Race in America Series: Getting Stopped by Cops

diversityhands“So Nathaniel*, I’ve got a question for you.”

“What’s that,” he said, adjusting his Jansport® backpack. Nathaniel, a first semester community college student, had a solid A in my class due to his impeccable study habits and his professional approach to college. That day, he looked no different than he had every other time I’d seen him—like a stereotypical Ivy League co-ed: short hair, styled fashionably; wire-rimmed glasses; starched button-down shirt; dark blue jeans with a leather belt; and dressy shoes–Sperry’s® I think.

The question I had for Nathaniel arose from a conversation I’d had with an acquaintance the previous day. That month in our community, a 19 year old African American man was shot and killed by a police officer. The young man was allegedly breaking and entering, and officers believed he was carrying a gun. (When he was shot, he was in fact unarmed, though he had been carrying a weapon earlier. You can read the full story here.) This shooting death hit close to home: AJ Marion had graduated with my oldest daughter. He’d been a promising football star and by all accounts, just a really nice guy. Undoubtedly, he’d made some poor choices along the way; most assumed though, that he’d right himself sooner rather than later.

Anyway, I’d seen a mom I knew from my kids’ elementary school days. Her son was about the same age as my kids; I asked if he’d been friends with AJ. She explained that indeed her family and AJ’s were connected through church and family ties and that they were all shocked and devastated.

We talked for a while about the prevalence of police shootings of African American men and then she said, “Oh yeah, I tell my son that if I ever catch him out without his id, I’ll take him into the police station myself.”

Huh? “Um, say what now?”

She repeated herself, but it didn’t help. I had no idea what she meant.

“You don’t make sure your son has his id when he goes out?” she asked me.

“Well, I mean, I tell him not to drive without his license if that’s what you mean.”

“No. What I mean is a police officer can detain anyone and ask for identification. If you don’t have your id, they can take you in for questioning.”

“No way.”

“Absolutely. So I just randomly ask my son for his id just to make sure he always has it with him,” she laughed a little cuz-I’m-the-mama-that’s-why laugh.

“Oh my gosh. I had no idea,” I said, as realization dawned. “I guess I didn’t have to know though. My son is white.”

She nodded. “Mothers of African American boys live in fear of our sons being wrongly accused or worse.”

Heartbreaking. Unbelievable. And in 21st century America.

I thought of my student Nathaniel. Could this be his reality as well?

“It’s a nosy question, Nathaniel, so feel free to tell me to get out of your business.”

“Sure Ms. Aileen, what’s up?” (Despite the fact that I invite my students to call me by my first name, Nathaniel never did, opting for a title he deemed more respectful.)

“Have you been stopped by police and asked for your id?”

He laughed, “Today?”

“Seriously?”

“Ms. Aileen, I’m stopped several times a week, sometimes every day. I get stopped walking from my car or downtown. I’ve even been stopped walking away from this campus. If I have a ball cap or hoodie on, I know I’ll be stopped.” He patted the pocket of his designer jeans. “Got my id right here.”

“This is outrageous!” I said, “How do you not stay furious every single day?”

“Oh, I used to,” Nathaniel said, shaking his head. “But it really doesn’t help to get angry about it. I just figure I’ll keep working on myself, keep going to college, keep moving up, ya know?”

Actually, I didn’t know. I could not imagine how hard it would be to keep a positive attitude while facing such blatant discrimination. “You’re a fine man Nathaniel. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. I had no idea.”

“Thanks. It’s all good. Gotta go to class. See ya Thursday.”

My son, a 6’3”, 18 year old who regularly wears hoodies and ball caps, has never been stopped by the police. Never.

Nathaniel, a 5’8” twenty something who looks for all the world like a future lawyer, doctor, or banker gets stopped weekly, at least.

It’s not all good. Not even close.

*Nathaniel’s name has been changed to protect his identity. I asked my daughter to give me a man’s name that sounded like a doctor’s name. This is what she chose.

