A Peek At The Enemy

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As Carl says, “To defeat the enemy ya gotta get inside his skin and crawl around awhile.”

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

Your enemy is not white people.  You enemy is not black people.  It’s time to meet the enemy.

Let’s pretend for a moment that our enemy in the War on Racial Dissonance has a Strategy Room.  On the door of that room is a sign that reads, “The 64 Spirits of Racial Dissonance.”  We are pretending of course, but don’t be surprised to find someday that our little game of make-believe was not far from reality.

Inside the Strategy Room we count not 64 evil spirits but more like a hundred.  It’s a crowded room filled with evil spirits who are busy and passionate.  At once we can see that these spirits are surprisingly unified.  We also see that they are devilishly intelligent and devilishly creative.

As we listen in, we learn that these evil spirits are focused on fanning the flames of three particular racial problems.  They believe that if they can keep growing just these three problems, they will soon declare victory in what they refer to as “The War for Hatred.”

One problem is a problem they are focused on cultivating among whites.  It is the problem they have code named, “Cocoonianity.”

Another problem is a problem they are focused on cultivating among blacks.  Emboldened by recent decades of success in this area, they have dropped its code name and are brazenly calling it exactly what it is—Fatherlessness.

The third problem is a problem they are focused on cultivating equally among blacks and whites.  We soon learn that their code name for this problem is, “Red Word Deficiency.”

Presently a spirit takes to the podium and calls the room to order.  “I’ve been asked to brief you all on our progress in the area of Cocoonianity,” says the spirit.  “Let me begin by reporting that the news is very good.”

As the room rocks with cheers, the evil spirit pounds his gavel on the podium, then continues.  “As most of you know, we have already managed to make Cocoonianity the default racial attitude among white Americans.”  More cheers.

“Now, for those of you just joining us, I should point out that Cocoonianity is a dual attitude.  First it’s the attitude that, “If there are no racial problems in my little world, there really are no racial problems at all.”  Second, it’s the attitude that,” If there are racial problems I sure as hell didn’t cause them, so leave me out of this mess.”  This dual attitude forms a cocoon around the white mind and the white heart.  And thanks to our efforts in this arena, that cocoon has become nearly impenetrable!

Now in order to continue growing Cocoonianity, we must simply stay the course and turn up the heat.  We must continue to convince whites to deny the existence of racial dissonance.  We must continue to promote fear and isolation.  We must continue to hornswoggle whites into believing that it’s the government’s job to solve spiritual problems with nothing but laws and money.  Most importantly we must never, ever allow white Christians to understand that, according to their leader, indifference and negligence are just fancy forms of hatred!” Continue reading

Race – A Laughing Matter (Part Deux)

Vintage Fred: "You was rear-ended by a white dude? In a black Cadillac? Brother, you sittin' on a gold mine!"

Vintage Fred: “You was rear-ended by a white dude? In a black Cadillac? Brother, you sittin’ on a gold mine!”

Theatre I – Brace Yourself!

(Sixth excerpt from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

America doesn’t seem to laugh together as much as it used to, and the laugher hasn’t died down because things are so much worse.  It’s died down because you and I don’t treasure laughter the way we should.  We don’t treasure it as the “gateway drug” to affection and mercy.  Neither do we protect it as our birthright as children of the joyful, laughing Most High.  Bowing to that blind and misguided god, the stifling god of political correctness, too many of us have given up our right to laugh at ourselves and with one another.

Young folks today know next to nothing of the great ‘70’s sitcom, “All in the Family.”  The classic 1978 comedy movie, “Blazing Saddles,” is rarely if ever broadcast.  And Steve Martin’s brilliant 1979 comedy, “The Jerk,” seems to have vanished into thin air.  Why have these gems been mothballed?  Because there is “racial stuff” in them, and everybody knows we can’t have any racial stuff these days.

The party pooping doesn’t stop with squashing white-on-black-humor, either. It extends to black-on-white humor as well.  Most young Americans know nothing of Fred Sanford or George Jefferson or Richard Pryor, and they are poorer for not having made those acquaintances.

