empathy, as one who was willing to walk in another person’s shoes. I also used the scripture from Galatians 6:2, which states, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

The burden that Paul encourages his fellow believers to carry carries some important nuances. This burden we are to help carry causes pressure. This burden feels like a weight under increased pressure, as if you are sinking deeper into the sea. This burden is also something that a person has difficulty wrestling. Perhaps a good picture is a wrestler on a mat, trying to secure a solid hold. Also, this burden can tilt toward feelings of grief and loss. This burden might grab ahold of a person grappling with the loss of a spouse, a loved one, a job or even just loss of the way things used to be.

Paul encourages us to recognize that there might be those around us who are feeling under pressure, wrestling, and/or grieving from a loss. This might describe you. You are not alone. Others are wearing your shoes. As a family of faith, we have been called to help carry one another through these challenging times.

Last week, I read a story in the Washington Post. I think some of our people might be wearing these shoes. We hear a lot about the shoes that the doctors, nurses and other essential workers are wearing. There are also some less obvious shoes that can also be pretty tough to wear.

“I apologize to God for feeling this way” by Eli Saslow

(Gloria Jackson is grappling with loneliness in Minnesota. This is her story.)

I try to remember that I’m one of the lucky ones in all this. What do I have to complain about? I’m not dead. I’m not sick. I haven’t lost my job or gone broke. I’m bored and I’m lonely, and so what? Who’s really going to care about my old-lady problems? Lately, when I see people talking about the elderly, it’s mostly about how many of us are dying off and how we’re forcing them to shut down the economy.

I tell myself I should be more positive. I should be grateful. Sometimes I can make that last for an hour or two. A day can drag on forever when you’re isolated all by yourself. I sleep as late as I can. I try not to look at the clock. I go on Facebook and read about all the ways this country is going to hell in a handbasket. I turn on the TV to hear a bit of talking. It’s been almost seven weeks since I’ve spent time with a real, live person. I haven’t touched or really even looked at anyone, and it’s making me start to think recklessly. The other day I went to Walgreens to pick up my medications and I sat in the parking lot and thought about going inside. I was wearing my mask and I had my inhaler. I wanted to run a normal errand, look at the chocolates, maybe find my way into a conversation. But I stayed in the car and went to the drive through. I put on my gloves and handed my card to the clerk through a hole in the glass window. I took the medicine and gave a little wave.

If I get this virus, I’m afraid it would be the end of me. I’m 75. I’ve got all I can handle already with my asthma, fibromyalgia and an autoimmune disorder. The best way for me to survive is by sitting in my house for however many weeks or months it’s going to take. But how many computer games can you play before you start to lose it? How many mysteries can you read? I realize time is supposed to be precious, especially since mine is short, but right now, I’m trying every trick I know how to waste time away.

Negative thoughts creep up like that. I start getting crabby. It’s waves of anger and depression, and I beat myself up for it. People have it a whole lot worse. Obviously!

I’ve got two daughters out of town who call me and check in, but I don’t want to guilt them. I’ve got a high school friend who dropped off groceries. I’ve got a dog and two cats that need to be cared for which gives me something to do. I’ve got my own manufactured home with flowers blooming all over the house. A lot of people don’t realize there’s a big difference between a trailer park and a mobile home community. I’ve spent hours lately driving up and down every block of this neighborhood looking at people’s yards, checking out whatever might be poking through the dirt. One morning I drove my dog to the river. People were walking on the path, and I was worried about the droplets and all that. We sat in the car and cracked the windows and listened to the water.

It feels like everybody here is trying so hard to be cheerful, but boy does it take an effort. The other day was supposed to be the beginning of baseball season, and I love baseball, and the anchor came onto thee local news and said: “Let’s all try to look on the bright side! Let’s find a way to celebrate Opening Day even though nobody is playing.” He showed pictures of fans wearing their Minnesota Twins T-shirts, or rubbing hand sanitizer onto a baseball to play catch, and I thought: You know what I’d really like to do right now if I’m being honest? I’d like to find a bat and a ball and go break a few windows.

