A Few Bad Apples

Yesterday afternoon, I was on the streets of Fort Worth, interviewing homeless men and women regarding one of my cases. The topic of the police came up and I made a comment about how I assumed the homeless in that part of town were treated. I was quickly corrected. These men and women told me that the police treated them with grace and respect. I was also informed that, despite a “few bad apples” most of the men and women in blue are good people.

As I watched events in Dallas unfold last night and into the early morning hours, the words and wisdom of those men and women echoed in my thoughts and prayers.

I have taken many a DART train and am sure that, at one time or another, I have crossed paths with the officer killed and the officers wounded.

I know many men and women in the Dallas Police Department, past and present. My sister-in-law’s father was one of the detectives escorting Lee Harvey Oswald out of another parking garage not far from the parking garage at El Centro when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. DPD did not cower then and they did not cower last night.

I have been on defense teams that represented people charged with killing police officers, including in Dallas. I have heard of acts of heroism and great service. I have also heard stories of police abuse, cowardice and incompetence, but not very often. You know, “a few bad apples.”

By God’s grace, I was not in Dallas for the march last night. I have attended them in the past, but was too exhausted from being on the street and in the heat earlier in the day. And, quite frankly, I have been disappointed by a few of the protesters that can’t seem to stay on message and, in my humble opinion, take things to extremes unnecessarily. You know, “a few bad apples.”

I have dealt with Chief Brown and his staff, several Assistant Chiefs and men and women on patrol. I know them to be good and honorable people. Today, I grieve with them.

Dallas Police Department and DART Police Department, know that the community, the State and the Country grieves with you. In one of the darkest times imaginable for law enforcement, you were shining beacons and gave true meaning to the term “to protect and serve.”

To the protesters last night, you were described as peaceful and cooperative. Stories are coming out of acts of bravery in which officers shoved protesters out of harm’s way, shielding those protesters from bullets. In a time of great angst over more police shootings, particularly of people of color, don’t let those “few bad apples” spoil the bunch. Last night should be a reminder.

Is some change needed in our communities? Yes. 509 fatal police shootings of civilians so far this year. 990 last year. There is no debate, one is too many.

Last night, 5 officers lost their lives. There is no debate, one is too many.

As I head back to Fort Worth today, I will take the time to personally thank every officer I encounter. I will let them know that I will be praying for their friends, their families and their community. And I’ll be praying for them personally. I ask that you do the same.

This is a complex issue to which there is no easy answer.  It goes beyond community policing.  It is not just about race.  It is not exclusive of a gun-toting society and its attendant mentality.  It requires so many facets of our society that a starting point requires all of us to work together.

But, one thing is certain.  As one group of people on the street reminded me yesterday afternoon, another group reminded me last night and into the early morning hours…there are more men and women of integrity and honor wearing the badge than their are “bad apples.”

Posted in capital punishment, Dallas, death penalty, Ezell Ford, Ferguson, guns, Justice, law, mass shootings, Michael Brown, Peace, Police, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Statement on the Orlando Shooting

On the somber anniversary of the Mother Emanual shooting, Churches Uniting in Christ released the following statement:

Statement on the Mass Shooting at Pulse Nightclub, Orlando, FL

On this, the anniversary of the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, once again, our Nation and the World hear the names of the slain from another mass shooting. And once again, the Body of Christ weeps over another evil act that has taken lives of 49 souls, as well as the life of the assailant in yet another mass shooting. This time, it was at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando on June 12, 2016. 54 were left injured. The victims, many who were persons of color, of Latino heritage, or both, gathered to celebrate their culture. The impact is felt across our churches, schools, and workplaces. The shockwaves have been felt around the World, as the global community grieves the loss of so many lives.

In its quest for unity with justice, Churches Uniting in Christ offers our lament as well as our hope that all divisions amongst God’s people will be reconciled. We recognize that many families, but especially families of color, have been directly affected by this tragedy. We deplore that the Latino community, Muslim community and the LGBTQI community will continue to suffer, even after the news media turns to the next headline-grabbing story.