Fred and George and Richard have been mothballed in the same closet as Archie and Mongo and The Jerk, but the mothballers weren’t mainstream Americans.  The mothballers were hyper-idealistic journalists, over-righteous clergy and dim, clammy-handed, self-anointed gurus such as Archie Bunker’s son-in-law, the aptly nicknamed Meathead.

The god of political correctness does not like racial stuff because it raises the possibility of conflict, and the essence of political correctness is conflict avoidance.  Political correctness demands that we avoid conflict at all costs by stuffing all of our edgy thoughts. The problem with that is that stuffing creates pressure, and enough stuffing creates enough pressure to blow the lid off anything, including the tenuous peace between American whites and American blacks.

The simple fact is that conflict avoidance is resolution avoidance.  Conflict avoidance is not a virtue, and therefore neither is political correctness a virtue.

As part of my research (ha ha!) for this book, I watched many episodes of the animated TV show, “Boondocks.”  My sons told me about it, and it’s so racially edgy that they couldn’t tell me for sure whether the show was the work of black people or white people.  As it turns out– not that it matters– the genius behind “Boondocks” is a black dude.

At first I had to make myself watch Boondocks because the gratuitous profanity and racial stereotyping made me squirm just a bit.  As I proceeded with my “research,” though, I was soon forced to admit that the show was very funny.  Eventually I found that watching “Boondocks” was a great way to have a laugh and a great way to flush me out of my little white cocoon.

Over the course of several months, my 19 year-old son Daniel and I devoted one evening per week to what became known in our house as “The Boondocks Film Festival.”  Not far into this undertaking we were sometimes joined by my wife, so that Boondocks Night became a sort of bizarre Christian devotional.

To “Frozen Chosen” Christians that may sound like heresy, but the effect of those Boondocks “devotionals” was a heightened racial awareness and a much more authentic Christianity.  Laughter lowered our defenses and decreased our resistance to hard truths.  It opened the way to a more merciful perspective as well, so that we’re now more willing to extend and receive mercy, especially with the “other color.”

You might be thinking “Oh sure, Tommy.  That’s easy for you to say.  You’re just a little white preacher with a nice little white wife and three perfect white kids.  You’re like Ned Flanders, that goody-goody neighbor of Homer and Marge Simpson, but you have no clue what goes down at the Curtis Street duplexes.”

Oh, really?  I’m no preacher; I’m a roofing contractor.  And my sons are far from cookie cutter do-gooders pumped off the Christian Assembly Line.  All three of them have tried the Prodigal Son route.  They can tell their own amazing stories if they choose to, but let me summarize by telling you that my family’s story would curl your hair (or straighten it if you’re black) no matter how street smart you are.

We are not the Flanders by a longshot.  In fact, for many of our 35 years together, Kathy and I would have been tickled to death if we could have just done as well as Homer and Marge.  Many have been the times that we’d gladly have traded any of our sons for Bart Simpson—straight up!

Now that I’m somewhat of a grown-up and am more or less free from concern about what “churchy” folks or anyone other than God thinks of my sons,  I can declare that I am inexpressibly pleased with them.  They are, to a man, sincere seekers after God’s heart.

So please don’t come at me with the “wimpy white preacher” bit.  I’m no smarmy Christian wallflower.  I’m just a guy trying real hard to see things the way Jesus sees them, and when I look at the racial situation in America I’m troubled by what I see.

The racial issue is a serious issue to be sure, but useful Christians—as opposed to useless Christians—can tackle even the most serious issues with a light heart.  Let’s read a bit more from Pastor Jefferson:

  “It is right to say that the glum and dismal Christian is not developed, mature or ripened.  The very first apples, you know, in the earlier stages of their growth are sour and green.  It is not until the sun has done its perfect work that they are golden and luscious.  Just so it is with our souls.  In the earlier stages of development they are often green and sour, crabby and full of acid.  But if they will only subject themselves to the shining of the Son, the great, joyous, exuberant, laughing Son, all the juices of their nature will grow sweet and mellow, and they will find themselves at last in the kingdom of peace and joy.”