Still think racism doesn’t really exist? Take a look at this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ti5ZFmglzV4
Want to know how big the problem is? Then watch this video: http://youtu.be/tkpUyB2xgTM

Guest Blogger: Sacred Connections

Please welcome guest blogger Rev. Dr. Jim McCoy of First Baptist Church of Weaverville. In this month’s letter to the congregation, Dr. McCoy reflects on recent events, both national and local. I was challenged by his words and asked if I could share them with you here. Be blessed.candles

Dear Loved Ones,

Two high profile funeral services were held this past weekend.  On Sunday, a congregation gathered at Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in Rochester,New Hampshire for the funeral service of James Foley, the photojournalist who was murdered by radical extremists from a group called ISIS. On Monday at the Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis, another congregation gathered for the funeral of Michael Brown, the teenager shot and killed by a police officer under disturbing circumstances that are still under investigation.

Given the fury of the events themselves plus the bright glare of a 24 / 7 media, the funeral services provided not only some much-needed context but also profound insights into what these agonizing events mean.  The Bishop who preached at James Foley’s funeral reminded his parents of the blessings they received at their eldest son’s baptism, and how the priest at that time had prayed that they would “see hope of eternal life shine on this child.”  Then the Bishop told Diane and John Foley, “Rarely do we recall those words, but I bring them to mind for you, as they are more poignant and prophetic.”  Imagine that – the remembered vows and promises of baptism provide the mooring when, years later, the floods of chaos threaten to overwhelm.

A cousin of Michael Brown said that Michael had told the family that one day the world would know his name.  “He did not know he was offering up a divine prophecy,” the cousin stated.  “He did not know how his name would be remembered.  But we are here today remembering the name of Michael Brown.”

The funerals of these two men also offered direction and challenge on how to move forward.  Foley’s photojournalism calls us “to see the world through a different lens” and to “hear the cries [of those suffering in war-torn regions] that are a world away.” Michael Brown’s death in the week before he was to begin college brings to a head a host of long-simmering realities of racial inequities.  “We will not accept 3/5 justice,” the family attorney said.  “We will demand equal justice.”

There was another momentous event this weekend, one that for me was even more intensely personal.  I sat by the bedside of Geneva Cheek and sang hymns shortly before she departed this earthly life.  The death of this dear sister in Christ, the blessing of her presence in this church family, and the unshakeable hope that all our lives are woven into the larger story of the Gospel, are a part of the brightest light of all that shines in the darkness.  As we prepare for her funeral, Tom Long’s unforgettable words come to mind:  A saint has died, and is traveling to God, continuing the baptismal journey toward the hope of the resurrection of the body and God’s promise to make all things new.  We have been given the blessed burden of carrying a child of God to the waiting arms of God, singing as we go.

Thanks be to God!

 

 

Dr. Jim McCoy, pictured here with wife Jane, Minister of Music at FBCW.

Dr. Jim McCoy, pictured here with wife Jane, Minister of Music at FBCW.

Dr. McCoy has been pastor at First Baptist of Weaverville, NC for the past 17 years. Dr. McCoy is active in Christians for a United Community and the Ekklesia Project

Race in America Series: A Quest for Hope

 

race-in-AmericaI’m deeply troubled by the great racial divide in our country. This is not a black thing or a white thing. This is a people thing and we really have to do better.

If I were to trace the problem of race in America, I would go back through Jim Crow laws and legalized discrimination. I would go back before Ruby Bridges and Dred Scott. I’d go back to the end of the Civil War when slaves were set free, homeless and penniless, to live in a world that refused to hire them and rushed to oppress them.

But I would not stop there.

I’d go back to 19th century Charleston, SC where shackled men, women, and children shuffle across the auction block as white landowners place a price on humanity. I’d hear the clanging of chains, the crack of bull whips slashing across tattered flesh, the cries of beloved torn from beloved.

But I’d keep going.

