Hearing the Music

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Grieving Systems. Clinging to a Savior.

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“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets.”

W. Edwards Deming

What this weeks post lacks in coherence it makes up for with some serious things to think about. I included some links for additional thought should you be so inclined.

First, this past Tuesday was our stated session meeting. As you will see, in addition to continuing to provide the HWG  we are also going to experiment with a parking lot service on the 24th of May. Let me just say that there is no easy or clear way forward to deciding matters of gathering. In addition to a diverse session, representing a diverse church, I have pastor friends throughout the state and around the midwest reaching out, all asking what should we do? We would simply ask that you continue to pray for us as we seek to serve both you and our community. Please continue to love one another well through this time. And please remember that people definitely need the testimony of Christians during this heightened time of life and death issues, and social isolation. Whether these folks walk through our front door or not, they are watching to see how well we love one another. This was discussed in a recent Conversation with Schaffer

Speaking of the need for the gospel witness in the world, I have been heartbroken over the Ahmaud Arbery situation. My heart is broken over the seeming senseless loss of life. Broken over the persistent stereotypes that shape our communities. I speak this as one whose black children have all faced these prejudices in one way or another. I speak this as one who sees what the system does with “throw-away black men” who wash up in jail (as is the frustration that we are currently facing with Malachi). Our own church documents, the Westminster Larger Catechism in Q&A 135, commenting on the 6th commandment, thou shalt not kill, says, “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any”. This is a high standard for positively ensuring that all life has value. While the McMichael’s deserve a fair trial, everything sure seems to point to the fact that Ahmaud Arbery did not get the same. Sadly, the “system” that we tolerate here in America is perfectly designed to get these results. As is oft quoted from Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. I have included an essay below from my friend Jon VandenHeuvel (brother to Jane Jelgerhuis) that is both personal and has a level of expertise. It most valuably has a number of concrete action items toward the end.

Finally, last week as I was wrapping up a sermon on a depressed prophet and writing about mental health, addiction and H.A.L.T; a very good ministerial friend of mine was taking his own life. Like all stories, Darrin’s is complicated. In many ways the Lord used him to rain fire from heaven a la Elijah at Mt. Carmel. But these public triumphs also had a shadow side to which Darrin fell prey. Like all of us, Darrin was a glorious ruin, simultaneously capable of tremendous beauty and great brokenness I grieve today for his wife and four children. I grieve the loss of good friend one who knew me and still loved me. I grieve for the evangelical church here in America that is experiencing this unnatural death of her pastors far too often. Once again, I am forced to realize that this system too (i.e. - evangelical church in America) is getting the results that it is designed to get and that we are in desperate need of prayer. 

But in the midst of all of this, we do not grieve as those who have no hope. We have a great Father who does not deal with us according to what we deserve, but showers us with grace and mercy (cf. Psalm 103:10-14). We have a Savior who has risen with healing in his wings (Malachi 4:2). We are both recipients and stewards of this treasure. May we collectively find all we need in Him.


 Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash

Personal Essay   Jon Vanden Heuvel


My daughter asked me some really important questions yesterday about the Ahmaud Arbery murder. We had a good chat. It forced me to think and look into the situation, which I was sortof avoiding because it is completely depressing and infuriating. Unfortunately, this case is so enlightening and revealing of the systemic injustices that persist in our country, I wanted to share some thoughts on this. Here we go...

Once again, the world spotlight (more like a strobe light) reveals a gross racial injustice in our country, an event so cold-blooded and shocking, it demands the world's attention, if only for a day or two. The big question for me is, What happens when the spotlight is off? Was this particular light just capturing a singular hateful act of two racist thugs? Or was the light capturing something more: the outward symptoms of a deeper disease, something more systemic, more comprehensive?

How we answer this question today will determine whether Ahmaud died in vain, or whether his death will help tip the scale of injustice toward the 'more perfect Union' we must continuously pursue.

Bottom line up front, the injustices of this situation are too many to count, and we must not believe for one second that this was merely one exceptionally hateful single act of two individuals. Any reasonable layman review of the known facts make it clear, this murder was the "tip of the iceberg" symptom of the disease of racism, sometimes subtle, sometimes shocking, nonetheless systemic, comprehensive and corrosive to the conscience of our Nation.

Let's look at just a few of the key known facts. I will address a few as the "strobe light" captures each milestone...

