nIt was a tense, wearying summer. In fact, I wanted a complete 3-month do-over. Our duties were too numerous and recreation too little. It certainly didn’t help that we dreaded turning on the television or radio for fear of hearing more bad news.
Then this happened. As my eldest prepared to return to campus for her sophomore year of college in August, she pierced my soul with a tearful question:
“How do I live with people that want me dead?”
That may seem like a crazy, dramatic query. But let me give you some context. We live in a suburb about 30 miles west of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Our daughter lives on campus at a college in the city.
Their tumultuous, confusing culture assaulted my kids, both at home and away, this year. Try as I might, I could not shelter my engaged, informed teenagers from all of the horror in the world around them. If we weren’t discussing current events at home, all of the kids were chattering about them at school.
Just prior to the summer months, anxiety mounted in my children as they alternated worry over ISIS-inspired attacks worldwide with the fanned flames of racial hatred growing in the United States. It seemed to them that if radical jihadis didn’t want them dead, the African American community did. This was especially hard for them all to process as they have both Muslim and black friends in their lives that they hold in high regard. Add to that the racial strife my eldest experienced on her urban college campus, and my kids needed a major debrief on how to navigate a hostile world.
When the bad news keeps coming
Once the school year ended, the world continued to feel increasingly grim. Look at this crazy timetable of the summer’s bad news our family was processing:
- 6/12/16 — A domestic terrorist killed 50 and injured many more in the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida. He was a lone jihadist who orchestrated the horror before law enforcement finally took him out.
- 6/28/16 — Radical jihadists bombed and assaulted Istanbul airport with gunfire. This happened at a time when someone we care about was passing through that airport on an international mission trip.
- 7/5/16 — Police shot Alton Sterling, a black man, at close range as he struggled with them in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Protests followed.
- 7/7/16 — An officer shot Philando Castile, a black man, in a suburb of St Paul, Minnesota during a traffic stop. The officer firing the fatal shots claimed to believe that Castile was reaching for his weapon. In a bizarre twist, Castile’s girlfriend, who was driving the car, streamed live video of the aftermath on Facebook. Protests followed nationwide.
- 7/7/16 — As people watched the national protests on live television, 12 Dallas, Texas police officers were gunned down by sniper fire; 5 died as a result. Police tactical units eventually took the lone gunman out using a robot and plastic explosives.
- 7/17/16 — Days later a Milwaukee, Wisconsin police officer, sitting in his police car as his colleagues finished up paperwork inside on a domestic call, was shot multiple times at close range by a single assailant who then took his own life. The bullet seriously wounded the officer, the vest saving him from almost certain death.
- 7/17/16 — Six Baton Rouge, Louisiana officers were responding to a call near a shopping center, and found themselves ambushed by a lone gunman, dressed all in black killing 3 and injuring 3 others. Police killed the gunman, a black male. Incidentally, one of the officers murdered by the gunman was also black.
- 7/26/16 — Just over a week later, in Japan a former facility worker stabbed 19 disabled people to death and injured 26 more while asleep. Disabled people have no right to exist in his opinion. The incident barely made the news.
- 8/13/16 — Weeks later, the Milwaukee Police Department stopped Sylville Smith along with his associate. Smith and his friend fled on foot with police following in chase. When police told Smith to drop the weapon he was carrying, he did not comply. The pursuing officer finally shot and killed Smith, when he turned towards the officer lifting the gun in hand. Incidentally, both Mr. Smith and the officer who shot him were both black.
- 8/13 – 8/14/16 — False rumors swirled of Smith being unarmed and shot in the back by a white officer. As a result, violent protests broke out around the Sherman Park area of Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he was killed. Unrest escalated to a level of rioting, with some blacks intentionally targeting whites, including the press. Destruction of traffic lights and bus shelters were only outdone by the complete torching of a BP gas station with 3 employees still in it. Police used an armored vehicle to help the employees escape. A total of 7 businesses in the area were burned, and several officers injured.
- 8/14/16 — The Milwaukee County Sheriff requested that the National Guard be called up to assure that there would be adequate help the following day.
It seemed we could no longer than 2 weeks at most without some sort of upsetting, discouraging news coming at us. And we were in the wrong demographic, objects of the anger.
Imperfect circumstances are a perfect training ground
My daughter’s college dorm is only 7 miles south of the epicenter of the Milwaukee riots. Nevertheless, this fierce crucible was a fitting training ground for teaching our kids to love in the face of hate.
When my children were little, the lessons were simple: Share with everyone; Be kind to your siblings; Be polite to everyone; Have a grateful heart; Tell the truth. My kids could easily learn to love a diverse mix of people in a friendly environment at our local children’s hospital.
School stretched them to be kind to those who were unkind to them. They each faced plenty of adversity and even physical mistreatment there. But this sort of recent news stretches them to a whole new level.
In today’s civil unrest and terror fears, my children get to see in very practical ways what Jesus faced in his time. After all, these circumstances are merely distractions from keeping our eyes on the Eternal One. How did He do it? He lived in days of unrest and religious persecution. Some misunderstood him and seemed threatened by him. While today’s context and origin may vary compared to what Jesus endured,the human interaction is still the same. Others despised Jesus simply for who he was. My children are no different. Christ responded in Truth and in love, as should my children. We are ambassadors of the One who literally died for us while we were still his enemies. We need His Holy Spirit power in order to live lives that are anywhere NEAR worthy of that calling!
Ambassadors of Light in the darkness
As I read the Book of Acts again this week, I saw the Apostle Paul facing nothing but adversity in bringing a hopeful, exciting, life-saving message into hostile territory. He faced intense malice and pressed on in spite of it. He came delivering promise in the darkness, but received brutal hostility from many. Paul powerfully encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road, leaving him fully convinced. What other explanation can there be for his perseverance? The Light of his experience ignited that passion within him. It made him reflect that glory and power of the Truth wherever he went.
I want to bring that sort of Hope into the darkness. I pray I can impart the same in my children.
Living in today’s reality
Already this school year, my eldest has encountered a racially tense situation on the job. My daughter had to stop a customer who had set off an alarm at her job. The customer wouldn’t stop the first 2 times they were asked, forcing my daughter to call out to her 3 times. Hostility immediately rose up in the customer, assuming that she was being stopped because she was black. My daughter had gotten in trouble for letting someone who set off the alarm earlier this year escape. That thought had never occurred to this woman. She was just doing her job, while also trying to help the person who set off the alarm. That didn’t end this woman’s hostility towards her. Tags aren’t always properly deactivated by other businesses. Because my daughter called her back and finally deactivated the forgotten tag, this woman won’t have to face that annoyance again.
I encouraged my daughter that the next time she faces someone who is angry with her, assuming racial bias, she should continue on lovingly reassuring that she is just doing her job. Offer tenderness in spite of people’s prickliness. There is little she can do to squelch the assumptions and hostility towards her, but she can choose to love like Jesus.
My job as a parent in the midst of all this tension and unrest is to teach my kids and remind myself to follow that sort of model. Our professed faith must be lived out actively. When people see us, may they see the Love that will not let us go, rather than seeing us as the enemy.