I’d go all the way to the coasts of Africa where 18th century opportunists snatched up human beings and stacked them like cheap cargo on ships bound for American shores. I’d want to look away, knowing as I do that so many of them will die on that trip, their bodies discarded with the galley garbage.

Instead though, I’ll look in the face of this imbecilic, barbarian behavior and say, “Here it is! Right here. This sin will fall from father to son, mother to daughter, through generations. This treating people—people created by God Almighty—as objects in your sick game of immediate self-satisfaction is the very essence of evil.”

Think about it. That wrong, that undeniable injustice, has created a culture of oppression and corresponding mistrust that has characterized race relations in America for millennia.

So what do we do about it?

I don’t know. I really don’t. But I believe we absolutely must do something. In my next few blog posts, I’ll be reflecting upon this issue. Will you join me? I’d love to hear your thoughts as we muddle through the mess we’ve made to find solutions for a more just world.

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RIP Charlie

IMG_1463He was supposed to live forever. I felt sure he’d live to be 15 at least. That meant I’d have him another four years minimum. And heck, Butch—the oldest beagle on record—was 27 when he died, so I figured if Butch could do it, so could my Charlie.

Charlie and I found each other one September afternoon in 2003. I’d been looking for a dog since my youngest child, Margaret, went to kindergarten a month earlier (the house had become way too still). I prayed about it all the time, asking God to guide me to the right dog for our family. I had in mind an adult female mixed-breed rescue; but despite visiting several shelters, I had not found one with whom I felt even a slight connection.

It was my husband who suggested a beagle puppy. I checked the classifieds and of all the beagle listings, one ad stood out to me.

“Three month old, tri-color beagle puppy. 
Male. Full blooded.
Parents on site. $100.”

(The ad might as well have said, “The exact opposite of what you think you want.”)

The children (5, 7, and 9 at the time) buckled up, and we followed the back road directions I received when I called the number listed. We rounded the last bend and the address came into view. As we drew closer, I saw a woman out in the yard with a blur of black and tan at her feet. I pulled up and shifted into park. The blur settled into a brown-faced, floppy-eared, saddleback beagle, his white-tipped tail waving to me. Instantly, I knew. I knew because I felt deep in my spirit that all-to-rare feeling of being perfectly in sync with God’s will. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was truly one of the high holy moments of my life.

I bent down and held out my arms. He came to me. And in less than 20 minutes, we were on our way back home with the beagle I’d already named Charlie. At puppy school a week or so later, the trainer remarked, “Wow. Charlie is definitely bonded to you. It’s unusual for such a connection to exist so soon.” Unusual? Shoot; it was downright supernatural.

Fast-forward 11 years to June 7, 2014.  My oldest daughter would be 20 in a month; she was living and working in DC for the summer. My son was about to graduate high school and Margaret, 16, was finishing her sophomore year.

She was the one who called to me, “Mom! You need to come here! Something’s wrong with Charlie!” I went upstairs immediately  to the kitchen where I found Charlie standing, awkward and immobile. He seemed stunned, confused, afraid. I scooped him up and Margaret and I took him to the closest vet. Still, it absolutely did not occur to me that my sweet baby could be dying. That was unthinkable.

By the time we got out of the car ten minutes later, Charlie had begun losing hair by the fistful.  He could still walk, but he trembled all over, his tail sagging and his steps unsure. In the exam room, we held him close, telling him what a good boy he was, so handsome, so brave. When the vet came in, I lay Charlie on the table, continuing to stroke him while I told the doctor what had been happening. After the briefest of exams, the vet told me it didn’t look good. He could barely get a blood pressure and Charlie’s heartbeat was weak.

My husband, my son, and his girlfriend arrived and crowded into the exam room with me, Margaret, the vet, and the vet tech. My beloved beagle lay in the midst of us, fading away. “There’s nothing more we can do for him,” the vet said, “As best we can tell, he’s had a stroke. The humane thing would be to let him go.”

I think I screamed.

