“Where Do You Stand?”

On August 9, 2014, an 18 year old young man named Michael Brown was killed after a struggle with police.  Brown’s body then lay in the street for four hours before it was brought in.  This act, along with the fact that Brown was black and the police officer involved is white, sparked a great deal of controversy, spurred on by those outside of the community of Ferguson, Missouri.

On November 24th, after many hours of deliberation, the grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson–the officer involved in the shooting.  Like many, I couldn’t turn away from the TV set as I watched a group of protestors change into a violent mob.  Out of that mob, though, one person caught my eye.  He carried a sign that read “Where do you stand?”  The implication, of course, being “if you stand with Wilson/the police/government then you are standing in opposition to Brown/us.”

Such a question seems very divisive.  It draws the “us v. them” line that I described above.  However, I saw that question in a different light.  Our theme this school year is “Stand in Mercy” and so, as I looked at that sign, I didn’t see division, but I did see confrontation.

And there is no doubt that such a question is confrontational!  Even if one views it in a different light than “us v. them” the question confronts us in different ways.

I stand with Michael Brown.  I stand with Brown because, like him, I am a sinner.  There are those who mourn his death and I mourn with them.  A young life has ended.  “But he was a thug!”  “But he just committed a crime!”  Yes.  He was violent and a sinner.  I am a sinner, too.  I do not know if Michael Brown knew that Jesus died for His sins; but I know that he does not have that opportunity to learn it today.

I stand with the opportunists.  There are those who used Brown’s death to further their political agenda or promote hate, chaos, and anarchy–whether in support of Brown or Wilson.  I must confess that I have also felt anger, resentment, and hatred.  I am ashamed, but I have stood with them.  Like them, I am a sinner in need of redemption.

I stand with Darren Wilson.  Whether he is a good man who was in a horrible situation and had to make a decision that ended another’s life and forever changed his own family’s lives or (as some have painted it) a power-hungry, racist cold-blooded killer, I stand with Wilson.

You see, the question of “Where do you stand?” should reveal that we all stand as sinners.  However, through Christ, we stand in mercy!  In His mercy, we are forgiven for those sins.  We no longer stand in judgment!

I pray that the people of Ferguson–and even our nation–are healed.  I pray that they stand in mercy and not in opposition toward one another.

What the Huskers Have Taught Me

Let me explain one of my foundational beliefs:  I am ALWAYS learning.  (That’s a topic that I will cover at some point, I suppose.)  In any situation, I try to slow down and ask myself, “What am I learning from this?”

Well… I must say that I had another “learning moment” on Saturday.  I am a big fan of the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  My dad’s side of the family is from Nebraska and up until 1988, I didn’t really pay attention to college football at all.  But then, while in a hotel room somewhere in the midwest on the way to Nebraska to visit my grandfather who had just had surgery, I watched Nebraska beat Oklahoma in the rain.  I was hooked.  That love for the program grew and I sought out former players to get autographs; I bought old game programs; and after we moved to Nebraska in 1992, I tried going to as many games as I could, always grateful for those who sold or gave tickets to my family.

Now, fast-forward to Saturday, November 15, 2014.  I watched an outstanding display of talent… but unfortunately, it was from the opponent.  Melvin Gordon broke the single-game rushing record against my beloved Huskers.

It was embarrassing.

For those that don’t know, Nebraska had a long, rich tradition of success in football.  Recently, they have had several humiliating defeats on national television.  Without going into great detail, ever since a fateful night in 2012, I have been of the opinion that Nebraska needs a new football coach that will lead the team to greater heights–a place of honor that the program long-held.

For two years, I have had several people disagree with me.  One gentleman sent me disturbing emails, containing several mis-spelled epithets that sounded straight out of R. Lee Ermey’s character from “Full Metal Jacket.”

So it was, after I posted my remarks of disgust following the loss on Saturday, I fully expected the barrage from those who disagreed.

And then I had an idea:  What if I would seek understanding?

I reached out to supporters of the head coach:  Why do you support him?

The overwhelming response was telling:  “If we fire the coach, who are we going to get?”  “What if we get a coach who is worse?”

That was my learning moment.  Nebraska fans RECOGNIZE the problem, but fear has paralyzed them.  The general consensus seems to be that the current coach is better than the last one.  What if we end up with a coach like the last guy?

What would happen if businesses operated this way?  What would happen to innovation?

How about education?  Isn’t this a major problem in education today?  The “we’ve always done it this way” mantra is the frustrating progress-stopper of our day.  Take a risk!  Not every lesson will be amazing or exciting.  Not everything we try will be a success.  That’s okay!  Learn from it.  Teach your students to take calculated, well-thought out risks.  Teach them to be bold by modeling it.  And when something fails, acknowledge it, discuss it as a class, and take steps to change.  Give your students (or your teachers) permission to fail.  Especially within the classroom, wouldn’t we rather have our students experience failure and learn from it than go into society as fragile teacups that have never experienced failure and (as a result) have no experience in not only adapting but even RECOGNIZING the need to change?  See?  I’ve provided you with a great example in the previous sentence.  That sentence has horrible flow and syntax, but I’ll leave it.  Next time I’ll write something in a more eloquent way.

