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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

To Make a Point, Pick a Side. To Make a Change, Choose Love.

Uncle Bobby and I keep in contact between our daily 5:30 PM phone calls and via Facebook Messenger.

"Going to bed," he wrote late one night this week. "Maybe when I wake up, news will be better."

I understood. The rising death toll from the Nepal earthquake and riots in Baltimore had flooded news channels and shocked a watching world. The world was on the same side regarding the Nepal earthquake. Love dominated and nations came together to send much needed aid. Baltimore was a different story as warring factions polarized and fought to make points for their side. So far, there has been much debate but no one seems to have won.

When I travel, I often miss the news. Bob and I passed through Baltimore, Maryland last Monday night and wondered why so many police cars raced along I-95 and into the city. When we arrived at our hotel, 60 miles north of Baltimore and turned on the news, we were horrified. Baltimore was literally burning. Angry mobs destroyed property and looted stores. News channels aired differing points of view worldwide. We stayed glued to the television long enough to also learn about the rising death toll from the Nepal earthquake. That night, the Baltimore riots received top international news billing over Nepal. For some reason, that made what we were watching even more macabre. Later, the repeated video of a frantic mother slapping desperately at her son and dragging him out of the crowd brought back memories of my own terror over mistakes made by my oldest son David. I was grateful no one had been around with a camera. The video showed a mother who wasn't taking sides and making points. She loved her son and had one goal in mind - to make her son leave that mob and go home. She chose love and made a change.

As I watched the riots from the safety of my hotel room, I listened for information that would allow me the relief of picking a side. If I could blame "evil" police officers, parents for not controlling youth, cities for allowing hateful prejudice, criminals looking for an excuse to loot and steal, or the rich and powerful for not allowing escape from poverty, I would have felt better. I could have vented my frustrations by "making my point." Nothing I heard gave me enough information to choose a side.

Then, I remembered lessons learned during the race riots of the 60's and Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination. I was 15 and followed and respected Dr. King. I had always hated prejudice. I wanted to make a change and sanctimoniously picked a side against prejudice. Ironically, Dr. King actually taught to choose love. My passion over race relations scared Mama and when she tried to slow me down, I assumed she'd picked the other side and therefore was the enemy. Instead of listening and understanding her position, I stuck my nose in the air, feeling sure I was the "better person." I made my "point" regarding race relations to anyone who would listen, especially if I detected racism. I never changed anyone's mind.

I may have thought Mama and I were on different sides but trust me, we were on the same side when we ended up together in the same car in the middle of a race riot. The night Dr. King was killed, my 10th grade boyfriend and I had a Junior Achievement Meeting downtown. As Mama drove us home, we were stopped by angry mobs. They shook our car and threw rocks at us - simply because of the color of our skin. I wanted to roll down my window and shout, "But I'm on your side," but even at 15, I figured out that the "side" I was on wouldn't help me. I was on Mama's side when she gunned the engine, sending crowds scattering, and got us to safety. I was glad to be alive and knew Mama's quick response had saved us. The shock of that and a new admiration for Mama helped me to listen to, understand, and accept her views about a subject that I cared deeply about. I realized that Mama loved people and was kind to everyone, regardless of their race, lifestyles, or choices. Her concern was about what she called my "causes" and her fear for my safety, security, and reputation. My new understanding of Mama's position had little impact on my "causes" or what she considered risks, but it empowered me to make the changes I so craved to make. The love and understanding of Mama's position later gave me the gentleness needed to make concrete changes in race relations in the classical piano music world in Florida.

On Monday night, I continued to watch the news while praying, "Help me choose love." As is often true, the way of love was more painful. When I chose love instead of taking a side, I was left weeping for all sides. I wept for the family of the young man killed, a life ended so young. I wept for angry people in so much pain that they looted and destroyed. I wept for all whose prejudice caused them to miss the joy of loving their neighbors. I wept for the police officers - guilty or innocent - in the middle of the horrific situation. I wept with the rest of the world for the people of Nepal.

Why choose love instead of picking a side? After all, anger feels better and is more energizing than weeping. Pain forces us to seek Jesus for comfort. Love dispels our fears, which are never from God. Choosing love allows us to be helpful to others who are hurting, regardless of the "side" they take. It spares us from the emotional roller coaster of our own self-righteous anger. Love allows us to see clearly how God wants us to respond. For example, with Nepal, I did all I knew to do - pray and donate towards relief. For Baltimore, I prayed, and later, when the dust settles and only the memory of the hurt and the reality of the damage remain, I'll put Baltimore on the list of cities where we take Gospel teams. Choosing love means we pray for all involved equally. It means we don't waste time and energy in controversial but debilitating discussions. It means that unless we are on the jury tasked with deciding guilt or innocence, we don't have to carry the burden of judgment on our shoulders. It means that instead of simply making a point, we have the chance to make a change.

How have you reacted to these events? Have you stood around making points or has God already revealed to you the way to make a real change? Have you been defending a side and railing against the other? Or, are you equally weeping for all involved? Have you taken a side or chosen love? If you want to make a point, pick a side. If you want to make a change, choose love.