Fatherlessness

father-daughter-1476167_1920Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. Hebrews 12:9

This Sunday is Father’s Day where fathers are celebrated. But there is the elephant in the room.  There is an epidemic of an absence of fathers in the nuclear family.  The consequences are devastating.  This is what happens in a fatherless home:

  • 85% of minorities in prison had no father.
  • 72% of minorities who committed murder had no father.
  • 85% of minority rapists in prison had no father.
  • 71% of minorities who drop out of school had no father.
  • 47.6% of all children who have no father live in poverty.
  • Fatherless adolescents are 3.5 times more likely to get pregnant.
  • Fatherless children are 279% more likely to carry guns and deal drugs than those with a father
  • Women without fathers have a lower educational attainment.
  • Fatherless children are twice as likely to commit suicide.
  • Adolescents living in a neighborhood with higher levels of fatherless families are more likely to be involved in violence.

There are more statistics like these, but I will stop here.   Studies show that a child who is brought up in a nuclear family of a mother and a father achieve much better outcomes in all aspects of life. That’s why we celebrate Fathers’ Day every year.

It is a problem that is not being addressed, particularly in today’s charged debate over racism and how to fix it. An approach since the 1960’s is to throw money at the problem. I guess that makes people feel good, but overall, the minorities in America are worse off today than they were 50 years ago.

Why?  Well for one thing, no social program addresses the issue of how to create a nuclear family with a mother and a father. Since the 1960’s, an estimated $6 trillion has been spent on various social programs, so it’s not a lack of money.  Welfare often creates a reliance on the government for support with no aspirational emphasis on self-reliance.

In John F. Kennedy’s 1960 inaugural address, he said, “Ask not what your country can do for you;  ask what you can do for your country.”  Sadly, the social programs of the 60’s – many of which still exist in one form or another – have subverted that idea and, instead, have created an entitlement mentality.

President Barack Obama grew up without a father but succeeded where others failed. He was outspoken about the issue. In an article in the New York Times when running for President in 2008, he said “one of the most sensitive topics in the African-American community [is] whether absent fathers bore responsibility for some of the intractable problems afflicting black Americans.”

On Fathers’ Day in 2008, Obama said: “Too many fathers [are] missing from too many lives and too many homes,” he said. “They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

He implored young men without a father to break the cycle and not repeat their father’s mistakes. Note the emphasis on personal responsibility, something that is missing from most social programs.

Obama’s example is a testament that one can succeed without a father and achieve remarkable success, even to the pinnacle of power. But there are those who downplay the role of a father with the success of their children.

All I can say is that they are wrong.  Statistics have shown them wrong. It is more of a political statement than a factual one.  But it is the narrative today: that institutions block the ability of a minority to rise above the fray.

The issues are often tied to economics. An emphasis needs to be on better education. Sadly, in the urban areas, even though the amount spent per pupil is very high, public schools are failing.

New York City leads the pack at over $22,000 per pupil, yet their schools rank low. Only 45.4% of students in New York schools were graded as “proficient”.

The best schools in NYC are charter schools, yet the current Mayor opposes them because of opposition by the public teacher’s union. Charter schools provide a choice out of failing public schools.

Schools like Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte which has aspirational goals of 90/90/90.  That is 90% minority, 90% scholarship and 90% achievement by students. They have the first two and are working to improve the 60% on the last goal.

Education is not the only answer;  the Christian community should look at ways to help. Ministries like Step Up Ministry in Raleigh.  Another is Neighbor to Neighbor.  The latter provides mentors for after-school programs for the kids in a South Raleigh neighborhood.

Another ministry is Jobs for Life (JFL) which gives students training and skills to hold a job.  Once training is completed, the program each student with a work experience internship. It’s programs are run through local non-profits and churches around the world.

JFL is committed to changing the world one job at a time. Their motto is: “Uplifting humanity through the dignity of work – one city, one community, one life at a time.” They discuss what they call “Flip the List”.

What that means is to change the emphasis of churches from providing food and clothing (those are the top two on the list), and emphasize employment instead.  If you solve employment, you will have less need to provide food and clothing.

The challenge is to creatively come up with ways to overcome the lack of fathers in families by providing mentoring, tutoring and male models who have been missing in many inner- city children’s lives.   These small steps will have a more profound impact than throwing more money at ineffective social programs.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Be bold in reaching across racial barriers and working with minorities in a mentoring capacity.

