Let Us End Racism

It’s been more than 20 years since that moment. I still remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in my dorm room in Brooke Towers at West Virginia University when a group of my friends came back to the floor. They lived just a couple rooms from me and, occasionally, we would go to dinner together in the cafeteria.

On this particular day, however, one of them noticed a shopping cart that was in the hallway. It was a long-standing game for those of us who lived in the Towers community to “borrow” shopping carts from the Kroger down the hill. I admit to borrowing one or two during my two-year residence at Towers.

For some reason, the presence of the shopping cart agitated this student. He became irate. He slammed the cart across the hall. He screamed out words I can still hear today.

I hate these n#####!

Down the hall was another hall friend of mine. He would soon become famous for his standout performances as a running back on the football team. I cannot recall if he was there, but the words were shouted loud enough that if he was, he would have heard them.

I was embarrassed. I was appalled. I was ashamed.

I didn’t shout the words, and it certainly wasn’t the first time I heard them. Growing up in southern West Virginia, you were exposed to racist attitudes and language that sought to separate people. As a kid, you didn’t always have the words and experiences to understand what it was that people were saying. You did, however, know it made you uncomfortable.

That moment, in my dorm room, changed everything for me. I didn’t want to be associated with racists nor did I want to be one myself. I wasn’t perfect in this area, but I wanted to live out the values of my faith stronger that God created us all the same.

I define racism as simply dismissing others because of the color of their skin and making contributions to society that separates people by race. It is a two-fold existence, and we have to recognize where we’ve contributed in some way to either side of the definition. Perhaps we have said things that have dismissed people because of their skin color or we’ve performed acts that have contributed to the separation of races. Sometimes we’ve done both and many times we are silent when we’ve witnessed it.

I pray for the day when racism ends.

I recognize we must be the answer to these prayers. A few years ago, I proclaimed in a sermon that my son’s generation would be the ones to see that dream come true. Several years after making that statement I’m cautious, because our children are formed by our examples and, often times, the examples we often share is of division and separation.

We share the example of dismissing concerns from people of color. When people of color share about institutional biases that favor whites, we often turn to the old advantage that everyone has an equal playing field in America. I’m a white male from Appalachia who has experienced institutional biases based upon my education and where I went to school. How much more so have people of color experienced? We need to hear their concerns and make the appropriate systematic changes that levels the playing field so all may have a chance to succeed in life.

We share the example of valuing heritage over the concerns of symbolic racism. When people of color express how displaying the Confederate flag and statutes brings up images of slavery and oppression, we often dismiss the concerns by saying we are focusing on our traditions and heritage. Instead of hearing their concerns and working together to find proper solutions and balance, we immediately dismiss the comments as detrimental to society.

We share the example of pointing out the differences instead of focusing on our commonalities. We do this by making specific references to the skin color of people of color we meet. There is an issue when we will use phrases like “that black person” or “my Hispanic helper” that we would not use if that same person is white. We point out our differences to the detriment of finding the places of common life and shared interest.

Perhaps, though, the most heartbreaking is that we will immediately accept someone based on their skin color and we will equally question someone by the same attribute. We see this in our politics, in social media, and in life. Acceptance is, sadly, as much about race as it is about the content of someone’s character today.

I bemoan all of this.

The sad thing is our children watch how we treat people. They see how we treat one another and the words and actions we use when it comes to race. Our actions provide more guidance for our children on how to live out God’s love than our words ever can.

If we truly want racism to end in our nation then it cannot begin by passing the baton to a younger and more accepting generation. It must begin with us saying, “Enough is enough.”

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Living With Joy

The Super Bowl is a cultural spectacle. It is the only championship game where you will have more non-fans or marginally interested people tune in to watch the festivities. The game is almost a side attraction to the entire event and day.

You have the six-hour pre-game show. You have the halftime show. You have the commercials. I think more than anything else it is the commercials that non-sports fans will take away from the game. Were they funny? Were they relevant? Did they make you want to buy what they were selling?

This year’s Super Bowl commercials were of the typical variety. You had some that were emotional. You had some that were innovative. You had some that you wished never were aired. And, of course, you had some that were absolutely funny.

For my take, none were funnier than a commercial featuring the iconic Morgan Freeman. The short spot featured Freeman dance and lip sync to a Missy Elliot song while trying to promote “Mountain Dew Ice.” Extra points for anyone who watched the commercial and could remember exactly what Freeman was advertising.hqdefault

Several days after the game and I cannot get the commercial out of my head. I’ve watched it a few times since on YouTube. It is a great commercial. When you watch it you can feel Freeman’s sense of joy. It radiated through Freeman’s performance as he walked from the fireplace to the middle of the floor while trying to keep up with the lyrics. He was enjoying life.

What I love about the commercial, as well, is that Freeman is 80-years old and will soon be 81. Age is truly just a number for Freeman. It was not going to prevent him from enjoying life and living it out.

I don’t know about you, but when I am 81 I want to have that kind of zeal for life. I believe that kind of zeal is what God desires for us. I believe God created us to be people of joy and love who do not allow things like the number of years of our life or our own beliefs of what we can and cannot do keep us from living with a sense of joy.

