The Words I Don’t Have

I have been told on more than one occasion that I’m the guy that always knows what to say. Though I know better, it does encourage me to use the gifts I’ve been given. But today I have far more questions than answers. How do I say (or write) the words I just don’t have.

Yet another horrific occurrence has taken place this week as a man’s life was snuffed out for fear he would continue to resist. Fear is a dangerous thing on every side of situations like that. Fear makes one man cower and another man bow up. Fear makes the pulse race and the options fade. Fear makes the person that is different from me seem dangerous to me.

Fear lies.

And while it lies to me, it keeps me from hearing the truth that I know in my calm, thoughtful, clear moments.

But it keeps happening. And it keeps happening to the same unique population within our country. Brothers and sisters, made in the image of God, whose lives are cut short due to fear, keep dying in bad situations poorly handled.

And here in my comfortable office in my comfortable community far, far away from those cold big-city streets, fear works on me. It tells me I don’t have anything to say. It tells me I can’t speak about the injustice because I shouldn’t offend my friends and neighbors in law enforcement. It tells me I can’t speak because I don’t spend time with people who look different from me. It tells me I can’t speak because I am the textbook middle aged white man.

But… fear lies.

There are a significant number of young men in this world that call me dad or for whom I have a father-like role. Three of those young men in particular look very different from me. They look a lot more like the man being held down by his neck than the officer kneeling thereon.

These young men are people I have not only an opportunity but a God-given responsibility to speak to about the hard realities of life. These are the ones to whom I must speak… wisely, carefully, deliberately.

These are the ones who so need the words I don’t have. I can’t say why someone who looks like me could hate someone that looks like them. I can’t explain why I will probably always whisper a prayer without words for their protection when they leave my presence just because they will face stuff  that their brothers who were born to me never will.

At least for this moment, I’m the dad in their lives. And no amount of wise words or good teaching or careful warning will prevent someone from fearing them because they look different.

God help me! I want to say something—to them, to you, to anyone who might read these words… I want to express my outrage and my fear and my embarrassment that stuff like this still happens in this place we still somehow call the land of the free.

How do I say the words I don’t have?

The Ripples of Fear

When a big rock drops into the pond, it makes a lot of ripples.

Yesterday a very big rock dropped into the small pond that 23,000 or so of my friends and I call home. The ripples started big like shock waves with “active shooter” and “multiple fatalities” and the terrifying “suspect still at large.”

The ripples of fear radiated.

There were frantic calls and texts to account for loved ones and friends as the worst of our imaginations ran wild. So many thought instantly of their children and were quickly assured that the local schools were all locked down in wise precaution.

The ripples radiated on and on.

As the initial waves passed and more information became available, the waves began to settle. But fear often leaves a nasty hangover.

In small town Oklahoma, we expect stories like the one unfolding here today to be set in big cities out west or back east. But too many times over the last dozen years we’ve had to swallow the words, “That could never happen here.”

It did happen here. The reports confirmed a “double murder-suicide.”

I didn’t know these people. I know they were hurting, broken people because, in one way or another, we’re all hurting, broken people. And on this day one man’s hurt and brokenness boiled over into this tragic event.

But the ripples of fear keep rolling.

If it could happen in the parking lot where all of us have to go from time to time, it could happen to us or happen in front of us or we could get caught in the mess.

The truth is that it’s not any more likely to happen tomorrow than it was yesterday. But today we were faced with the cold reality that these kinds of things can happen here to our neighbors, our friends… us.

But there are some breakers to the ripples. There are those who refuse to let the ripples of fear roll over them.

There are the law enforcement and emergency responders who have sworn to rush in when fear says to rush out. They break the ripples by the bravery.

There are the educators that calmly engage their lockdown procedures to ensure the safety of our kids. They break the ripples by their calm preparedness.

There are the men and women—just everyday folks—who recognize this horrific event as the exception and not the rule in our mostly very peaceful home. They break the ripples by choking down the “what-ifs” and going on to do their jobs or buy their groceries or whatever they know needs to be done. They break the ripples by their steadfastness.

There are the people of deep faith who are convinced at the depth of their soul that there is a God and he is good and that these things do not disprove his existence but underscore our desperate need for his grace. They break the ripples by calling out to the God they know is listening—independently, collectively, earnestly asking for peace and calm and hope. They break the ripples by their faith.

There are so many things that jar us out of our comfortable delusions that we are safely insulated from these heart-shattering experiences. Since the day that Abel was murdered by his brother in a jealous rage, domestic violence has been an all-too-common part of human society. Those rocks of offense will continue to trigger these ripples through communities just like ours all around the world.

But what will we do with it? Will we determine to be breakers that face the ripples without being deterred in our bravery, our preparedness, our steadfastness, or our faith? Yes, let’s do that.

But what if we try to do more? What if we pay enough attention to our friends and neighbors and coworkers to recognize that the small stone they’ve been carrying suddenly seems to be getting a lot bigger? What if we strive to become the kind of neighbors that can be trusted to listen with compassion and help without condescension?

What if we do what we can to make mental health help available to everyone that needs it and crush the stigma that surrounds it? What if we were to live out that whole “love your neighbor as yourself” business to the point that we could come along and help someone put down their rock before they throw it in the pond?

There will always be ripples of fear in one form or another. What can we do to help break them? 

Remember… “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4.18)

The Need to Remember

It’s been seventeen years since the unimaginable terror of that nightmare day we refer to simply as 9/11. Sixteen times now we have noticed that day on the calendar and felt that ache of what was lost… so many precious lives, the general sense of safety on American soil, the naive innocence that never imagined it could happen here.

I guess the ache is deeper in my own heart this time having recently visited the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. I walked through the streets and felt the gravity of that place just from knowing what had taken place. And, on a cool and rainy April morning, I walked up to the memorial pool in the footprint of the north tower.

(This is a brief video I took as I walked up to the memorial that gives just a momentary glimpse of the sight and sound.)

The names etched on stone, each one a life snuffed out by the insatiable hate of that act, seemed to whisper to me as I glanced across them, longing to be remembered. The sound of the water flowing endlessly through this elegant crater seemed to drown out the noise of the city around us. The realization of what we were seeing and the significance thereof caused people all around to speak in hushed tones and somber demeanor. Continue reading The Need to Remember