Red Letter Alerts

These are troubling times indeed. The country is deeply divided along political party lines. Hatred, hypocrisy and deceitfulness abound. Although I’ve watched this divisiveness build up for some time, I was not prepared for the deep division between believers. On one side of the divide are Christians like me who cannot condone behavior that completely contradicts the gospel of Jesus. On the other side are seemingly conservative folks who are able somehow to excuse vile, amoral behavior. And many believers are caught in the middle, not knowing what to believe.

This division between believers is distressing but it should not have surprised me. When I first realized how deep this chasm is, I remember thinking, Jesus warned us that it would be like this. Brother will turn against brother. Believers will be lured away by wolves in sheep’s clothing.

I can’t ignore the AMBER alerts on my phone. They’re too loud. Unfortunately, JESUS alerts are easy to ignore, especially if you let the noise of the world drown out his voice. So I spent some time rereading the red-letter words in my Bible, searching for other warnings.

Ten Red-Letter Warnings

1. Guard yourself against hypocrisy (Luke 12:1)

Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is holding yourself out to be godly but not being obedient to God’s commandments. It is reducing faith to a rigid set of rules about how people should behave – especially other people. It is an outward display of righteousness that does not match what is in the heart. Hypocrites honor God with their lips but their hearts are far from him; they worship God in vain. (Mark 7:6-7)

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were experts in religious laws and made a great show of piety. They practiced cleansing rituals and tithing but neglected more important matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness. They were greedy and self-indulgent. Even worse, they led other people astray.

Jesus was so disgusted by the hypocrisy of the Pharisees that he called them blind guides, a brood of vipers (Matthew 23:13-36). He saw through the outward displays of righteousness into their hearts. To guard yourself against hypocrisy, you must look inside your own heart to see what is not pleasing to God.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

2. Guard yourself against all kinds of greed (Luke 12:15)

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.

Greed is an intense, excessive desire for wealth or possessions. Why did Jesus say that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone rich to enter the kingdom of God? Because you can’t serve both God and money. If you place too much value on money and possessions, you become a slave to your possessions. You will not be devoted to God and the things he values. Instead of focusing on acquiring earthly possessions, we should store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. (Matthew 6:19-20).

But notice that Jesus said to guard against “all kinds” of greed. People can also be greedy for power or fame or attention. Be on guard against any overwhelming desire to acquire more for yourself.

3. Avoid temptation; Take all sin seriously (Matthew 5:19, Mark 9:43)

Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed, than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

Jesus didn’t just warn believers to not be greedy, self-indulgent hypocrites. He warned his followers to take all sin seriously and to not lead others astray. Believers should remove any source of temptation even if it is painful. That may mean giving up something you value – a relationship, a job or a hobby.

Jesus didn’t just caution his followers not to sin in ways that people can see; he set the bar higher. For example, it is not enough to avoid killing; we must also avoid anger and hatred. It is not enough to avoid adultery; we must avoid lusting in our hearts. It is not enough to love your neighbor; we must love our enemies.

4. Watch your words (Matthew 12:34-37)

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

Although Jesus was responding to the scribes and Pharisees in this passage, his words contain a warning for believers as well. Jesus made it clear that what comes out of our hearts is what makes us unclean. When I find myself saying something unkind, it’s a sign that my heart is not pure.

With this warning, Jesus also tells us how to discern wickedness in others so we can steer clear of their influence. We should not ignore hateful words because hateful words come from a hateful heart. Lies come from a deceitful heart. Bullying comes from a mean heart. Boastfulness comes from an overly proud heart.

Make a tree good and its fruit will be good.

5. Consider carefully how (and what) you hear (Luke 8:18, Matthew 13:11-15)

Jesus often spoke in parables. When the disciples asked why, Jesus told them that there are people whose hearts are too calloused and hard to understand his message. If they were receptive to Jesus, they would see and hear and understand with their hearts. Understanding a message through parables takes more study and reflection.

The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”

Jesus revealed secrets about the kingdom of God. Many people hear the message but do not believe. Others believe the word of God, but do not allow it to take root and change them. Anyone who sincerely seeks Jesus can hear and understand. But if we want to understand, we must consider carefully how we listen. Are we listening with an open heart? Are we remaining in his word so we can grow? Or are we letting his words be choked out by life’s worries, riches and pleasures?