Across our denominations, many prayers have been and will be said. Numerous vigils will be held. We pray for compassion and understanding and are especially concerned about the two communities particularly experiencing the impact of the Orlando massacre. Everyone in the LBGTQI and Muslim communities deserves to know they are safe and free from any kind of discrimination and hateful, divisive language and retribution. As people of faith, the dignity of every human being is without question. No form of violence, whether it is terrorism or spiritual teaching, has the right to denigrate any person. In this moment of grief, we implore all of the members of our churches as well as the public in general to hold the human dignity of everyone in the highest regard and courageously speak up for the rights of the minorities and marginalized when they are attacked. As followers of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, we stand up against invective and vitriol. In the words of Maya Angelou, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the World, but has not solved one yet.”

To the fallen, may God grant them eternal rest. To their families, we mourn with you and pray for your well-being. We also extend our compassion and prayers to the family of the assailant, for they are suffering too. We are deeply grateful for the police officers, first responders, medical care personnel, pastors and chaplains who are providing aid and assistance to victims and their families and friends. This sign of the common humanity unites us all. Such signs can serve to show us all how to act for positive change in society. To political leaders, we implore you to address the elements that allow these events to happen time and time again. We must recognize that our society has yet to provide adequate mental health care to those who resort to acts of violence out of their own despair prior to a tragedy occurring. The same type of assault rifle used at the Pulse Night Club was also used in Sandy Hook and San Bernardino. Let us not be shy about taking the necessary steps to increase oversight in the sales and purchase of these types of weapons. Enough is enough!

We are people born from the pain of the cross upon which Jesus of Nazareth was executed. Our solidarity with the victims and their families is visceral from the very core of our faith. We pledge our houses of worship as spaces in which comfort for the grieving can be found and the rhetoric of hate has no place. We also recommit ourselves to ministries of reconciliation and justice in our city streets – for we believe that “God is in the midst of the city” (Psalm 46:5a).

Bishop Teresa Snorton, President, CUIC

Mr. Vince Gonzales, Racial and Social Justice Task Force Chair

Rev. Michael Fisher, Jr. Young Adult Task Force

Mr. Abraham Wright, Vice President, CUIC

Rev. Hermann weinlick, Secretary, CUIC

Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, Treasurer, CUIC

The following denomination are made up of approximately 20 million congregants.  This is an important statement, perhaps even historic, when one looks at the 11 denominations involved.

Churches Uniting in Christ is a covenant relationship among eleven Christian communions that have pledged to live more closely together in expressing their unity in Christ and combating racism together. The member churches of CUIC include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Church, the International Council of Community Churches, the Moravian Church (Northern Province), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a partner in mission and dialogue. For more information, please see our website at http://www.churchesunitinginchrist.org

Posted in Charleston, Churches Uniting In Christ, Council of Bishops, CUIC, Emanuel A.M.E. Church, General Commission on Religion and Race, Hope, Inclusiveness, Jesus Christ, Justice, law, Marginalized, mass shootings, Peace, Race and Religion, SC, Uncategorized, United Methodist | Leave a comment

On Being a Clergy Spouse, Part Two

I prepared this blog posting several months ago but, apparently, forgot to hit the publish button.  It is Part 2 of what I hope will become a series.

One of the things that I find alarming is the way in which those in our community view clergy spouses (and clergy, you have to verify this one way or another, but I assume you get treated the same way).

People seem to think we have no life other than the church. Maybe, in supporting my wife, it seems that all I do is church ministry. Well, there is a lot of that

Maybe I’m a guarded individual and seem unapproachable to others. Trust me folks, I can be likeable.

I remember the first time I noticed how my life as a clergy spouse had made me “different.” While overseeing tornado recovery volunteers is Granbury, TX for a two month period, I was only working in the next county to the south. One Saturday afternoon, I walked into a local hamburger shop for lunch. As I walked in, a few members of our church were there enjoying lunch and a few cocktails. You know, those margarita-things with the beer bottle turned upside down in them. I might know the name of the drink if the congregation didn’t assume I was part of the temperance movement! I still remember the looks of the faces of those congregants;. No judgment here folks, I promise.

Being a male, clergy spouse has an entirely different issue. I don’t get invited to clergy spouse events (are there such things?). If so, is they operated in such a way as to be gender-exclusive? This is an area that I have experience in breaking down walls. Once upon a time, many years ago, I was a legal secretary for a 4-woman law firm. Nobody from the Lubbock Legal Secretaries Association ever invited me to join that group either.

Not that I don’t bring some of this on myself. In the years that I’ve been in Weatherford, I’ve been an active Board member to the General Commission on Religion and Race. I also now serve on the Coordinating Council for Churches Uniting In Christ as the Chair of the Racial and Social Justice Task Force as the Chair of the Task Force. I do work out of the house as a trial consultant. And I’m sure you’ve seen me around the church in some form or fashion. Where you might not see me is having a cold-beer at Chili’s on a hot day, not because I’m a teetotaler, but I’ve seen how some have reacted when I saw them enjoying a cocktail. Quite frankly, I’m afraid of the reaction of those that might see me enjoying a glass of wine or a pint.

Another thing; my politics are separate from my faith. I can assure you that I put my faith first. That doesn’t mean I won’t enter into an engaging conversation with you on a wide variety of social issues. And, in that regard, I might not agree with my spouse on these issues. You see, I am an individual that made a covenant to my spouse. I made a covenant to the “Church” through my baptism and to the “church” through my membership. I didn’t enter the Candidacy process, my wife did. I don’t answer to the District Superintendent, the Board of Ordained Ministry or the Cabinet for MY theological statements. According to the Book of Discipline, the Pastor has the role of assuring that, should I be teaching, I teach sound Wesleyan (and United Methodist) theology.

But the most important thing to glean from this posting is that I am just like you in many ways.  I love my church and I love my denomination, all the while arguing and fighting with them as is they were family.  And that is because they are.  I feel celebrate with you when your are joyful, I shed a tear when you are grieving, I feel pain when we are not committed to our Covenant or we speak hatefully toward others.  I grow angry when we are not true to the Great Commission.  I am fiercely defensive of my wife and children.

You know, I am human.

Posted in Central Texas Conference, Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Churches Uniting In Christ, Clergy spouse, CORR Action Fund, Council of Bishops, CUIC, General Commission on Religion and Race, Race and Religion, Uncategorized, United Methodist, Wesleyan | Leave a comment

Yet again!

Another day, another mass shooting. We deflect our anger so as to not impinge upon our gun ownership. We deflect our anger so as to not have to look in the mirror at our own image of apathy. Nothing will change if we don’t change ourselves.

We will blame the killing on a “radicalized Islamic” as the media has reported so quickly. Or we will place blame on the killing on a misguided White Supremacist. We will blame the killing on untreated mental illness. We will blame the killings on urban warfare between ethnic gangs.

And we will circle the wagons and preach of the message of Second Amendment rights.

All while ignoring the right to live a life free from hate, free from ridicule, free from exclusion, free from threat, free from being gunned down because of being black, or Hispanic, Native American or a member of the LGBTQI community.

What we hold precious in this Country defies logic. We want our AR-15’s for self-protection. We want our Legislatures to draft bills that legitimize our bigotry. We want our churches to define who and who cannot be in ministry and to whom we can be in ministry. And in doing so we create a society that is toxic.

All while standing idly by as killing after killing take place.

We place blame on victims, we place the blame of lifestyles, we place blame on everything that avoids our own moral culpability in creating an environment of violence. It is a characteristic of human nature to hate those whom we have hurt.

I hear the vitriol from the campaign trail. I hear the vitriol from so-called church leaders. I hear the vitriol from too many to count. Maybe all that vitriol has an effect on a potential killer. I don’t know.

But maybe the real culprit is our silence. Maybe the real culprit is the fear our politicians feel by being emasculated by the Gun Lobby. Maybe the real culprit is our apathy as we forget the names of the dead all too soon.

We demand that our denominations make statements outlining our belief in the sanctity of life and yet we don’t give a damn if that life is that of an LBTQI person or someone different than the bulk of our denomination or congregation.

What is it going to take to hold our legislators accountable for their inaction when it comes to gun-control? What is it going to take to make our church leaders accountable for not addressing meaningful social issues by choosing issues that side-step the type of rampant violence that happens in this Country? What is it going to take for things to change?

It’s going to take each and every one of us effect change. We encourage violence when we watch television programming that romanticizes violent heroes. Our children play video games like Tour of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Psychologists debate whether or not these things factor in increasing aggressiveness and violence in our children. What should be apparent is that we, as a society, have become desensitized to the Hollywood-violence and, as a result, have been desensitized to the real violence that surrounds us every day.