  1. The murder happened on Feb. 23, 75 days ago. What the heck? Please recognize, this 75-day time gap reveals more about why Ahmaud Arbery was killed in the first place than the individual actions of Gregory and Travis McMichael. I will get to Greg and Travis below, but do not think for one second that the "SYSTEM" that concealed this injustice for 75 days is innocent. Those involved in this food chain are guilty of a toxic injustice, gross dereliction of duty and should be equally held accountable. And I'm not just talking about criminal justice bureaucrats. Where was CNN? (headquartered in Atlanta) Where was Fox News? (Fox affiliates all over state of Georgia)

  2. What happened during this 75 days? No arrest. Apparently no investigation. Simply the "presumption" of guilt on the part of Ahmaud and the "presumption" of innocence on the part of Gregory and Travis. What is a "presumption"? Dictionary calls it "supposing something is true based on probability." Ok, so why was Ahmaud "presumed" guilty? Who did the act of "presuming" in this situation? Who "presumed" he was guilty? And then who "presumed" Greg and Travis were innocent? How many layers of criminal justice system management does it take for "presumptions" of this nature to become a "fact"? In this situation, the "presumption" had already calcified into a legal "fact." Arbery was already tried and convicted by "the system." The McMichaels were already acquitted by "the system." When I talk about "systemic injustice" in the criminal justice system, this is one aspect of what I am talking about.

  3. As for the McMichaels, it is Gregory that I find especially intriguing. Gregory is now a worldwide caricature, with a mug shot where you say, yep, this dude looks like a scary KKK member without the white hood. It would be convenient for society to label him, convict him as the worse among us, tar and feather him, and then enjoy a sense relief and comfort that justice has been served. Would be nice, but it would be inaccurate. It would not be the endgame of justice in this case at all. I am not dismissing Gregory's actions, nor those of his son Travis. They will be held accountable now, hopefully, due to public pressure (minus the tar and feathers). Yet my real concern about Gregory is his background as a longstanding public servant, a former Glynn County, Georgia police detective and district attorney's office investigator. Again, what the heck? What about his investigative career working for the criminal justice system? What "presumptions" were made by the system that recruited, trained, paid, promoted, and trusted Gregory McMichael for 40 yearsl? Judges that took Gregory's word for "fact," sheriffs, prosecutors, newspaper reporters, community and civic leaders, school boards, church boards, small business owners, and so on... Gregory McMichael isn't some backwater klansman. He has been a respected and trusted public servant.

  4. Now for a brutal question that will make everyone uncomfortable. At 64 years old, with probably 40+ career as a trusted civil servant, his words and actions "presumed" as true, is Gregory McMichael the only one? Just a single bad apple, with son Travis not falling far from the tree? And during 40 years, how many respectable citizens and civic leaders shared Gregory's "presumptions" of facts, his worldview, and his cultural perspective on race matters? Just a few? Or rather, is it the entire "culture of soft bigotry" that produced Gregory, paid Gregory, and now de facto acquitted him of "hard core bigotry", doing nothing for 75 days, what we must put on trial today?

  5. It is this culture of "soft" bigotry, subtle racism, that sometimes spills over into hard core racist vengeance. These are the situations that break-through the news cycle and make us sick (for a week or two). This murder will bring momentary attention to two thugs and their cold-blooded actions. The headlines will tolerate this story for maybe a week. The shock will then fade away as we, the average citizen, conclude either: (a) there is nothing we can do about this situation; or (b) this is a one-time event, the two thugs will be convicted, and justice will be served. In both (a) and (b), this teaching moment, this pain, this sacrifice of Ahmaud Arbery will be completely wasted if we do not examine the relevant factors that made such acts possible, and then acceptable.

  6. There is a third path, (c), that hopefully will allow this teaching moment to sink-in and cause real change in our country. These are three strategies (and I'm sure there are more) we can each employ now, from our own homes, to align our hearts and actions toward a more perfect Union. They are: 
    • Prayer
    • Pressure
    • Persistence


Only God can change hearts. While we can often be glib with "our thoughts and prayers are with you," there is something more to the "prayer thing" that we could consider as people of faith. Starting with a spirit of humility. We are all sinners. I work closely with other races and cultures every day, and I would be lying if I did not admit to cultural and racial insensitivity in my own heart. I do not love as I should. I lack empathy. If not for the grace of God, and spiritual mentoring of wonderful parents and special friends in my life, I would have a heart full of hate like Gregory McMichael. Truth is, before God, I am no better than this man or his son. Recognizing this fact is, at least for me, putting first things first. It is only through prayer and God's mercy that hearts are changed, starting with my own.