Vintage Archie: "Jesus was a Jew, yes, but only on his mother's side."

Vintage Archie: “Jesus was a Jew, yes, but only on his mother’s side.”

Laughter is one of true Christianity’s great natural resources, with deep reserves of laughter lying untapped beneath the surface of American Christianity.  America has much more than its fair share of funny people, and humor is going to be vital in the War on RD because mercy is the A-bomb in the War and humor detonates mercy.

Much will be made in the coming pages of what I call the Three Non-negotiables in the War on RD, but there is really a fourth non-negotiable–laughter.  While it will be shown that the Three Non-negotiables require us to take the offensive, laughter asks only that we lower our defenses.  Each of us can simply let our belts out a notch or two, let down our guard and allow ourselves to laugh early, laugh often and, most importantly, laugh together.

Rank-and-file Americans were not the ones who banished Archie Bunker and Fred Sanford.  We loved them because they were funny and they were honest about how they felt.  We were drawn to them because while their heads were often hard, their hearts were soft.   They were not above repentance once they finally read—and understood—the writing on the wall.

If we, the American people, had been forced to outlaw either the team of Archie and Fred or the team of Meathead Stivic and Lamont Sanford, we would have banished Meathead and Lamont in a landslide.  Why?  Because they weren’t funny.  They may have been sensitive and idealistic but they were not funny.  Consequently, their sensitivity and idealism came across as so annoyingly self-righteous that they failed to inspire or persuade anyone, especially the other color.

Whites like blacks who can laugh and blacks like whites who can laugh.  Fred Sanford and Archie Bunker may have been race-baiting old coots but folks were drawn to them because they were funny.  And then, as we were laughing with Fred and Archie, ever so often we would see them surrender some long-held racial misconception, and they would thereby endear themselves to us despite ourselves.

In order to win the War on RD we must be like mature, luscious apples, not green, crabby apples.  The War on RD must be conducted by folks who love to laugh.  It must be conducted by people who, like Jesus, know where they came from and know where they are going and love to bust a gut along the way.

Be street smart yet harmless.  Peace.

Up ahead:  A peek at the Enemy on Monday, July 25th.

Race – A Laughing Matter

You know you want to!

Theatre I – Brace Yourself!

(Fifth excerpt from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

Please note:  This post was written several months ago and its publication at this sensitive time is coincidental.  It is not intended to make light of recent events.

Some topics are almost too touchy to touch, and at the top of the Touchy List is race.  Feeling lucky?  Let’s touch it and see what happens!

Sure, if you’re white you can talk with whites about race, and if you’re black you can talk with blacks about race.  But honestly, when was the last time you took part in a reasonable, bi-racial discussion on race?  Uh, never!

When blacks and whites talk, especially on TV or radio, the goal always seems to be punishing the other party rather than progress for both parties.  It’s never a fair fight and it’s never a reasonable talk.

And yet, aren’t you just itching to have that reasonable talk?  Well then, let’s have it.  And then, after we’ve talked about it, let’s do something about it.  We really can, you know.  Do you believe that?  I do.  I believe it because Christians outnumber whites and Christians outnumber blacks and Christians are about to open a can of spiritual you-know-what!

Before we get started you should know that you’ll find your Bible and your sense of humor to be helpful aids.  Not that this is a heavy theological book or a humorous book.  It’s not.  It’s a serious book that just tries to keep God in mind and sometimes takes a stab at humor just to ease the tension in the room because—trust me—there will be tension in the room.

Besides relieving tension, humor also serves as a mercy alert.  God values mercy above almost any other human characteristic (Mt. 9:13), and humor is mercy’s bedfellow.  Mercy, in turn, is the most under-celebrated and under-explored virtue of them all, including love.

God says that he desires mercy.  We, being created in God’s image, instinctively crave mercy even if we don’t have one religious bone in our bodies.  Mercy is marvelous.  It is flat, slap marvelous, and it is one of the keys to winning the War on Racial Dissonance.

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Coldhearted Killers

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(Fourth excerpt from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

Sherree and I will meet again, and I hope it will be before we get to paradise, because she didn’t die that day.  She broke a whole bunch of bones and spent many long months in the hospital, but she didn’t die.