Our children demand Nerf-guns and light sabers for their birthdays and Christmas.

Perhaps if we changed our viewing habits a message will be sent to television and movie producers. Perhaps if we told our children “No” when it came to violent games and toy guns, a message would be sent to toy producers. Maybe these are small steps, but they are steps in the right direction.

Perhaps if we called and wrote our Congressional leaders, we could change laws pertaining to ease in which people can buy guns.  But, if we aren’t willing to be consistent and persistent in this message we can expect nothing from Congress.

We can hold vigils, we can pray today for what happened today, but what new tragedy will we be praying for tomorrow that causes us to forget Newtown, Columbine, or Mother Emanuel? Not so easy to forget those you say? Do you remember Birchwood, Wisconsin? Brookfield, Wisconsin? Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania? We remember Virginia Tech but do you remember Omaha, Nebraska? What about Carnation, Washington? We remember San Bernardino all the while forgetting Covina, California.

Through our inaction, we are morally culpable every time there is a mass shooting. It well past the time that we, as a society, demand more from ourselves, as well as from our government. It is the time that our church leaders make a stand through divestiture from companies that exacerbate the problems of violence. We should reevaluate what we see in theaters, on television and on DVD and Netflix. As hard as self-discipline might be when it comes to our viewing habits, our very lives might truly depend on it. We must be disciplined in our buying habits. We must become more cognizant of what our children play with and watch in theaters and at home.  When we accept the apathy in ourselves, we authorize the apathy of our Government, our churches and those we look toward to bring about the change we so desperately need.

If we are to expect accountability from our government we must demand it of ourselves first. And then, maybe we can end this madness.

Posted in Charleston, Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Justice, law, mass shootings | Leave a comment

Ali! Ali! Ali!

“As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him and who helped as many of his people as he could … I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxing champion who became a preacher and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.” Muhammad Ali in his 1975 Playboy Magazine interview when asked how he would like to be remembered.

Late yesterday afternoon, my wife and I were discussing death. Not a pleasant topic but one that, as we get older, we face more and more often. Friends from school pass away, family members go to their rest, church members die, and icons from our past go to their grave.

I’m not sure that I have been impacted by the latter ever as much as I am upon hearing of the passing of The Greatist, Muhammad Ali. As I watched the video homages memories of my childhood rushed back to me. Those weekends sitting in the living room with my father, watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports, watching Ali’s domineering presence in the ring, at the weigh-in’s, during interviews (especially those exchanges with Howard Cosell). My father loved boxing and would explain the “sweet science” to me as I sat in awe of Ali’s speed and grace. It was more than entertainment though. A special bond was developing with my father over his love for this sport. I remember seeing pictures of my Dad (my dad worked for Hickok Manufacturing, which awarded the belt) wearing the S. Rae Hickok Athlete of the Year Award, an award that Ali won in 1974. Years later, I would learn and train to box in the Navy. I’m not sure that I ever made my father prouder than my voluntary service and my taking up his favorite sport.

But something else was happening as I watched Ali in and out of the ring. A social consciousness was developing in my young mind. As a young Latino in a largely white school, I was in 2nd grade when the man known as Cassius Clay refused to serve in the Army. I had heard grumblings against the war at family gatherings and didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I didn’t understand forced conscription. I didn’t understand foreign policy (a policing action?). I was preparing for my First Holy Communion and was devout in my faith as I progressed through my catechism classes. I only understood that Cassius Clay, soon to become Muhammad Ali, was practicing his faith and was being punished for that practice. I wasn’t old enough to understand the persecution and prosecution, although I grew to understand in the coming years.

I remember sitting around the dinner table and, on occasion, we would roll the portable television into the dining room to watch the news. Walter Cronkite would give us reports while film footage from Vietnam rolled. We would hear body counts and those wounded. We would watch closely to perhaps catch a glimpse of a loved one that had been drafted and was “over there.” As our family sat around that table and broke bread, a different kind of communion took place. We came together as one, thankful that our cousins were not part of those body counts. We were thankful they weren’t part of the wounded.