FURTHER RESEARCHFatherless Statistics – Fatherhood Factor

More Father Statistics – Fathers.com

Coming Apart – Charles Murray

The Battle over Charter Schools – Harvard Ed.

WORSHIPGood, Good Father  – Tomlin

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Listening

stoplooklisten

And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your GodMicah 6:8

When I learned to drive, I remember reading the driver’s manual of what to do when you approached a railroad crossing.  It said “Stop, Look and Listen.”

The events in America after the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer has created a lot of reflection in the Christian community.  There are lots of issues out there – police brutality, racism, injustice, etc.

The Floyd death is a railroad crossing kind of event.  For me, and a lot of my friends, it has caused us to Stop, Look and Listen, possibly for the first time.

Larry Fitzgerald,  a star wide receiver for the Phoenix Cardinals, wrote an essay in the New York Times which resonated with me.  In his essay, he said “We are not listening to one another.”

I agree.

I have been going to a Friday morning bible study for close to 38 years. It is around 25% minority, and every Friday, the group meets faithfully.  We call it the BOB, which stands for Band Of Brothers. There is a lot of love and hugs exchanged and color has nothing to do with it.

Last Friday, our leader decided that we wanted to hear only from our black brothers. The bible study always ends on time. Not last Friday.   We listened to their personal stories of how they had received slights, injustices, profiling, and otherwise treated differently just because of their skin color.

It was raw honesty. Most of them never talked about all the injustices they had suffered. They were either too polite or thought it would be taken the wrong way. This wasn’t a grievance list by people who felt victimized.  These were men sharing their heart in ways the rest of us hadn’t heard.  We listened and we collectively lamented for them.

I am in a small group that met on Zoom during the pandemic. One white mother has adopted two black kids, to go along with her 4 children. As she had done with her other children, graduation from high school is rewarded with a car.

She bought her black son a used white SUV when he graduated from high school.  Her son is one of the nicest young men I know.  He was stopped by police in our county.  There had been a report of a stolen white Toyota.

What happened next is hard to imagine.  The officers called for backup and several other police cars arrived and the officers had their guns out aimed at him.  He was handcuffed and told his mother later that he was scared to death. Fortunately, one policeman realized it was the wrong model car and they released him.

Normally, I might give the police the benefit of the doubt, but the car he was driving was registered in his name. I guess I don’t need to say that you can’t steal a car that belongs to you.

My friend, Steve Noble, has a syndicated Christian radio show.  He dedicated one show so that all the callers were black. He wanted to hear their story. He wanted to listen. It’s worth listening to.

James Emory White, interviewed six black members of his church in Charlotte so that he could listen and learn from them. It was video-taped. It is also worth a watch. Kleenex recommended.

They were all looking for understanding and relationship. “They were sad, angry, struggling, hurt, in pain, numb, scared… but more than anything, they were eager for a conversation like the one we were having”.  One of the men said that “before you can reconcile, there has to be a relationship to reconcile.”

In a call with one of my close friends, we chatted about what should the response be by the Christian community and each of us individually.  I even asked him the question: “What can I, an old white guy in Pinehurst, do because of racism?”

Too often, our churches have passively ignored the racism issue. James Emory White calls it “Shadow Racism.”  Many would say, as I have, that they don’t have a racial bone in their body, yet his essay hit home. He highlights the subtlety of how it happens, even unwittingly.

A starting place would be to download the Barna Research called Where Do We Go From Here?  It is instructive on how different whites and minorities view this issue. It is a free download.

To answer my own question, I am using my blogs to encourage others to not be passive. This is a tipping point. Being passive is an action, but it can lead to unintended consequences.  The German populace sat by passively while their neighbors were arrested and were never to be seen again in the Holocaust.

Think about how you can build a relationship with someone who is not your color, even if it might be uncomfortable at first.  I have now taken my second minority to mentor. I am excited to invest in his life.

The challenge is that we should each be asking the question of what we should do at this time and this place.   Not just ourselves, but of our churches. We need to be agents of change, not secret agents.

As I said at the beginning, we need to Stop, Look and Listen.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:   Consider mentoring someone who is not your race.  That’s how deep relationships are built.

FURTHER READING:   Shadow Racism  – Church and Culture Blog

Larry Fitzgerald’s Essay – New York Times

Interview with 6 Black Members of Mecklenburg Community Church – White

Where Do We Go from Here – Barna

Steve Noble Podcast – Black Callers Only -Podcast

WORSHIP: Build My Life – Housefires

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The Perfect Storm

storm

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:4

The events in the US for the past couple of months were catastrophic by any measure. First, Covid-19 triggered a lockdown, which, in turn, caused businesses to close and widespread unemployment.