There is a real danger in not paying attention to what Jesus is saying, in not sincerely seeking to know God’s will. To me, absolutely the worst words I could ever hear would be Jesus saying, “I don’t know you.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

6. Do not judge, or you too will be judged (Matthew 7:1-5)

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

This one is tough because a lot of people don’t understand the difference between judging and discerning. Jesus is not saying that we should ignore wrongdoing. He is not saying that we shouldn’t warn people about the consequences of sin. He is saying that unless we are without sin (and no one is), we are not qualified to judge other people. Instead of judging, we should focus our energy and attention on correcting our own behavior. We should put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. We are not to condemn other people if we don’t want to be condemned ourselves. If you want forgiveness, you must forgive. Again, don’t be a hypocrite. Deal with your own stuff first.

7. Watch out for deceivers (Matthew 7:15-16)

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?

People will come claiming to be righteous, claiming to speak for God,  but their real motivation is something else – power, money or status. How can you discern whether a teaching is false? Does it glorify God? Is it loving or hostile towards other people? Does it conflict with what the Bible teaches about God? Does it take scriptures out of context?

Be very suspicious of claims that just don’t ring true. The claim that God would “raise up” a wicked man to do something good for this nation does not ring true. Why? Because Jesus made it clear that an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. How do I know that a man is evil? By his rotten fruit: sexual immorality, hatred, discord, jealousy, anger, selfish ambition, arrogance, idolatry, cheating, greed, and dishonesty.

8. Be prepared for division (Matthew 10:34-36)

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”

Jesus warned his disciples about coming division. Being committed to Christ means your relationship with him is the most important relationship in you life. A believer’s values and goals conflict with the world’s values and goals. The choice to follow Jesus separates believers from those who reject him.

But I’m starting to see that the division is not just between those who believe in Jesus and those who don’t. I see the separation between hypocrites and real followers of Christ. I see the separation between Christians who pursue redemption through legalism and those who believe that salvation is through God’s grace alone (sola gratia). And Jesus said that when the Son of Man comes, “he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

9. Be prepared for hatred and/or persecution (John 15:18-21)

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me.

People may hate you not because of what you’ve done or because of who you are but simply because you follow Jesus. As Jesus explained it, the world loves people who belong to the world. If you follow Jesus, you no longer belong to the world. You no longer conform to worldly values. You should be radically different – turning the other cheek, loving your enemies.

A couple of words of caution because many people distort the meaning of this warning.

  • Some believers blame Jesus because they are hated. But many non-believers hate Christians because they don’t see Christ-like behavior. They see a hypocrite. They see someone who is judgmental. They see someone who doesn’t love her neighbor as she loves herself.
  • Some believers use accusations of hatred as a weapon. If you don’t agree with them, they accuse you of being hateful.
  • Many Evangelicals falsely claim to be persecuted. Separation of church and state is not persecution. Not being able to say “Merry Christmas” is not persecution.
10. Be spiritually prepared for Jesus to return (Luke 21:25-28; Mark 13:32-33)

There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.

No one knows when Jesus will return. He will return when people least expect it. While I long for Jesus to return, I do not expect him to return anytime soon. But what if he did? Am I living a life that pleases him? Am I ready for the unexpected?

The first Christians expected Jesus to return at any time. When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy around A.D. 64, he said that there will be terrible times in the last days. He also described the kinds of people that we should avoid.

People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

Guarding yourself with the gospel of peace

Jesus told his followers to be on guard because he did not want them to stray from his teaching. He wanted them to be prepared for difficulties – like the troubled times we face today. He wanted his followers to be on watch for his return.

I can’t imagine anyone who was more prepared for conflict than Paul. He was beaten and imprisoned for spreading the gospel. But he was not discouraged. He encouraged other believers to stand firm in their faith. In a letter to the Ephesians, Paul said to put on the full armor of God so that you will be able to stand when the day of evil comes.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I pray that other believers when faced with the troubles of today will not listen to the teachings of modern-day Pharisees but will instead listen to the words of Jesus.

Thanks for my free lunch…and more

I have a mushy memory from kindergarten about the little half-pint cartons of milk. I wanted to have milk at snack time like the other kids. If memory serves, Mrs. Knowles said, “I thought you didn’t like milk.” I’m guessing we hadn’t paid for it. She told me if I wanted milk, I needed to bring money to school with me. We had just moved to Kansas from Indiana and were living with my grandparents at the time. I went home and said I needed a nickel or whatever it was for my milk. It all got straightened out and I did not have to do without the rest of the year.

We were always poor when I was growing up so I have many memories of doing without. I learned to not ask for much, even things I needed. I remember doing without school supplies, like in the first grade when I didn’t have an eraser. I remember walking home looking at the ground, hoping I would find a piece of rubber or something else that would work better at rubbing out my mistakes than a wet finger.