As we reflect on this situation, we must seek knowledge and understanding. This knowledge and understanding will likely reveal gaps and subtleties of matters of race and bigotry that we have allowed, probably and mostly, unaware of it. Fundamentally, it is the absence of meaningful relationships that yields absence of trust. An opportunity cost, and an opportunity lost. Hard to measure and quantify, yet nonetheless real. When trust is absent, suspicion and hatred can flourish and fester. Beyond this, our inquiry must not stop with our curiosities and noble intentions. Positive actions must first be conceptualized, since relationships and trust across racial and cultural divides does not become systematic by accident. It must be intentional. I love sports. This is one arena to form relationships. Music. Art. Today, I'm in business. I work with wonderful people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. This is a blessing, but this did not happen by accident. Earlier in my career I worked in government. I was blessed to work for an African American boss, Rep. JC Watts, for 10 years. I cannot express adequately my gratitude to JC and my friends Elroy Sailor and the late Steve Pruitt, and so many colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, Christians, Muslims, Jewish, and non-religious alike, who have blessed my life and perspective. I realize this type of work situation is not for everyone. I am fortunate, but more could be done in the marketplace and society to build trust across racial lines, genuine humanity. We must seek and find these opportunities, engaging the African American and Latino construction firm, accountant, physician and attorney. Trusting each other, struggling together, getting beyond token and surface relationships. Building partnerships and alliances. Not out of guilt, which is so temporary and fades quickly, but rather out of friendship, love and grace that is more enduring. And because we have been shown grace, we act. So beyond "how we feel" comes the pressure of actions, and policies, and ultimately, justice. True justice is where the right thing becomes tangible. While our good intentions will have important benefit, it is also the laws and policies of our nation, our states, our counties, our cities, our institutions, our enterprises, and our own homes, that will cause just outcomes, if enforced equitably. This, too, will not occur by chance or luck. It requires collective will, enforceable by law, with accountability. This all requires pressure. Pressure must be applied, soft pressure usually, but hard pressure if needed, not as a reaction to a single event, but rather more comprehensively toward an event AND the system that allowed the event to happen. And in the case of Ahmaud, an event which saw its main perpetrators get away with murder for 75 days. Pressure must be applied, soft and hard, with no let up, at multiple levels, for the long term.


This ugly situation is tiresome. Depressing. Demoralizing. Emotionally draining. For this reason, as a coping mechanism, our outrage and emotion will be temporary. This is natural. It will fade soon. Knowing this fact, it is our mind, our will and our action that must rule the day. Gut check. I cannot begin to list the many ways we could commit ourselves to a more just society. Everyone is in a different situation, and there are many injustices in the world, not only this one. But this is the big one, in my book, which manifests itself in so many recurring ways. It would take a book or a series of books to flesh this out. However, I have two practical suggestions to build up our determination and persistence, to begin to convert convictions to enduring impact...

  1. Go to the Prison Fellowship facebook page, 'Like" it and follow their regular posts and action items. This is a beautiful organization, not only seeking justice for prisoners behind bars, but also reaching out to their families and communities. These guys are fully engaged in all of the above issues.

  2. During lockdown, take in some great movies that will communicate both directly and indirectly the underlying issues we are seeing play out in the Ahmaud Arbery murder situation, and frankly played out internationally on the continent of Africa as cruelty and injustice flourish in the absence of human trust and relationships. Here is my random short list of favorites, which is by no means exhaustive:
                     - Just Mercy
                     - Cry, the Beloved Country
                     - Hidden Figures
                     - The Hate U Give
                     - If Beale Street Could Talk
                     - Best of Enemies
                     - The Help
                     - Selma
                     - The Birth of a Nation
                     - 42 (Jackie Robinson story)
                     - Tuskegee Airmen
                     - Invictus
                     - Amistad
                     - 12 Years a Slave
                     - Remember the Titans
                     - Green Book
                     - Black Klansman

  3. As you pray, pray that you will not forget. Pray for persistence. Pray for awareness. Pray for wisdom. As we all pray, maybe God will have mercy on the United States, he will give us greater sensitivity and determination. And if he is willing, he will bring healing to our country. At a minimum, let us pray for the family and friends of Ahmaud. And, yes, let us pray for Gregory and Travis McMichael, as difficult as this will be. Their healing and transformation is part of this equation.

Let us do these things, not only for justice for one young man, but for the sake of healing and strengthening our own hearts, families and communities.