Then, you have a senseless killing of George Floyd, a black man, in Minnesota by a white policeman, causing peaceful protests which led to riots and violence in cities in the US and protests in Europe.  The murder was caught on video and went viral.

I think of responding to these events in “R” words :

  • Reopening (businesses, schools, etc.);
  • Recovery (of jobs from economic recession), and
  • Riots (caused by protests gone awry).

That’s a trifecta of “R” s.  A perfect storm, if you will.

America was already dealing with the first two – trying to reopen after Covid -19 and trying to recover from the fallout of high unemployment caused by lockdowns.

Protests from the Floyd murder started immediately, first in Minneapolis, and then in Louisville over the death of a Breonna Taylor, an aspiring black nurse.  The protests were largely peaceful during the day, but were hijacked at night, causing widespread damage, mayhem and looting.

I was dismayed and sent friends of mine an email that these events had the chance of blowing up like the riots during the 1960’s in Newark, NJ, Harlem, NY and Watts in Los Angeles. I was in college at the time.

Sadly, I was right, and riots, chaos and looting occurred in many cities in America. The protests were led by Black Lives Matter, an activist organization opposed to police brutality and racism. The movement seized the Floyd murder as a rallying cry.

Protests are legal and appropriate.  What is not appropriate is what happened after dark by criminals and anarchists who took advantage of the situation through looting, violence and mayhem.  People are unanimous to the idea that police brutality is abhorrent, but not to the breathtaking violence and riots that ensued.

I will leave the issue racism and what to do about it for a later post. It is too complex to try and cover here. “Where Do We Go From Here?”  is a free book from Barna which is insightful.

Instead, I want to introduce a concept for the next generation which is what they will need to power through these times.  It’s another “R” word. It is Resilience. The next generation is looking for hope in dark times. Even if they are Christian, their faith may not be mature enough to be of help.

Life can be cruel sometimes and, to the next generation,  these are unprecedented and difficult times. But so was the polio epidemic in the early 1950’s.

Polio kills by suffocation – not by damaging the lungs, as Covid-19 does.  It attacks motor neurons in the spinal cord, destroying communication between the nervous system and muscles. The resulting paralysis meant that the breathing muscles no longer work.

Polio has all but been erased from our memory due to the polio vaccine. But it was a real threat and affected thousands, mostly children, globally. Seven people died in my wife’s small community in a rural part of North Carolina.

There were lockdowns then, too. Schools and church services were suspended. In summer, swimming pools, movies, bars and bowling alleys were closed. Still, the numbers of children affected climbed because no one knew how to contain it. Does this sound familiar?

Paul Alexander contracted polio in a small Texas town in 1952.  He was paralyzed from the neck down and wasn’t expected to live. He was placed in a ward with other children who were all in iron lungs to help them breathe.

He said it was a boring existence in his ward but,  “Every time I tried to make a friend; they’d die.” It made him furious when he overheard doctors saying, “He’s going to die today.”

He decided they were wrong and taught himself how to breath by what he called “frog breathing” which is swallowing air. The technical name is “glossopharyngeal breathing”.

He was able to get out of the iron lung during the day. He graduated from high school at age 21, without having attended class. He graduated from college and then got a law degree from the University of Texas. He practiced law for decades propped up in a wheelchair.

He is now 74 and confined to the iron lung. He is one of only 2 survivors in the US. Even today, he is held in awe by those around him and is a celebrity of sorts because of his uniqueness. He answers all questions with humor.  After all, he says, “I’m a lawyer, I get paid to talk.”

He likes talking about his life and the lung, because he wants to world to know what polio is like and “what he achieved in spite of it.”   That’s what I call Resilience, with a capital “R”.

It is what the next generation needs to hear and see today.  They, too, can achieve many things despite the Perfect Storm.

They meed to have hope, not despair. They need to hear stories of people who have overcome insurmountable circumstances and made the best of it. They need to know that obstacles of life are just a challenge, and perseverance and resilience will conquer almost anything.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  You can inspire your mentee to be an overcomer through the perfect storm of life right now.  They need encouragement to persevere at a time when they are anxious about the future.

FURTHER READING: The Man in the Iron Lung – Guardian

Where Do We Go From HereA free Barna book on dealing with racial divides for church leaders.

WORSHIP: Better than a Hallelujah – Amy Grant

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