As I got older, I learned what it was like to sit on the sidelines and not participate in sports or other activities because we couldn’t afford it. There was the time that my class was taken down the hall to look at music instruments. I would have liked to have chosen a clarinet but I knew it was not an option for me. In the fifth grade, on the annual play day, one of my sneakers literally fell apart when I was running because it was ripped from front to back.

When I was twelve, I got my first babysitting job. For fifty cents an hour on Saturday mornings, I watched three kids while their mother cleaned at the hotel. I opened up a passbook savings account and saved what little I could from that job and others. As a teenager, I tried to help out by paying for some of my own things. As a teen, I remember asking Mom to take me shopping to Topeka so I could buy a winter coat with my savings. I didn’t choose something fashionable; I chose a simple, cheap one. As a senior, I paid for my own pictures and graduation announcements with the money I had saved. Poverty taught me the value of frugality and self-sufficiency.

I did without a lot growing up but I got to go to a public school whether or not my parents could afford the school books. I had free lunch every day. There were many times when we did not have enough food at our house. How would I have performed in school if I hadn’t had that dependable, balanced meal every day? I will never know. What I do know is that I was a good student and I am grateful that there are people in the world who thought I should eat.

As a kid, I was well aware that there were people who looked down on us for being poor. I heard the whispers and saw the dirty looks. I knew that people resented us because their tax dollars contributed to our welfare. I write about what it was like to be a poor kid because I hope that people will have mercy on the children who will be harmed by proposed cuts to school lunch programs, the Pell grant program and after school programs that help poor students.

So let me take this opportunity to say thank you, taxpayers, even those of you who resent the poor, for paying for my free lunch. I didn’t ask to be poor any more than you asked to feed someone else’s kid, but thank you, because you did the right thing, even if it was against your will.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney defended cuts to school programs with his claim that there is no demonstrable evidence that programs that feed poor kids help them do better in school. He believes that hard-working taxpayers should not have to pay for welfare programs that help the poor without proof that it makes a difference. He is one of those people who would have looked down his nose at me and resented me for being what Paul Ryan calls a “taker” and not a “maker.” But again, I was just a kid. I didn’t ask to be poor.

Today, I am demonstrable evidence that programs that help the poor pay off in the long run. Government grants paid for about a third of my college costs. I still had to work and I still had to get good grades to keep my scholarships. When I graduated with a degree in accounting, I made $21,000 a year at my first job at a CPA firm. That was three times what I could have made at minimum wage. Over the past thirty-two years, I have paid tens of thousands more in income taxes than I would have paid if the government had not helped me out when I needed a hand up. I’ve paid for my free lunches and free school books and college tuition assistance many times over.

The President didn’t ask me if I want my tax dollars to go towards increased military spending or towards building a wall or towards providing security for his second home or for his frequent trips to Florida. Believe me, I would rather pay for free lunches or Meals on Wheels or for taking care of our veterans. But I don’t get to choose where my tax dollars go and a shocking  quarter of every dollar goes towards military spending.

The sad thing to me is that even religious people who should care about the poor often don’t. I see more expressions of compassion from my atheist friends. One of my evangelical friends recently repeated what she heard a guy say on the radio about the difference between Christians and liberals: Christians believe that we should care for the poor with our own money but liberals want the government to pay for everything! Yet I have never heard an anti-government Christian explain just how the church or secular community would replace the government’s role in providing help to the needy.

So again, thank you American taxpayer for every bit of government financial assistance I received in the first twenty-one years of my life. I know there are people who don’t think I was worth it, but thank God someone did.

Reflections on Columbine

Eighteen years ago, two high school students plotted a massacre at Columbine High School, which is only about twenty miles from my home. On April 20, 1999, they killed twelve students and a teacher in one of the most deadly school shootings in U.S. history. I remember watching the events unfold on TV that day and how horrified I was that anyone could do something so evil, let alone two kids. Recently, I read Columbine, the book by Dave Cullen, and learned that a lot of what we had been told about the massacre was not true.

One widely spread myth was that Cassie Bernall was shot because she confessed her faith. A witness said that Cassie’s killer asked if she believed in God and she said yes before he shot her. There was some truth behind the rumor. A student was asked if she believed in God but it was not Cassie; it was Valeen Schnurr. While the martyr myth persists, the truth is more compelling to me. The purpose of professing faith is not to bring glory to yourself but to bring glory to God. Valeen seems to understand this. Although I don’t understand why Cassie’s mother Misty chose to write a book that perpetuated this myth, even after being told it wasn’t true, I can understand how desperately she must have wanted something positive and inspiring to come from her daughter’s senseless death.