Over the years, demonstrations against the war had been a regular occurrence. We saw draft cards being burned early on, then campus protests began in earnest. In March 1968, the My Lai massacre took place. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In June 1968, Bobby Kennedy was shot dead. In August of that year, the Democratic National Convention exploded into violence demonstrations.

In 1970, Kent State demonstrations resulted in the National Guard shooting and killing 4 students. Four million students across the nation protested. Later that year, two more students were killed during demonstrations at Jackson State.

As time went by, my brother became of draft age. We’ve never talked about those times, but I was always fearful that he would be drafted. We weren’t rich, not the kids of Senators, millionaires or CIA Directors. For people like our family, the draft was a way of life…and death. Ali showed that it didn’t have to be.

Then came Ali’s return from exile. In March 1971, came the fight between Ali and Frazier. The loss of Ali’s boxing license and exile from boxing for three years had taken its toll on Ali’s speed and stamina. He lost that fight. But in what was arguably Ali’s greatest battle, in June 1971, what had looked like a 5-3 loss for Ali (Justice Blackmon had recused himself and a 4-4 tie would have upheld a lower appellate court ruling against Ali), Justice John Marshall Harlan was given The Autobiography of Malcolm X and became convinced that Ali’s refusal to serve was truly based on Ali’s deep-seated religious objections. Justice Potter Stewart convinced the other Justices of this fact and in what appeared initially to be a 5-3 loss became an 8-0 victory for Ali.

This very well may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to the Vietnam conflict (the U.S. Congress hasn’t declared war since WWII). As protests grew and Nixon became embroiled in Watergate and eventually resigned from the office of President, in disgrace, our attention was often diverted, thankfully, to The Champ. From The Rumble in the Jungle to The Thrilla in Manila, our country (and my family) would focus on Ali’s return. Some of us cheering for Ali, some not so much.

Still reeling from the Civil Rights struggles of the 50’s and 60’s America became more and more aware of the struggles our country still faced. From the anti-war protests of the 60’s and 70’s; to the Paris Peace Accord in 1973; to the fall of Saigon; America sustained deep and festering wounds. Our Nation’s reputation was scorned, the conflict had no clear victor, veterans were not welcomed back home, and our country had to make a comeback.
What Ali had to overcome in his personal life, our Country was forced to do the same. The Champ did it with the resiliency of character and a commitment to his faith. In his private life, there were many problems. Failed marriages, promiscuity, financial problems. In the years to come, his struggle with Parkinson’s disease helped us to know what true courage looked like. When President George W. Bush placed the Medal of Freedom around Ali’s neck, it was as if every kid of color, every kid that grew up in poverty, every kid that grew up with the cards stacked against them, every kid that grew up with a physical or cognitive disability, shared that Medal with Muhammad Ali. He was more than a champion in the ring. Ali was a champion for the disenfranchised. Ali was a champion for the marginalized. Ali was a champion for racial and gender equality. Ali was a champion for justice.

And he was a champion for peace.

At a time when this Country, and the World, needed hope, Ali was there to provide it.

Muhammad Ali, you truly were The Greatest. Rest in Peace.

Posted in Hope, Justice, law, Marginalized, Martin Luther King, MLK, Peace, Race and Religion, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

On being a Dad.

Last night Max and I got home around 8:15 after a long day of work, housework, school and church activities. Shelly and AJ are away at camp.

We chatted and read together. His inquisitive mind never ceases to amaze me.

He complained of growing pains in his knees and ankles and asked me to set an appointment with “his” Doctor. His discomfort breaks my heart.

I gave him a children’s aspirin and had to convince him they truly are chewable. I said they tasted like Sweetarts but he corrected me and said they tasted more like Bottle Caps. We now have a plan to go introduce Dad to this candy.

In the all too seldom opportunities I get to spend an extended period of time with each boy alone, I am equally amazed at how different they are from one another in some ways, how similar they are in others. And I get tickled when I see or hear myself in their deeds and words.

And as Max fell asleep, I listened to his soft breathing, looked at his sweet countenance, and grew further amazed that my love for both Max and AJ knows no bounds. These two rascals can still bring tears of joy to my eyes.

