My friend Rich Dixon is helping me out here, with posts that come just at the right time and just with the right challenge for me. Here’s the latest:
In May, 1970, my freshman year at Iowa State University ended abruptly.
ISU canceled final exams and sent students home after National Guard members shot 13 unarmed Kent State University student protesters. I received the news from one of my best-ever instructors, Professor George Bowen.
Dr. Bowen was an enthusiastic, animated teacher who merged calculus with science and brought physics to life for me in a creaky old 8:00 am lecture hall. On this morning, Professor Bowen spoke in an uncharacteristic somber tone. After he read the announcement, he offered personal commentary. Though anti-war and civil rights felt far away for an 18-year-old kid in white, privileged middle America, the gravity of this respected professor’s words made me pay special attention.
Violence in the name of peace is insanity. At the same time, as Dr. King said, violence is often the language of the unheard. We’ll never have real peace until we truly listen to each other.
Five decades later, I still recall his words. A trusted teacher reminding me to think deeply about complex issues, to reject false choices and know two or more things can be true at once.
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Five decades later I’m angry and frightened. Because nothing’s changed. Because loved ones fear every day that their children will suffer George Floyd’s horrible fate. Because there’s a pandemic, and unemployment, and suicide.
Because I want simple answers to complex questions.
Another trusted teacher says, “Follow me.”
How? How do I love those with hateful hearts? How do I stand for peace and care authentically for those who break it? How do I seek justice? How can I demonstrate compassion and empathy toward victims of oppression – and toward their oppressors?
How am I supposed to make sense of all of this, all at once?