Columbine was a spiritual turning point for me. In my grief I returned to church because I wanted to be with people who believe in goodness and love. Columbine reminded me of how much evil there is in the world. It was frightening to think that the world had changed so much in my lifetime that students who were bullied would strike out at their peers with hatred in their hearts. That’s not how we responded to bullying when I was a kid.

After reading Cullen’s book, I know that the motive was not retaliation for bullying. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not social outcasts – they had lots of friends. They did not target jocks or any other group for revenge. They wanted to kill as many random people as possible.

In the immediate aftermath, it became clear that Eric Harris was the more evil of the two killers. He wanted to outdo Timothy McVeigh, the primary perpetrator behind the Oklahoma City bombing. He intended to kill several hundred students by placing two bombs in the “Commons” area, timed to explode at the busiest time of day. He and Dylan planned to shoot at the bomb survivors as they raced for the exits. Fortunately, Eric was not a skilled bomb maker. Unfortunately, he was able to acquire guns easily by asking a fellow student to purchase them at a gun show.

Eric predicted that people would not understand his reasons for murdering. He figured they would say that he was insane or crazy. Based on the evidence, including the basement tapes and Eric’s journals, it is likely that he was a psychopath, though most are not violent. His motive for killing was twofold: to demonstrate his superiority over others and because he got a sadistic pleasure out of it.

Psychopaths are not insane but they do have a personality disorder. They lack empathy. Psychopaths do not have the depth or complexity of emotions that normal people experience. A psychopath’s emotions are primitive, a reaction to threats to their own welfare. They experience emotions like frustration, rage and indignation.

The frightening thing about psychopaths is that they are skilled manipulators. They are able to mimic normal emotions easily – joy, grief, sadness, anxiety – and can be quite charming. They are proud of their ability to disguise their disregard for others and enjoy fooling people. It’s like a game to them.

Eric did not have respect for morality, justice, rules and laws. In his journal, he wrote that there is no such thing as true good or true evil, that morality is relative to the observer. He had no mercy or compassion for others. He held other people in contempt.

Dylan was not a psychopath; he was a depressive. He had been thinking about killing himself for two years and self-medicated with alcohol. Dylan was lonely and self-conscious. He was disgusted with himself. Dylan was also very smart and had a bright future ahead of him. He was introspective. He believed in God and an afterlife. Unlike Eric, he did believe in ethics and morality. He showed that he had the capacity for love, often writing about his crush on a classmate.

As I said, the Columbine massacre reminded me that there are truly evil people out there who are bent on hurting as many people as possible. But tragedies also reveal how much goodness there is in the world and how much healing is possible when people respond with love.

Cullen told the stories of many survivors and families of the victims – stories of struggles, resilience and forgiveness. Cullen was personally impacted by Patrick Ireland, a student who was shot in the head and foot. Although he had brain damage and had to struggle through rehab, his injuries did not define him or set the tone for the rest of his life. Val Schnurr is another example of a survivor who endured years of pain, therapy and counseling. She chooses to focus on the positive and is not consumed with understanding why the tragedy happened. She forgave the parents of the killers and bears no ill will towards Eric or Dylan.

For all of Eric’s contempt for his fellow man, his inhumane actions in fact revealed the beauty of humanity. Faced with physical trauma and pain, survivors demonstrated courage, persistence and determination to overcome. Faced with deep emotional scars, survivors demonstrated resilience, optimism and hope. Confronted with unimaginable cruelty, survivors showed an amazing capacity for forgiveness towards the monsters who wronged them.

In the years since Columbine, there have been many other mass shootings. After Columbine, I hoped that the national response would be to pass commonsense gun control legislation. With every tragedy, my hope wanes. In some cases, mental illness plays a role in the decision to kill others but most of the violence in America is not linked to mental illness, it’s a symptom of our violent culture. In two years, when America looks back at Columbine, how will we explain the fact that we have learned nothing?

 

Today I march because…

Today I will march in Denver, Colorado because I believe in the foundational principle that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Everyday I walk by a framed poster that I purchased in Memphis at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. It says: The struggle for freedom, equality, and justice transcends race, religion, political affiliation, and even death. This sentence reminds me that thousands of people before me, including my hero Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, fought to ensure that the freedoms I often take for granted were extended to women, people of color, and other marginalized groups.