Seconds later, his heart stopped beating and he was gone. It hadn’t been forever. Not even close.

When he was alive, Charlie did not actually follow my blog (Google Translate™ doesn’t do Beagle), so I’m pretty certain he’s not reading this now. But if he were, if I could tell him just one thing, it would be this:

“Rest in peace my Sweet Baby. And thank you. My heart is better for having been shared with you.”

(To read more of Charlie’s story, click here, or paste http://aileengoeson.com/?page_id=1597 in your browser.)

 

Liberation Unbound

Guest Blogger Sarah McCoy shared this story as part of a recent presentation on Hands and Feet of Asheville. Sarah has served as a volunteer with this innovative ministry throughout the past year. As a volunteer, she worked at the Church of the Advocate; this story comes from her experience there.


So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. 
Ephesians 2:19-22 (NRSV)

Sometimes it’s easy to see ourselves and our close friends as bricks that God is using to build his house, but it becomes an even greater joy when people who aren’t a lot like us become the bricks around us. And when they are discouraged or start believing lies that they don’t matter, we have the opportunity to lean in and whisper, “You belong here. We need you.” About the first week I was serving at Church of the Advocate, I was doing my best Martha impression, staying busy behind the kitchen counter so maybe I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. I was serving food to our 200 hundred people that come for a Sunday afternoon meal, the last free meal served on Sundays, when one of our regulars named Derek looked at me and said, “What’re you doing after this?”

I was somewhat taken aback, not really wanting to be called out. I tried to think of an excuse of something that had come up that afternoon for me to do, but nothing seemed to come to mind. So, I hesitantly said, “Nothing, I don’t think.”

He said, “let’s go get some ice cream!”

So, after the meal, I walked with Derek up to Marble Slab, and ordered some ice cream. I was ready to pay for him, knowing he was out of a job. But he reached in his pocket, pulled out his Winnie The Pooh wallet and paid for both of us. We sat at the table and I didn’t say a word for two hours, but instead just listened to his story and to his journey. After that, Derek rode back to his campsite and I went back home. It would’ve been easy to get tired of listening to Derek talk. It would’ve been easy to be hesitant about being in that situation. But sometimes, someone just needs to tell someone their story or let someone know that they have something to give, too. A lot of times when we are on a mission to serve, we forget that the ones we are serving have something to offer as well. And sometimes its important for us to remember that while we have a lot to give, sometimes we don’t spend enough time receiving. That’s what Hands and Feet is all about. Being with people. Serving alongside someone. Knowing the people you are with. Recognizing brothers and sisters on the street and calling them by name.

There’s a quote by Lilla Watson, that hangs in the Church of the Advocate where I work, and it so eloquently describes this perspective change that Hands and Feet emphasizes, from doing for to being with. It reads, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”


sarah 2mccoySarah McCoy is a musician, singer, songwriter, and piano teacher (accepting new students) who resides in Weaverville, NC. She and three other mammals play in the band Friendly Beasts. Most days, you could probably talk her into getting some ice cream. 

The Top 10 List of Comments I’d love to Hear Parents Say about Church Attendance

As a Minister with Youth & Children, I listen to kids say lots of things about going to church. Teens, and children too, have so many obligations–great things that keep them busy with meaningful tasks. I get it! There are many wonderful things for kids to do and I agree that most of these things are valuable and important.

I’m not suggesting that all kids should give up all activities and cleave only to the church (though I don’t hate that idea). I just want church to be a priority to them too. So here you go: My Top 10 list of “Comments I’d love to Hear Parents Say about Church Attendance.”

  church picture

Number 10.
Church is community. When you aren’t there, the community suffers.
Number 9.
Sure, you can get a job. Just be sure to schedule ahead with your employer to make sure you can take off for church activities.
Number 8.
It doesn’t matter if no one else is going to be there. Tell your friends you’ll be there and I bet some of them will go.
Number 7.
I’m sorry you haven’t finished your homework, but we have church tonight. You can do it when you get home. It never takes as long as you think it will.
Number 6.
That academic summer program sounds great, but it would prevent you from participating in church events. Let’s see if we can find a substitute that will work around church activities.
Number 5.
You don’t like all of the people on your sports team, but you have to learn to get along with them. Let’s try that with the kids at church.
Number 4.
Sometimes you think you don’t get anything out of going to school either, but you still have to go.
Number 3.
I’m sorry you have to miss that athletic competition on Sunday morning too, but we go to church at that time.
Number 2.
We can’t go on vacation that week. Our church is having VBS then.
 