What happens when the church operates in this way?  Or how about in our individual faith journeys?  We are called to be bold; not fearful.  And yet, how many of us boldly proclaim the Gospel?  How many of us live that faith, pray constantly and consistently, and seek ways to serve the Lord?  I don’t ask those rhetorical questions in an accusatory way.  Let me share an embarrassing anecdote:

I went to high school in a small town.  Every year, the local newspaper would publish “Senior Profiles” in the weekly paper.  My senior year, I filled out the form and turned it in to the paper.  Under the section regarding my future, I had written something along the lines of “I want to seek God’s will and do it.”  I will NEVER forget what happened after that was published.  I came to school and Mrs. Martin, who was one of our school’s math teachers and our FCA branch sponsor, stopped me in the hallway.  Her words would convict me:  “John! I read your senior profile!  I never knew you were a Christian!  You should come to FCA!”

I never knew you were a Christian.

That has stayed with me.  So, you see, I’m definitely not writing this from a haughty position.  If anything, I write this as an encouragement to myself.

It’s hard to believe that my favorite team getting destroyed on the field could provide for ANY learning experience.  After all, football is an amusement; a game.  And yet, the feeling of “who else could we hire” spoke deeply to me of underlying issues in education and faith.

(I hope the next lesson I learn from watching Nebraska football has something to do with being a gracious winner after a huge victory…)

He’s My Son

*a break from education and/or theology*

You just gave a dirty look toward that tall boy.  You see him there?  Yeah, I know he looks like he is five or six.  But he’s not.  He’s three.  He isn’t going to be at that level of a five or six year old yet.  And he’s my son.

You cluck and shake your head at that boy for being upset.  You don’t understand how parents would allow a boy that size (not age, mind you) to cry and get upset.  But you know what?  That boy has trouble communicating with others.  He had a hole in his ear for two years and suffered many ear infections that severely delayed his speech development.  You think you are frustrated that you cannot understand him?  Try walking in his shoes.  Or mine… because he’s my son.

Ahhh… that boy is three and has the language of an 18 month old.  He’s *ahem* “slow.”  That’s it.  So you decide to baby him or ignore him.  And yet, that boy can construct and deconstruct 3-D puzzles that have stumped adults.  He can hum along with music on pitch.  He can draw amazing pictures.  He tells funny jokes.  He has mastered the alphabet and counting up to 20.  He has difficulty speaking; not processing.  Trust me, I know, because he’s my son.

Gideon, my son, God has granted you some tough times.  But I cannot wait to see the man that He is molding you to be.

How Can You NOT be Excited?

Administrators and teachers, how is the environment of your school?  How is the focus?  WHERE is the focus?

I know that you have heard those questions before and you may be rolling your eyes.  This is an important question!  Your attitude has a significant impact on the morale of fellow teachers AND of your students.  How you frame your words along with your attitude and your demeanor will play a role in the climate of your school.

I think back to a quote from Principal Skinner in an episode of The Simpsons:  “Attention:  All honor students will be rewarded with a trip to an archaeological dig.  Conversely, all detention students will be punished with a trip to an archaeological dig.”

Is teaching and leading a “reward” or a “punishment?”

Let me give you a real-world example:  I taught with someone who, in response to “Good morning” would say, “What’s so good about it?”  How do you think that made me feel?  In addition to the inability to respond, I would spend the rest of the day wondering if I should talk to this person because I didn’t know what the reaction would be.  The words and attitude created a culture.

Now… why do I bring this up?  Because of example B!

Yesterday, I sat in a meeting about scheduling for the 15-16 school year.  Think about this:  we are meeting, AFTER a faculty meeting, discussing SCHEDULES for the next year.  This is not the typical environment for people to “shine.”

But they did.

Our teachers were ALL very active and engaged, speaking passionately about teaching and education.  And the best part came when, in the course of discussing schedule changes, a teacher asked, “Are there any Lutheran schools that do this well?”

The response by one teacher:  “WE will be the ones who do it well.”

BOOM.

There it is.  That is our culture here, friends.  It is not something that the administration alone has created, though administration has tried to nurture it.  It a culture that has been created by pastors, administrators, teachers, parents, students, and ALL staff members working in accord with the knowledge and understanding that we will strive to be the best.

We strive to provide the best environment and the best education.  We strive to be the best in all of our extracurriculars.  We strive to be the best in meeting the needs of students and families.  We strive to boldly proclaim and live the Gospel in the clearest of terms and actions, not of our own merit or strength, but only through the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

How can you NOT be excited to be in that environment?  How can you NOT want to be a part of that ministry?

If you are in a school that is experiencing a cultural depression, apathy, or even anger and discord, ask yourself:  “What can I do to affect change?”  You cannot control others, but you can control your own attitude, words, and actions.  In so doing, you may influence others to be positive voices.  Systemic change is never easy or quick, but commit to it!

After all, Lutheran schools–with the truth of Scripture as our foundation–have EVERY reason to gladly face the school day!