I apologize to God for feeling this way, but he made me how I am. I’m over this whole thing. I used to be an optimist, but I’m not anymore. I’ve never been this angry, and it’s an ugly way to feel. Maybe when you don’t get to see anybody for weeks, emotions get bottled up and have nowhere to go. I get sucked into Facebook, and I keep scrolling down from one thing to the next, yelling at my computer as the posts get more and more insane. Mike Pence was just here in Minnesota, visiting patients at the Mayo Clinic, and he went against their policy and refused to wear a mask. It’s like: “Really? How arrogant can you be?” Next, it’s someone posting pictures of people crowded together like sardines at a beach in California. “You idiots. Do you care about anyone but yourself?” Then it’s the president’s saying it might be a good idea to inject some kind of bleach or disinfectant. “No thank you, but you go right ahead if you want to poison yourself.” Then it’s a militia group taking over a state capitol. It’s doctors who have to wear garbage bags instead of gowns. It’s how at least most of the deaths are people over 70 with preexisting conditions. “Oh, what a relief. Who cares about them?” It’s some stockbroker or whatever saying the elderly were holding this country back from reopening, and maybe it’s their patriotic duty to be sacrificed for the sake of the economy. “Sorry to be an inconvenience to your financial portfolio. Sorry I’m still breathing.”

It enrages me. I spent my career working for the federal government at Veterans Affairs. I raised my kids by myself. I basically had to raise my ex-husbands. I marched and fought for women’s rights. I volunteered for political campaigns. I pay taxes and fly a flag outside my house because I am a patriot, no matter how far America falls. But now in the eyes of some people, all I am to this country is a liability? I’m expendable? I’m holding us back?

Everyone knows me as a kind person. I used to wear a peace necklace. I’ve gotten old enough that I just say whatever I think with no filter, but I don’t always like what comes out. This isn’t how I used to be.

There’s a lot I don’t recognized about what’s happening now. This country is so completely different from the one I came into. My uncle was at the Battle of the Bulge the day I was born. I arrived right near the end of the war, and most of my life was American boom times. We were the leading country in everything when I was young. My dad left for a while to work as a chef on the Alaskan Highway and he traveled through Canada so we could carve a road 2,000 miles over the Rockies in the dead of winter. We did whatever we wanted just to show that we could. That’s how it felt. I graduated from high school and started working when I turned 18, and within about a year I was earning more than my parents. That’s how it went. It was up, up, up.

And what are we now? We’re mean. We’re selfish. We’re stubborn and sometimes even incompetent. That’s the face we’re showing the world. It seems like some of these other countries almost feel sorry for us. New Zealand and South Korea beat this virus back in a few weeks. We’ve gone from 10,000 deaths to thirty thousand to sixty some, so I guess we’re still leading the world in that.

We can’t get out of our own way. Are we shutting down or opening up? It’s the states against the feds. It’s conservatives against liberals. There’s no leadership and no solidarity, so everybody’s doing whatever they want and fighting only for themselves which means everyone who’s vulnerable is losing big. Minorities. Poor people. Sick people. Immigrants. Elderly. We’re the ones who will never recover. That’s the truth I’m learning about this country, even if I should have known it earlier.

I don’t like feeling this way. Maybe somewhere in this we’ll see a great lightning strike of American ingenuity. I doubt it, but maybe. There’s no choice but to be hopeful. I’m staying alive and sitting in my house and waiting. Where else am I going to go? I’ll be here.

Can you feel the weight of Gloria’s shoes? Maybe you are wearing a pair of them right now.                   The pressure, the wrestling, and the loss that Gloria is feeling is palpable.   

Many people are struggling to walk down this road and hold on to hope.  

If you are feeling her pain, remember that you are not alone. Remember that there is One who has worn your shoes. He walks beside you and is in you. Jesus feels your pain.

We have no idea how this pandemic will play out. But our hope is not in this world. Our hope is in the one who walked the road to Calvary. He will carry us home.

In the meantime, God help us to carry each other in your strength.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark