Hate and Compassion ML King Sunday, 2019

Romans 12: Acts 10:34-36


I’ve been reading a book on the dynamics of ‘hate’ written by a TV commentator that gets a lot of hate mail because she is on Fox and CNN. People troll her and say the most vile things that she found disturbing enough she decided she wanted to understand why people troll other people. So she started contacting the people that trolled her to find out.

It was not what you would think.

She recounts a story about a Black writer named Ijeoma Oluo. Three years ago, on Martin Luther King Day in 2015, she read a Twitter tweet from “@mrscrotum21”, a twitter handle that suggests considerable hostility before he even speaks.

@mrscrotum 21 posted this “In honor of MLKing day today, I’m taking a vow to use {[and here he uses a vile, racist slur] as many times as possible and in the most inappropriate times.” Just putting some hate out there for the world to notice.

Ijeoma wrote back with a quote from Martin Luther King, “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him”, a classic King response.

@mrscrotum21 responded with evermore vitriolic racist insults. And Ijeoma responded each time with another quote from Dr. King.

Eventually @mrscrotum posted a sarcastic quote that was supposed to sound like it also came from Dr. King. That quote said, “I hope I get shot soon.” Just ugly.

Ijeoma responded “I wish you peace and love and freedom from the hatred that hurts your heart.”

“Who’s that quote from” @mrscrotum21 tweeted.

“That’s me,” Ijeoma replied. “Sending love and hope to you.

“Then @mrscrotum21 trivialized the severity of violence against black Americans past and present, at which point Ijeoma accused @mrscrotum of mocking murder.

@mrscrotum tweeted back “Look honey. I’m 14 years old, you need to chill”.

“My son is 13 years old” Ijeoma replied, “and he would never mock your murder”.

“Well good for him. He must have a really cool mom.” @mrscrotum21 wrote.

“He does,” tweeted Ijeoma. “Does your mom know you spend your time on the internet trying to hurt people?”

“I doubt it”, @mrscrotum replied. “She’s been dead for a year and a half now”.

Long story short, eventually the kid actually wrote her back and said “You are so nice and I am so sorry”. And eventually, Ijeoma wrote him back “Today is about forgiveness. People do stupid things when they are hurting. Send me a message if you need to talk.” What a great Mom.[i]

There are many dimensions to hate speech and I can only dwell on one of them today. It comes from James Baldwin. “One of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with the pain.”

St. Paul says you cannot overcome evil with evil. Only good can overcome evil. Dr. King used to say, “Hate never drives out hate. Only love can do that.”

But the love option can be profound. Compassion is like that.

        We know that. What we need to do now is apply it broadly and indiscriminately… like God. Father Ed Leahy is walking me around the campus of St. Benedict’s Prep school in the middle of downtown Newark. He and the Benedictine monks have created an incubus of compassion right in the middle of the ghetto.

        So his specialty is healing black and brown boys from the poorest part of the city and the part of the city that is most racially segregated-(today that means it has the highest concentration of black people, the remnant of earlier era of legal segregation). He tells me that typically he meets boys for the first time when they are in Middle School. By then someone in the public school system has determined that they are in serious trouble.

        Father Ed tells me that when the first interview with these boys, they are almost always completely mute. They live with multiple stresses- poverty, crime, drugs, a broken family, almost always no father or negative male role models. They are angry, sullen, withdrawn. They turn it all in on themselves become depressed, perhaps start using drugs, perhaps act out aggressively, refuse to participate, just will not engage.

        Ed says, “Nobody in our society wants to hear what a black boy has to say about anything, so they stop talking.” They have literally interiorized the stigma of our racist society without understanding it in the least. People from outside the hood might see these boys as punks- that is the lens of stereotype that allows you to write them off.

Father Ed knows they just need to be loved. (like Mrscrotum21).

        We know our inner urban kids have diminished ability to concentrate on their school work because they are using so much of their mental ability to deal with the trauma of poverty, the trauma of dysfunctional family, the trauma of drug addicted parents and relatives, the trauma of violence and crime. They literally cannot, physically cannot pay sustained attention because they are exhausted (I don’t know how I got through those days).

        But in our society we act like somehow if we take these kids and put them in school, we can transform them without addressing this trauma. It doesn’t work. And our educational policies are ineffective despite the fact that we spend more and more money on this approach. (I’m married to a school teacher that teaches in the barrio in Elizabeth, I could go on and on about this but I won’t).

        St. Benedict’s does what Christians have been doing for 2000 years. They create a surrogate spiritual family which public schools cannot do. It doesn’t take the place of their families of origin. But it is enormously healing. Spiritual families help you work around what you didn’t get from your physical family.

        As soon as you get to St. Benedict’s you are part of a team of 8 guys. Every day you sit together for opening convocation. Every day you report to your team captain. Captains are all elected. Everything is earned at St. Benedict’s. That is how genuine respect is developed- especially for boys. One rule, no exceptions, group enforcement of the culture.

        In Middle School, the entire class goes on a 3 day hike on the Appalachian Trail and your team has to solve a number of problems together. Your team has to compete with the other teams in rivalries that are designed so that the group is only as strong as the weakest member. It is all about the Team.