Just not while I’m doing their laundry.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Easter, 2016

I saved this for after Easter Sunday. So often, after the anthems are finished, our special meals are cleared off the tables and our friends, family and guests have returned from whence they came, we put our Easter-spirit away like a well-used Easter basket, not to see the sun again until the following Spring. But if we are to be an Easter people, we are to share the Good News that Christ has died, Christ has paid for our sins, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again. It is the miracle of our faith that must be told, shared, and lived each and every day! As Christians it is our “raison d’être.”

With the nature of an unstable world full of matters that try to tear our faith asunder, we have the opportunity, no, rather we have the duty to share the news as Easter people.  We are obliged to turn to scripture rather than to steep in our fears.  We are to welcome the stranger, love our neighbor and enemy, and speak with words of love and not hate.  We are to do no harm, do good, and to stay in Love with God.  We should call out the divisive vitriol we hear, not only on the political trail but also in the pews, pulpits and Sunday School classes of our congregations.  General Conference looms on the horizon; we should be more concerned with how it is with one another’s soul rather than with one another’s resolutions and petitions.  These things are not seasonal.  These things are a way of life if we are to move on to spiritual perfection.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated in his letter from Tegel Prison to his family on Easter Sunday, April 25, 1943:

“The liberating thing about Good Friday and Easter is that one’s thoughts are swept far beyond one’s own personal fate to the ultimate meaning of all life and suffering, and of whatever occurs, such that one is seized by a great hope.”

May that great hope carry us through this year and the years to come. May we live into the Resurrection.

Posted in Central Texas Conference, Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, christ, Churches Uniting In Christ, Easter, General Commission on Religion and Race, Global AIDS Fund, Good Samaritan, Jesus Christ, Justice, North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Northwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Uncategorized, United Methodist | 1 Comment

When Systemic Racism Hits Home

If we are to celebrate Black History Month as a people of faith, we should make sure that history is accurate. Where it is inaccurate, we are obliged to correct it. Mere reconciliation and repentance is not enough, we must make reparations to make the Body of Christ whole.  We need look no further than our own communities to make a start.

Despite what it says in the book “The Central Texas Annual Conference 1866-2010. At the Center of Texas Methodism” by John Michael Patison, et al, Prince Memorial CME was the first church in Weatherford, Texas AND the second church in Parker County. Founded in 1854 under the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, founded by freed slaves, it predates the City Charter by two years. First Methodist Weatherford, was also founded, less than a mile away, but a few years later, and was also a Methodist Episcopal Church, South congregation. Despite transferring to the newly founded CME in 1870, after, for a short time, being part of a separate, ecclesiastical jurisdiction within the M.E. Church, South, for 16 years, Prince Memorial was the first Methodist church in town. I read this omission this morning in the aforementioned book.  Coincidentally, I spoke with folks at United Methodist General Commission on Archives and History at Drew University earlier this week in search of documentation of this history of Prince Memorial on a completely separate matter.

How a publication printed as recently as this book could eliminate this historically significant Methodist church is beyond me. Even the Weatherford Democrat, our local newspaper, recognizes the significance from a 2012 story:

“Prince Memorial Christian Methodist Church celebrated its 158th anniversary in April of 2012. The present church building, constructed after a 1912 storm, is a white clapboard edifice featuring an original bell tower, arched “cathedral windows” and steeply pitched gables. Prince Memorial is the oldest church building standing in Weatherford, and is the second oldest in Parker County.”

We cannot be a multicultural, multiracial denomination if we ignore, excise, delete, and fail to learn from our rich history of failing to be an inclusive church.  And we cannot live in unity if we continue to twist history, both secular and church, to only depict what shows the dominant culture in a favorable light.

Quote | Posted on by | Leave a comment

A Prayer for the Dead and Dying

Tonight I pray for the families of Craig Turski, Gregory Martin and Gus Garcia. Craig and Gregory were senselessly shot down during separate robberies. Gus was convicted of the shooting of Mr. Turski. He was also suspected of the murder of Mr. Martin.  Gus was sentenced to death.

The State of Texas will strap Gus to a gurney tomorrow night and put him to death. I was on Gus’s defense team.

Those of us who are involved in capital defense work are often the targets of much public vitriol and hate. We often have quick answers to the question of “How can you defend someone like that?” or “What if it was one of your loved ones that was killed?”  The public persona rarely shows our hearts.