In the days after the election, I vowed that I will stand up and defend those who live in fear because of the 45th President’s hateful, authoritarian rhetoric. Because God has shown me what is good, I promise to do what He requires of me: to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8). I pledge to be a Matthew 25 Christian. I promise to help the vulnerable (“the least of these” in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats). That includes immigrants, Muslims, and people of color who still face discrimination. Turning my back on their suffering during these troubled times would be refusing to help my Lord and Savior.

During times of struggle, I often turn to the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

But I like the way Angela Davis put it even better: I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I’m changing the things I cannot accept.

  • I cannot accept racism
  • I cannot accept sexism
  • I cannot accept xenophobia
  • I cannot accept homophobia
  • I cannot accept misogyny
  • I cannot accept threats to freedom of speech, including the free press
  • I cannot accept threats to religious freedom
  • I cannot accept threats to our democracy

I believe in truth. I believe in justice and mercy. I believe in basic human decency. This is why I am marching today with thousands of other women and men across this country.

I am a watchman, Harper Lee

My husband and I recently watched the documentary Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t remember ever reading To Kill a Mockingbird but have watched portions of the movie multiple times. My local library didn’t have the book so I read Go Set a Watchman, the book that was published 55 years after Lee wrote it. Although the book has been criticized for not being as polished as Mockingbird, I found it worth reading and am glad it was published.

Sometimes timing is everything. If I had read Watchman when it was first out a couple of years ago, I don’t think it would have touched me in the same way that it does today. But coming after the election of a man who plays dog-whistle politics, it reflected my own feeling of betrayal by people I thought shared my belief that racism is wrong. It captured my own feeling of disconnectedness from the culture and politics of my time.

In Watchman, the 26 year-old Jean Louise (Scout), returns to the small town of Maycomb, Alabama for a two-week visit. At church, the music director messed with the familiar doxology by changing the tempo to make it more upbeat – evidence that the people up North were even trying to influence worship services. Then the minister, Mr. Stone, preached a sermon on a Bible verse that provided the title to the book: “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth” (Isaiah 21:6).

The pivotal event in the book began when Jean Louise found out that her father, Atticus, and her childhood sweetheart, Henry, were going to a Citizens’ Council meeting. She followed them to the meeting and watched from the balcony as an “ordinary, God-fearing man” gave a very racist speech to the Council, frequently using the offensive ‘n’ word. He ranted about blacks mongrelizing the race. He told the Council that God intended for the races to be separate. He spoke about preserving segregation and most hypocritically, of preserving “Christian civilization.”

Jean Louise was devastated to see her father and boyfriend sitting at the table listening to such vile racist speech. By being there and listening, her father seemed to be condoning it. Her father was the one man that she had ever “fully and wholeheartedly” trusted and she had always looked up to him as a true gentleman. In letting this racist man speak to the Council, she felt that he had failed her and “betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.”

Discovering that the man she idolized did not share her conviction that racism is wrong made Jean Louise wonder how she could have ever missed the clues when she was growing up. She realized “that all her life she had been with a visual defect which had gone unnoticed and neglected by herself and by those closest to her: she was born color blind.”

Later, Jean Louise’s aunt Alexandra hosted a coffee for the ladies of Maycomb.  Jean Louise had no idea what she would talk to them about. She listened to the idle chatter of Hester, a woman who didn’t seem to have an original thought; she merely repeated what her husband told her. Hester claimed that blacks up North were using Gandhi’s tactics – communism – to get a hold of the country. To herself, Jean Louise thought:

I should like to take your head apart, put a fact in it, and watch it go its way through the runnels of your brain until it comes out of your mouth. We were both born here, we went to the same schools, we were taught the same things. I wonder what you saw and heard.

Jean Louise chatted with another friend, Claudine, who wondered what it was like to live in New York. The friend had visited once but couldn’t imagine living there with blacks, Italians and Puerto Ricans. Jean Louise told her that she didn’t even notice them. Claudine told her she must be blind. Jean Louise realized she had in fact been blind to not “look into people’s hearts.” In growing up around blacks, she  never got the idea that she should despise them or fear them or mistreat them. She thought to herself, I need a watchman to lead me and tell me what he sees and to teach me the difference between this kind of justice and that kind of justice.

When Jean Louise spoke to her Uncle Jack about her disillusionment, he told her that the South was not ready for the political philosophy being pushed on it – the end of segregation and changes in the country’s attitudes about the role of government. The resentments were much as they are today:

The have-nots have risen and demanded and received their due – sometimes more than their due.