Please don’t be upset with me for misleading you.  After all, I didn’t write that I had killed someone but rather that I had learned what it felt like to kill someone.  For two agonizing minutes on September 7, 2015, my reality was the reality of a killer:  There was no doubt in my mind that the motorcyclist was dead and that I was the bad guy, and believe me; you do not want to know what that feels like.

In sharing the story of this accident I was setting the stage for that old maxim, “Perception is reality.”  How you and I view ourselves and others is based upon our individual realities.  Often our reality may not be actual reality, but it’s our reality.  Someone else has made this point by observing, “Puppy love is real to the puppies.”

This book takes on the actual reality of race in America.  It does so by starting with the concession that there is a white reality and a black reality or, as I’ve nicknamed them, a Mayberry Reality and a Harlem Reality.  These realities are much different, sometimes alarmingly so, and we have no hope of snuffing out racial dissonance until we get a handle on these alternate realities.

Harlem, I’d like you to meet Mayberry.  Mayberry, I’d like you to meet Harlem.  I know you’ve heard a lot about each other, and my purpose in introducing you is to have a friendly chat about racial dissonance.

Dissonance is a Disturbance in the Force.  It is “the disharmonious blend of two sounds or two elements.”  In the case of race it is the disharmonious blend of blacks and whites.  Dissonance is the opposite of harmony, and it is always ugly and unpleasant.

Dissonance between blacks and whites is disheartening, frustrating, sometimes even infuriating.  Lately, more and more, it can even be deadly.  Dissonance is always the work of the one who “comes to steal and kill and destroy.”  It is never the work who came “so that you may have life, and have it to the full”.  (John 10:10)

Again, dissonance is the opposite of harmony, and harmony is not equality.  We could achieve perfect racial equality in America and still have an ugly racial mess on our hands.  We could achieve perfectly equal rights, equal pay and equal opportunity, but without harmony we would still have rampant racial dissonance. And this dissonance would continue to fan the flames of unrest we are all feeling to a greater and greater extent each and every day.

Back to Sherree.  As you’ve deduced by now she was up to no good just before the accident.  She was running her motorcycle with no license plate, and when the police noticed and flipped on their lights to pull her over, she hit the gas.

Why would she do such a thing?  Because in addition to having no license plate, she had no driver’s license, no insurance and a bag of weed in her pocket.  She was being naughty, but not that naughty.

In the weeks after the mishap, as I worked to come to grips with what had happened, I did two things often:  I prayed for Sherree and I shared my experience with friends.  When I prayed for Sherree I prayed that she would not suffer and would make a full recovery.  I prayed that she wouldn’t go to prison and that she wouldn’t get hooked on pain killers and wouldn’t spend the rest of her life in the hellish slavery of substance torment.

I also prayed about whether or not I should visit Sherree in the hospital.  Ultimately I chose not to, not because I didn’t care but because I didn’t want her to feel humiliated.  I knew that she would have to pay an outrageous price in terms of pain, suffering and legal troubles and I did not want her to think that some cold, white dude was rubbing her nose in it.  I had told her when I left her that day that I loved her, and I love her still.  I want only the best for her and so I did not, and do not, wish to beat her down.

When I talked with my friends about the mishap their reaction was pretty much uniform– amazement mixed with empathy.  But one friend, an older white lady, reacted in a different and somewhat shocking manner.

“Let’s see,” she said matter-of-factly.  “No license.  No insurance.  Drugs.  Running from the law.  Probably a welfare mooch to boot.  It would have been better for everyone if she had just gone ahead and died.”

Now, this friend has many fine qualities.  She believes in Jesus.  She is an energetic volunteer and has many years of service to her church and community.  She is sincere, educated and intelligent.  She is kind, thoughtful, warm and engaging.  She is a pillar of the community and yet she said what she said… and she meant it.

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The Black Biker

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(Third excerpt from Harlem Meets Mayberry.)

“I’ve killed a man, son, and believe me: You do not want to find out what that feels like.”