Those questions assume that we have no compassion or sympathy. Those are false assumptions.   I can assure you of that.

Every case I have worked, I ache for the family of the victim. I do, in fact, know their pain. The defense zealously advocates for the citizen accused, more often than not in the face of overwhelming evidence.  We do not have the benefit of choosing are clients.  We grow to know our clients.  We develop relationships with their families.  We know more about them than we sometimes know about our own loved ones. We do this work out of a sense of commitment to justice.  That process is not easy nor does it always end in a manner desired by the parties.

For 28 years I have been involved in trying to stave off the State of Texas from executing its citizens.  Maybe the reasons and the logic behind my work should be subject for another blog posting.  But as for tonight, although that verdict so many years ago might suggest I did not do well, I know that in the final judgment I did well because I did good.  I did right.  Verdicts don’t measure that.

So as I sit here, I think of Craig Turski, Gregory Martin and Gus Garcia.  I pray for them.  I pray for their families and friends.  I pray for those jurors who sat in judgment.  I pray for the lawyers on both sides of the case.  I pray for an end of gun violence.  I pray for an end of this madness called capital punishment.

And, I pray for myself too…because tomorrow, a little bit of myself will die on that gurney.

Posted in capital punishment, death penalty, Justice, law | Leave a comment

Racial Bias? Surely not here.

In keeping with the promise made in 2014 and reiterated this month at our meeting of the Racial and Social Justice Task Force , a vital part of Churches Uniting in Christ ecumenical gathering of 10 mainline Protestant denominations, it was decided that the Task Force would to start share our stories of racial and social injustice that each of us have experienced.  Here is one of mine: In November of 2007, I was a workshop leader at “Living Faith, Seeking Justice,” a symposium put on by The General Board of Church and Society as a precursor to our United Methodist General Conference 2008.  Both General Conference and Living Faith, Seeking Justice occurred in Fort Worth, Texas, the home of the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church.  There were people from all around the world attending this event, presumably those representing some of the most forward thinking, progressive thought related to social justice in our denomination. On Saturday morning, I made my way to the valet parking stand, gave the valet my ticket and was waiting for my car so I could go to a nearby pharmacy and fill a prescription.  (I know, there is something wrong about that picture, but that story is for another day.) As I waited for my car, bedecked in running pants, running shoes, a t-shirt, my lanyard with nametag and workshop leader credentials and various United Methodist swag.  One could not mistake me for anything but a radical Methodist.  As I waited for my car, a woman drove up in a brand new Cadillac.  I remember the paper tags being from Frank Kent Cadillac, a local Fort Worth dealership.  This woman got out of her car, dressed like me, walked over to me, and handed me her keys.  Dumbfounded, I was struck speechless. I managed to utter that I was not the valet, handed her keys back to her and, at about that time, my car arrived.  She said nothing to me and I did not see her again.  The moment for reconciliation and learning lost.

A few months later I was attending a Jurisdictional CORR event in Oklahoma City.  I told this story to the attendees.  In this group, there was laughter over the event.  Not the nervous type of laughter one might expect, not, there were those in the room that genuinely found this funny.  I immediately chastised them. There is nothing funny about the pain that racial bias can cause whether that pain is intended or implicit.  What happened in Fort Worth and Oklahoma City hurt, not simply because I fell victim to racial bias, but that bias came from those one would expect would have known better. These examples were not the first time, nor the last time, which I have experienced the pain of racism in the church.  We, as a denomination, are quick to point out the mote in another’s eye, but loath to remove the log in our own.  Having recently relocated temporarily from Lubbock, Texas to the Fort Worth area, the Central Texas Conference has once again become my window to view the need to address the issues in a proactive way, through the log in my own eye.  That is not to say that this is the only part of the world this needs to be done nor is it to say that The United Methodist Church is the only denomination that needs to address the issue of racism.

As we seek racial and social justice outside the walls of our church, let us remember…there remains much work needing done within our pews.

Posted in Central Texas Conference, Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Churches Uniting In Christ, CORR Action Fund, CUIC, General Commission on Religion and Race, implicit bias, Inclusiveness, Justice, North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Northwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Race and Religion, Uncategorized, United Methodist | Leave a comment