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 9:2, “I will be filled with joy because of you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.” I read that and hear God calling us to find joy throughout life, to find ways to be emotionally, physically, and spiritually active, and to inspire others with our sense of joy that comes from the Lord.

You are never too old to live with joy. You are never too old to find a way to inspire others. You are never to old to love God and share that love with others. The question becomes what does that look like when you’re 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, or even 90? It is going to look different throughout the ages, yes, but it doesn’t mean we stop looking for joy or serving God simply because we’ve hit a certain age. God doesn’t call us to give up on finding joy in our lives simply because we are not comfortable with our age.

Life is best when we are living it to the fullest for God with joy no matter what age we are.

Sunday Sermon: Run the Race

Today’s sermon will be a little different than normal. This morning, I want to specifically speak to our five youth who were confirmed today. In doing so, I hope I might say something that will impact each of our lives, and that includes my own.

This is a momentous day in each of your lives and in the ministry and life of this congregation. What each of you have done is to make several public proclamations. By your presence, you have proclaimed your thanks for those who have walked with you through the years and have taught you about faith, about Jesus, and about what it means to follow the Lord. You have proclaimed your desire to live for Christ with your every word and breath. Finally, you have proclaimed your intent to be a witness of Jesus Christ through your example and actions in this world.

It is a huge responsibility and blessing you have committed yourselves to today. It is not something to be taken lightly. For as all of us can attest, living for Christ and seeking to be his witness every day are some of the hardest things we will ever attempt to do. That is why stories like the rich young ruler, who wanted as little of Jesus as he could without the Lord wrecking his life, speak to us. We want to proclaim our faith in Christ without the life Jesus desires for us ever messing with the life we want. Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: What Sustains You?

This has been a very difficult week. One of those weeks where the events of the past seven days cannot be ignored.

It began with the images that came out of Nepal as the people there began to look for survivors after a devastating earthquake and aftershock. Nearly 7,000 people lost their life in this tragedy, and it is expected that the number will grow.

As the week progressed, we were met with the images from the events in Baltimore. We watched as the city burned and people protested – many peacefully and some less so – the events surrounding the death of Freddie Gray.

The question that I keep thinking about after this week is: what sustains us? What keeps us going? We look at these events and it is easy to allow them to overwhelm us or even to lead us to the perspective of “is the world even worth it?” What keeps us focused on the main thing when we are overwhelmed by so much hurt, pain, and sadness in our world?

It is a question that I think about when we think about the news of our own lives. What sustains us when life gets overwhelming, or difficult, or challenging?

All of us know what it means to experience the difficulties of life. We have faced the loss of close friends and family members. We have experienced the break-up of friendships. We have experienced the pain of financial struggles and other difficulties. What keeps us going in these moments? Continue reading

Sunday Sermon: By Growing in Faith

Growing up many of my classmates and friends wanted to “be like Mike.” They tried to soar in the air like Jordan. They tried to play defense like him. They mimicked everything about him. 

Not me. I wanted to be like Mickey … Mickey Furfari. Now, that name will mean nothing to you, but back in West Virginia, he is a legend. Mickey is known as the dean of sports writers and has been covering West Virginia athletics for longer than any other journalist. I wanted to do what he did. I wanted to cover the same sports as him. I wanted to be in the same interview rooms like him. I wanted to be just like him. 

Now, I am sure many of you have people in our lives that you admired and who you wanted to emulate your lives after. We all have had people who we thought lived a life worthy of modeling our own life after. Maybe it is a family member. Maybe it is a friend. Maybe it is someone we worked with. Whoever this person may be, they have something about them that we want to be known by. Continue reading

Sunday’s Sermon: Resolution 2015 (Giving)

New Year’s Day has its varied traditions. Many of these traditions are cultural and regional in nature, such as eating black eyed peas or putting a coin in cabbage. Some of these traditions are centered on the idea of seeking good luck and fortune for the new year. Personally, I never understood how one could gain luck through eating cabbage or black eyed peas.

Among those traditions is one we are most familiar with and, perhaps, one we participated in a few days ago. That is the new year’s resolution. The idea that we will resolve to do something different in the new year that we did not do not as much in the previous.

Problem is that it seems we just recycle previous resolutions. Our resolutions often cycle around the common themes of losing weight, saving more money, and finding more ways to relax. Resolutions, though, that are appropriate coming out of a season of heavy eating, tons of purchases, and stressful calendars. For the record, my resolution for 2015 is to find more time to relax and not to stress about the little things in life. We’ll see how long that lasts. Continue reading

Purposeful Waiting

funny-pictures-auto-421780A couple of days ago there was a photo that made its way around the Internet. In this particular photo was a picture of a turkey having an intense conversation with Santa Claus. The turkey wanted to remind Santa that November was his month and that Santa would have to wait until December. This turkey was not interested anyone else grabbing the spotlight.

It was a funny photo, but think about how appropriate it is for us. We are approaching a very busy stretch run that takes us through the end of the year that already seems to be underway. The Holiday Sprint from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day where our calendars are filled and we have a long list of things to do. They say this is the “most wonderful time of the year,” and it is, but we’re often too busy to really enjoy these two months. Continue reading