On Labor Day of 2015 I found out that the movie soldiers and movie cops and movie cowboys are absolutely right: You do not want to find out what it feels like to end the life of another human being. The post-traumatic effects of my episode include at least one positive to go along with the dreadful flashbacks: The incident pushed me out of my comfort zone as a suburban white businessman and into the uncomfortable zone of tackling racial dissonance.

It was a clear and mild morning, and the traffic on I-285, the 10-lane ring circling Atlanta, was light. Minutes before the accident a traffic reporter had promised a “speed limit ride” from anywhere on I-285 to anywhere else on I-285. That report made me feel good because, if you happen to be a country boy living in the city that invented the 24/7 traffic jam, a speed limit ride is so rare that it feels a bit like riding Disneyworld’s Rockin’ Roller Coaster again and again without ever having to wait in the herd.

Traveling at about 70 miles per hour, which is what Atlantans do when they have a “speed limit ride” on a 55 mph track, I had one eye on the road and one eye on my eldest son, Vince.  I had picked him up earlier for breakfast and was driving him back to his house before heading for the north Georgia mountains, where I had a 1:15 tee time that I’d been looking forward to for weeks.

Vince and I were arguing.  I don’t remember what it was about but it wasn’t a doozy.  On the doozy scale I’d say it was about a 4; just a nice, average, father-son argument.

Suddenly I heard a “click” and felt a slight jolt at my left rear.  At first I thought I had run over a slice of semi-tractor tire, a notorious “interstate alligator.”  A moment later, glancing out my side window, I saw an airborne human passing my truck, still ascending on a vector running diagonally from my position in the second right lane toward the concrete median wall which stood beyond the shoulder bordering the far left lane.

An instant behind the stealthily gliding human, a spiraling motorcycle whizzed past my window at eye level, its engine still screaming. Instinctively I slammed on my brakes, giving no thought to the fact that my sudden stop could cause yet another accident.

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The damage from the accident will never be repaired. It serves as my reminder to thank God often.

Then I stared in horrified fascination as the airborne man followed a downward arc and crashed into the concrete median wall. At impact his inertia was so great that it held him against the wall. Some five or six times he spun against it like a pirouetting ballerina, his feet down and his helmeted head up, each turn grinding the coarse, gritty concrete against his torso like a powerful belt sander. Then the motorcyclist flopped head first onto the left shoulder, limp and lifeless.

“My…God!” I said weakly. “I have just slaughtered a human being.”

“No, Dad!” Vince objected. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

My eyes fixed on the crumpled form some 100 feet in front of me, I replied, “Yes I did! I was yelling at you and drifted out of my lane and now I’ve killed that innocent man.”

Then, looking at Vince, I said, “Call 911. I’m going to go pray for him. I don’t know what else to do.”

“It’s not your fault, Dad. I promise you!” Vince answered.

Almost insane with shock and remorse I shouted back, “Oh, shut up! You’re always trying to cover your ass! Just call 911.”

To be sure, it was a cruel thing to say, unkind and untrue. But in my condition what did I care? After all, I was a freshly-minted murderer.

When I looked back toward the body there were three police cars surrounding it in a reverse C-shape, presumably to protect it from being run over. Vehicles had stopped beside my truck in all four of the other lanes and people were running toward the body.

In a haze of dread I got out of my truck and lumbered into the swarm, dizzied with apprehension at what I was about to witness. As I approached the police cars a sea of blue lights flashed spasmodically as if to taunt me, “Bad news! Bad news! And it’s all your fault! Bad news! Bad news! And it’s all your fault.”

The police were turning people back and ordering them to return to their vehicles. Strangely, they let me pass through them as if I were invisible.

Now within 10 feet of the body, I noticed its legs were rocking back and forth ever so slightly, and my hopes soared. “Oh, dear Lord,” I pleaded. “Let him be alive!