And the Number One comment I’d love to hear parents say about church attendance is . . . 
 

Yes. You do have to go to church.

mosesaaronhur

The Not-So-Everlasting Arms

In 2009, I wrote this post for a different blog. Just this past Sunday–June 22, 2014–I preached from this text, in part because our children had heard this story during VBS the previous week.

8Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the sun set. 13And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.        Exodus 17:8-13

Imagine the pressure: Moses—who as we know had his share of problems as leader of the children of Israel—is now in the midst of a battle. The battle goes well for his people as long as Moses lifts his arms; when his arms sag, so does the will of the people and the battle goes badly for them. Think about it. Or try it. Just try lifting your arms while you read this short blog. (I know: you have to lower one arm to scroll down. Make that little exception.) The leader, Moses, was faced with a situation that was physically taxing—one he could not manage on his own. Thank goodness for Aaron and Hur.

Most of us church goers have heard of Aaron. He’s the brother of Moses, the one who spoke for Moses. You may remember the story (you can find it in Exodus 4:13-15). But Hur is a less familiar name. Yet Hur seems to be a part of Moses’ inner circle of support just as Aaron was. In this passage, he’s there offering support to Moses when he grows weary. In a later passage (Exodus 24:13-15), Moses refers the people to Hur and Aaron for handling disputes when he left for the Mount of Sinai.

Leaders need people like Hur: people who will hold them up during times of trial, people they can rely on when responsibilities call them off site. In fact, leaders cannot lead effectively without the Hurs in their lives.

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My Hur: Keisha

Several years ago, I was serving as coordinator of special grants at a community college. While there, I found out how a Hur can help a leader serve more effectively. In that job, (believe me) I had my share of battles. Sometimes I felt as if I were on the frontline, with student frustrations and provider disputes exploding all around me.  I could not have managed on my own. Thank goodness for Keisha.

Keisha worked with me, fielding the frustrations and deciding the disputes. She held my arms up when I grew weary. She stood in for me when I had to be away. Of course, Keisha did not get a lot of credit in the annals of community college history for being my support system. But like Hur, Keisha shared her talents and abilities readily, making possible any successes we experienced in our little department.

Oh, you can put your arms down now. And be encouraged: you don’t have to lead alone. Thank Goodness.

(Are you a Moses or a Hur? Have you had a Hur in your life?)

The Top 10 Things People Do Even Though They Are Inconvenient

It’s my favorite week of the year: Vacation Bible School week! In the midst of this very busy yet totally awesome week, I offer you this Top Ten List.

Top 10 Things People Do Even Though They Are Inconvenient.

  • Number 10: Visiting beloved elderly in nursing facilities.
  • Number 9: Cleaning the grill for a cookout.
  • Number 8: Selling (or buying) Girl Scout cookies.
  • Number 7: Annual physicals.
  • Number 6: Taking finals rather than failing classes.
  • Number 5: Attending out of town sports events being played by kids we love.
  • Number 4: Going to graduation ceremonies in which we know only one person.
  • Number 3: Getting our teeth cleaned.
  • Number 2: Attending middle school band concerts.*
  • And the number 1 thing people do even though it is inconvenient is: Sitting outside on a cold rainy morning at a kid’s soccer game.
Vacation Bible School is also not convenient. Participate anyway. It’s good for you.
 
*Unless said middle school’s band teacher is Greg Love.
If Greg Love is the band teacher, such concerts are delightful.

