As our world continues to change dramatically and as the implications of the pandemic evolve, I, like many of you, have missed many things about the way things used to be. Such missing has led me to thinking about so many people who have left this life and now are across the horizon with God. Although he has been gone nearly 21 years, my dad has been on my mind a lot.
He was an amazing fellow and certainly was and remains a big part of my life. His words and actions have influenced much of what crosses my mind. The other day while watching some of the news on the riots, I thought of my dad. In the late 1960’s to 1971 my dad was mayor of El Paso. As a border city there were many challenges. But somehow, across racial, economic, and border divides, many problems were solved.
In 1970, as some of you remember, the Kent State killings happened. It was on May 4th that National Guard troops killed 4 students. The response across the nation was immediate. Protests, both violent and non-violent, exploded on many university campuses.
As mayor, one day my dad was in his office when someone entered and told him that students on the campus of UTEP, The University of Texas at El Paso, were protesting and things were getting out of hand. Several suggested that police arm themselves and dress in riot gear in response. My dad would have nothing of that.
Instead, he insisted that the police remove their weapons, go to the campus, and distribute massive quantities of ice water to the protestors. It was a brutally hot day in El Paso. He also asked the police to tell protestors that the mayor was immediately on the way to meet with them. There was no violence. Conversations began that day that continued for some time between my dad, university officials, the police, and students. I believe it is important to point out that my dad was a Omaha Beach and Battle of the Bulge 1st Army survivor. Weak and conflict avoidant he was not.
Recalling this episode has caused me to think about my own actions, words, and thoughts over the last several days and at other times of national turmoil. I have asked myself some tough questions, some answers of which I know, are compelling me to do some soul searching.
I’ve asked questions such as, “How do I respond when something upsets me? Are my thoughts about this and that likely to be thoughts that bring about peace, healing and resolution, or are they divisive, angry, mean-spirited, and far from empathic? Am I a peace-maker at heart? How can I be the presence of Christ for others when there is conflict? Do my words serve as weapons or as ice water? Am I willing to realize that my worldview is limited and there are other perspectives I will never understand, but I can listen? How can I be a unifying presence?”
While there are other questions, I know I have work to do. As followers of Jesus, we are all on a journey, but I believe that while we are in different places, our Lord invites us to his ways of doing things.
Before Jesus died on the cross he said to one of his followers, “Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords.” Our walk with Jesus must be one that yields peace, healing, unity, understanding, and love. Yet let us all remember that this is the hardest path there is because such a path led to Jesus’s crucifixion by those who sought, embraced, and lived by the alternatives.