Kneeling beside the body I saw that it was clad in a heavy leather jacket, leather pants and leather gloves. The belly was exposed and the skin had been sanded away to reveal pink, bloody flesh. A jagged shinbone poked about two inches through the pants just above the rim of a heavy boot. Several smaller bones jutted through the back of the glove on the man’s left hand. Reaching down I raised the tinted visor of the metallic red helmet and gazed down at the face of, surprisingly, a woman; a young, black woman.

Placing a hand gently on her forearm, I used the other hand to lift the thin wires of ear buds from between her bloody lips. As I stroked her cheek a time or two with one finger, a disjointed thought barged out of nowhere into my tormented mind: “You can listen to music while piloting a crotch rocket at 130 MPH? That must be a rush.”

Lowering my face close to hers I asked softly, “Can you hear me?”

“Ooo,” she moaned, “My legs burnin’. My legs burnin’, hot road. Get me off the hot road.”

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Racial Rushmore

(Second excerpt from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

The next great sculpture might be Mount Racemore.

The next great sculpture might be Mount Racemore.

One day soon, when blacks and whites are getting along much better than they do now, perhaps there will be a Racial Rushmore.   Into the granite side of a mountain will be carved the likenesses of four great movers and shakers for the cause of racial harmony.

Two of the faces on that mountainside are no-brainers.  Martin and Abe will be up there for sure.  The other two faces are anyone’s guess, and since anyone can guess, I’d like to throw my nominee into the hat: I nominate Job.

You know Job as the guy who had all the trouble, so much trouble that he is the Poster Child for trouble to this very day.  But make no mistake; despite his reputation for bad luck, Job was flat-out winner.  In fact, before all his troubles started, he was on an epic winning streak.

Job had it all.  He was mega-wealthy and had a great wife, close friends, seven handsome sons and three charming daughters.  Everyone, including God himself, adored Job.  Nobody could find any fault with him and on top of all that, success had not gone to his head.

Then, literally overnight, it all crashed.  All of Job’s kids were killed, his fortune stolen and his health destroyed.  Suddenly he had nothing and almost nobody, and he sat in the deepest, darkest pit of gloom.  His body was covered with painful sores from head to toe.

Worst of all, everyone assumed that Job was being punished for some secret sin, when in fact Job was the apple of God’s eye.  At the pinnacle of his torment, Job finally whimpered, “I wish I’d never been born.”

And he meant it.

The book of Job consists of about 40 pages but the story takes only four pages to tell.  Of the remaining 36 pages, about 13 are taken up by Job’s friends pummeling him with annoying advice and criticism, while another 17 pages record Job’s complaints, defense and all-around pity party.  So actual events account for only 10% of the book, while commentary and opinion consume a whopping 75%.

Isn’t that just how our culture works to this very day?

Something horrific happens and an avalanche of knee-jerk rhetoric follows.  Victims howl and proclaim their innocence.  Self-appointed gurus and blind guides, many of them religious leaders who ought to know better, weigh in with hastily-formed opinions.

Meanwhile, God always puts in his two cents’ worth, too (this accounts for the “missing” 15% of Job), but we almost never care to hear God’s thoughts on the matter.

Why do we not listen to God in the immediate aftermath of tragedy?  Because we’re in too big a hurry to be clever and smart.  We’re too busy writing social media posts and giving speeches and hoping that our drive-by post or our drive-by speech will be the magic pill that solves the problem, which of course it never is and never does.

Many folks think the book of Job has a happy ending, but it doesn’t.  True, Job got his fortune and friends and reputation back.  He also had 10 more beautiful children, lived to see his great-great grandchildren and died “old and full of years.”

Still, it was not a happy ending.  It was merely an orderly and prosperous ending.

Job lost 10 children, and anyone who’s ever lost even a single child can tell you that there is no happy ending after a child dies.  Granted, many happy days may follow, but the sun never shines again in quite the same way.  The loss of a child marks the heart and soul in a way like no other loss, and while there may yet be much joy, the happy ending is written right out of the script.

None of us will ever climb as high nor fall as far as Job.  Job was an outlier at both extremes of the prosperity continuum.

So what, then, is the modern point of Job?  How can he help us navigate our racial times, and why on earth would his likeness deserve chiseling into Mt. Racemore? Continue reading

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