A Wall of Living Stones

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. . . like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood . . .
from 1 Peter 2:5

Every year when the church youth group goes to Fort Caswell for the spring retreat, they go over the wall. It’s not a huge wall–just about 10-12 feet high and 6-8 feet wide. It’s a team building exercise: kids who choose to participate scale the wall with others in their grade. It’s a beautiful thing.

This year, Cameron, a 16 year old who has been raised in the church, made his first trip to Caswell. He’d been on other youth trips, but not this one; so he’d never seen the wall, never participated in this tradition. Of course, he didn’t have to do it. No one would have objected if he’d taken a pass.

You see, since birth, Cameron has developed at a different speed than other children. One orthopedist even told his parents not to expect much in the way of gross motor development, saying that Cameron would likely be in a wheelchair. (His parents got a different orthopedist.) It took him awhile, but with the help of a kid-sized walker, Cameron put one foot in front of the other, and by the time he was four and a half years old, he was walking on his own. These days, while his muscle tone is still relatively low, he gets around fine. He does, however, walk slower and more intentionally than most folk. And, well, he just has to work a little harder than other people to move through the world.

But back to Caswell’s wall.

“Are you going to climb the wall, Cameron?” We asked him mostly out of courtesy, not wanting him to feel left out.

“Yep,” he said, looking over his glasses that had once again slipped too far down his nose; and he made his way over to lifelong friends who awaited him at the wall.

Physically, Cameron couldn’t offer much assistance at all. He couldn’t push or pull himself up. He couldn’t reach out or grab hold. If he panicked, he would fall. If he struggled against them, they would drop him.

Cameron put his hands on sure shoulders and lifted a foot onto the human stool; his friends did the rest. One adult and two girls standing on the back of the wall reached down, while several guys at the base helped lift him up. Other teens gathered around, arms extended, ready.

He progressed, inches at the time, eventually straddling the top of the wall. Once there though, he seemed to get stuck. A moment of uncertainty followed when no one was exactly sure how to proceed. Then another teen—a bulky weight lifter—popped up on the back of the wall, reached down, and gently lifted Cameron’s leg up and over.

Cameron got his balance, looked out over the crowd, and hesitantly lifted a hand to wave.

Now for most kids, getting down is easy; but Cameron couldn’t jump off the platform to the ground without injury. No worries! His friends had already figured it out.  Four strong arms waited to cradle Cameron from the wall to the ground. He let go, they held on, and then he was down, smiling at the cheers and congratulations from his youth group.

Cameron punched his fist into the palm of his hand and said, “I did it!”

And he did. He really did.

First Baptist Church of Asheville Youth Group, Fort Caswell 2014

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Sweet Delight

well-bred-ext2It took both twins using both hands to open the door of Weaverville’s Well-Bred Bakery & Café (and that with their mom giving it an extra push from above). Their hand prints clung to the glass, only 24 inches above the sidewalk outside. They raced in, eyes darting to the treats beckoning from the pastry case.

“Yum, yum, yum!” the little girl said, all rosy cheeked and eager. She squatted down, her knees by her shoulders, placed both hands on the glass, and began a sort of gleeful chant. Her brother scurried over and their eyes seemed to grow as they took in the vision before them.

“Two cakes, three forks, three plates?” The question was addressed to the mom, not the three year olds whose eyelashes were fluttering against the case.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” they shouted as mom nodded. The twins jumped up and down, laughing in joyful anticipation as they watched the server place wax paper over each confection and carefully lift it out.wellbredcase

The kids hopped over to the closest table, climbed into their chairs, and began what they’d come to do. I turned to their mom.

“That’s what we all really want to do when we come to Well-Bred,” I told her. “For some reason, we just hold back.”

 

“Seize life! Eat bread with gusto, Drink wine with a robust heart. Oh yes – God takes pleasure in your pleasure!” Ecclesiastes 9:7 (The Message)