        The ethic at St. Benedict’s is ‘whatever hurts my brother, hurts me.’ So every day, each student has to call their team captain if they have to be absent. And if you don’t, the team captain will call you, your family. And if they can’t get hold of you, they will go to your house and get you.

        Can’t do that in public school. But you can if you are Catholic.

        Like the power of sisterhood, (you just have to be more intentional with boys who don’t do this on their own) these boys are surrounded by 7 other guys reminding them every day, “You are important. We need you. We need for you to be responsible and succeed. You can do it.

        And there are some things you can do in single sex education that would just never work if they were co-ed. The morning convocation takes all the energy that boys have and they get them up singing songs with inspiring themes like Mark Miller would write telling them ‘you are a child of God’. All these teams, arm in arm rocking the place because that is what boys just want to do… Unless girls are around and then you would never be able to get them to hug each other in solidarity.

        The teams sit together with all the teams from their grade and all those captains have a Grade Captain. And the grade Captain all report to a school Captain. And when the School Captain stands and raises his hand after a raucous song- these are boys from the Hood- the entire gym of 700 boys goes to silence. It is miraculous to watch and inspiring. Boys have such great energy but it is wasted if you can’t develop focus.

        I ask Father Ed about sports. “Required” he tells me. “That is where we teach all the values of character. Discipline, follow through, team work, training, goal setting, practice, respect, reward, leadership- all the things that they are going to need if they are going to be successful in college, in their vocations, in their lives. How do you channel that energy and harness it for something good?

        I list off a number of researchers at Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania that have shown that IQ alone is a poor prognosticator of future success. It is the combination of IQ and EQ. Father Ed hasn’t read all those books, he just knows what works. Terrific street smarts from a former working class Irish kid.

        They teach the boys what we learn from Jesus. That God loves them. That they matter to God. That God wants them to develop their potential in each other as all of them look out for each other and develop a mutual responsibility. Respect yourself. Respect each other. Be honest. Develop discipline. Focus. Reflect love. Care. Get involved.

        It is not rocket science. It is the spirituality of community and love. And man, it works. Father Ed introduces me to the Captain of the Junior Class. Father Ed told me that when he first met Andre as a 6th grader, he kept his eyes on the ground, pulled his hoodie over his face, didn’t so much talk as grunt.

        4 years later… He stands up, walks across the room, looks me in the eye, shakes my hand. I ask him if he’s looking at colleges yet, wondering to myself what that would be like for him compared to our typical Union county Suburban kids that do a tour to a dozen campuses with their parents.

        He tells me about his concentration in his studies, lists half a dozen colleges that he is interested in, answers some questions about what those colleges specifically offer that he is interested in, and articulates his goals.

        I’m thinking to myself, “Man, I wish you were my nephew.” I almost get choked up with genuine hope, real hope.

        He still has big challenges at home, in his neighborhood. I find myself making a silent prayer just thinking about how much harder it is to go to these competitive colleges when you don’t have any money, you don’t have this huge network of support that upper middle class families give their kids routinely, when you haven’t had all these cultural experiences that suburban kids have.

        But this kid is going to make it.

        After the boys leave, I ask Father Ed how does he know when he has succeeded. “That is any easy question” he says. “It comes a few years after they graduate from college. I run into them and they introduce me to their family.”

        Love heals. Love empowers. Love equips you to love- whether that is in your own family, the love you develop with your community of friends, the love you show when you adopt the next generation physically or just spiritually as a mentor. Lin Manuel-Miranda was so right “Love is love is love is love is love”. Responsible, contributing community member.

        You stand shaking hands with a young man like Andre and you realize just how stupid and short sighted it is for people to dismiss a kid like him as a punk, a gang banger- stereotypes that allow us to not be responsible.

Spiritually speaking, these are our kids. And our kids don’t grow from our judgment or our dismissal of them- our indifference. They grow because we love them.

        It is all personal. It is all personal. Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

        Back to the book I read “The Opposite of Hate”. The Author quotes the experts on the subject of overcoming the hate that divides our country, the hate that drove racism in our past, etc..”. The experts say we have to create spaces in our society where we can make “connection”.

        We have to share our lives, person to person. When we do that, the personal starts to transcend the stereotypical and we go through a complex process of resorting our assumptions about people that are different from us.

        It is not rocket science, we just slowly chip away at the racist divisions that separated us in the past. Love brings out the personal as it heals the soul.

        In 1965, Dr. King wondered why Sunday morning was the most segregated hour of the week. I’ve reflected on that in the past 50 years and I’ve come to appreciate that part of the answer is that religion is so cultural- our traditions, our songs, our spiritual disposition.

        But our world has blended so much in the past 50 years. Let’s create some connectional space here at Christ Church. Let’s lead the way toward developing the potential in each other through love. Let’s live more in the personal dimension of spiritual existence. Amen.

[i] I read this in Sally Kohn’s book “The Opposite of Hate” p. 48. She got that story from Susan Benesch who advocates developing ‘golden conversations’ that open up more speech around hate rather than returning kind for kind.

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