You’re protected by old age by a government that makes you save because it doesn’t trust you to provide for yourself in old age.

Uncle Jack told Jean Louise that “every man’s watchman is his conscience.” She had confused her father with God and attached her own conscience to his. Seeing him do something that was the complete antithesis to what her conscience said was right made her feel physically ill.

Near the end of the book, Jean Louise decided to leave Maycomb but Uncle Jack asked her to stay. He told her there were people on her side. He said “we need some more of you.” Jean Louise said “I can’t fight them” and “I can’t live in a place that I don’t agree with and that doesn’t agree with me.” But Jack told her, your friends need you when they’re wrong, not when they’re right. He encouraged her to stay and make a difference.

Betrayed. Bewildered. Confused.

This is how you feel when people you thought you knew and thought you could trust to do the right thing betray the values you thought you had in common. It is how you feel when you realize that you see the world differently than the people you grew up with or work with or socialize with. How can they condone racist behavior? How can they remain silent when someone says something so bigoted and outrageous? You’d like to understand how in they world they see the same things you see but fail to see or care about the injustices of racial stereotyping and unequal treatment in the criminal justice system.

The Swinging Pendulum of Social Justice

When I was in college, one of my professors told the class that throughout history progress has not been linear; it’s more like a pendulum swinging from one side to the other. When people on one side get uncomfortable with the rate of progress, they swing the pendulum the other way. In Watchman, the people of Maycomb resisted the efforts of the NAACP to end segregation and to change the jury selection process. In 2016, voter suppression efforts were implemented across the country.

I was born at the end of the Civil Rights Era so I was not aware of how bad things were at the time. Unlike Jean Louise, I grew up in a small white town in the Midwest. I had no direct exposure to racial issues. But I learned to sing “Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they’re all precious in His sight” and I believed it.

In my 50 plus years, I watched as racial stereotypes of the 1950’s and 60’s were broken. I watched African-Americans become more successful – financially, politically, academically, and professionally. Interracial relationships became acceptable. As a nation, we have made great progress, but we still have a long way to go. Racism, and prejudice still lurk below the surface. Inequalities of opportunities and outcomes still persist.

Eight years ago, I voted for the first black president. My Christian friends called Obama a socialist and the anti-Christ. I had a conversation with a loved one who told me that Obama was trying to force something into law because that’s what “they” do. I couldn’t understand why she would believe that. So much hostility has been directed at our black President and First Lady, it is hard to believe that racism does not play a role. The current president-elect repeatedly tried to delegitimize the President with the lie that Obama was not born in the U.S.

Then blacks started protesting the senseless deaths of black men, many at the hands of law enforcement. Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. A new racial movement began – Black Lives Matter. And many whites, unwilling to listen to their concerns, countered with “All Lives Matter.” When famous athletes kneeled during the national anthem to call attention to racial issues, whites became angry that they weren’t showing proper respect for symbols of our flawed country.

History has shown that when people get uncomfortable with progress, they swing the pendulum in the opposite direction.

I am a watchman

It’s been 60 years since Harper Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman. Watchman reminded me that history really does repeat itself. Throughout history, people have resisted social progress, often by spreading fear. Jean Louise’s uncle was a wise man. Those of us who believe in racial equality can let our friends know when they’re wrong. We can stand up for the rights of people of all races. This nation needs more people to be a watchman – a social conscience pointing out the difference between the kind of justice freely given to white men and the kind of justice that women and minorities have always had to fight for.

In Isaiah 21:6, a watchman was posted at the city wall to look out and report what he sees. I’m also watching and listening. I’ll tell you what I see. I see that racial prejudice still exists. I see that blacks are still not treated with the same dignity and respect as whites, even when they’re smarter and more capable. I see that blacks live in fear of being arrested for something they did not do, or worse, that their children will not survive to adulthood. I invite you to climb inside the skin of a black person and walk around in it.

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. – Harper Lee

Today the United States is once again divided on issues of religion, immigration, race, globalism, and the role of government. Many people blame “others” for their own worsening socio-economic status. Yesterday Dan Rather asked how people would describe the age in which we find ourselves. One woman wrote that we’re in the One Step Back phase of progress. I agree. Thankfully, we’ve taken many steps forward in my lifetime. Now we’re regressing as people try desperately to get back to the way things used to be. But those of us who believe in social justice should see this as a temporary setback, as a call to activism. Let’s stand on watch and tell the world what we see. Let us be the social conscience of this country.