Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Checking the boxes as our family registers for school in America is a startling exercise.   What race are we?   Does race have to divide?   In fact, what does race really mean?  

In our family there are two adopted children and three biological children.   Each child is unique.   Yet, we are all one family.   We share a common culture, understanding, and covenant of care.
The race boxes tell us to divide.  The race boxes tell us that three children are Caucasian and two children are African American.
Yet, that is divisive to our family.

My son, Ethan came up with a solution.   We are an “other.”    Our other is American African.

Four of our seven were born in Africa.   Two of us carry Ugandan passports.   We all have lived in Africa a significant portion of our lives.    We use the pronoun “we” much more than “I.”   We reason in community.   We believe real food is always cooked over an open fire.   We can always find room for more to sleep in our home.   We always have enough tea and food for visitors.     We are most comfortable in English, but we know varying degrees of French, Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili, and Luganda.   Our hearts and minds dance to African drums.

Yet, we all carry American passports.   Those of us who earn incomes pay taxes in America.    Some of us vote in American elections.   We have relatives who serve with America’s armed forces and we pray every day for them when they are deployed.

American African is a good “other” box to describe who “we” are.

Yet, you may say, “Make a choice.   Conform to the understanding.”

How should we conform to the understanding?

Skin color?

One of us has freckles.   Three of us have moles.     One is described by those from East Africa as brown.    One is described by those from East Africa as dark or black.    Five of us have skin that gets darker in the sun.    One usually burns in the sun.    


One of us has red hair.   One has mostly gray.    Two have curly black hair.    Three have varying degrees of blond to brown.    One of us has hair that gently curves when it is long and when the mullet comes back in style he’ll look awesome.  

The dictionary tells us race means shared distinctive traits ( http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/race .)

Ok.    Four of us are males.   Three are females.    A couple of us are described as tall.   A few are described as short.  Three are good soccer players.   Two of us run.    One is flexible enough to do yoga.    Two of us have worn braces.    One has a gap in his teeth that implies he is descended from East African kings.    

Are we just being ornery?   

Maybe, but being ornery is caused by offense.     A year ago I read a new thought in Soong Chan Rah’s, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.   Professor Rah made the point that race is a relatively new concept in humanity’s description of one another.    When you follow the historical trail it appears that race became defining as slaves were traded from Africa to Europe and the Americas.    The barbarity of slavery required the creation of another that we could easily portray as sub-human.     The consequences of such barbarity still remain with us generations later as we define humanity through the categories of race.

When I looked closer at the school forms requiring me to make a race choice and put on my  missionary lens the categories are almost pure nonsense.   The race categories tell me nothing about what languages one prefers to sing and dance.    They tell me nothing about which languages one prefers to use in school or business.     You can’t write a song book or translate the Bible in race.    They tell me little about preferred food.     You can find a few foods at a church potluck that are influenced by race, but really food is more about culture, available supplies, and creativity.   Race tells me nothing about religious preference and that’s my big missionary issue.   Race tells me almost nothing about the formation and maintenance of nation-states.    As a missionary I need a passport and a visa.   Race is again almost irrelevant.    Those nation-states tax, make policies, choose leaders, and during dark days go to war.   The perception of race may have some implications on nation-states.     However, a proverb tells us, “There are only two things in life that are certain – death and taxes.”    Soldiers from many races die for single nation- states.    All races pay taxes to their nation-states.

What if the race categories are actually just jargon to minimize the effects of systematic and generational sin?

Here is what I propose for the categories for census and school registration in the United States:

Check the appropriate boxes:

_______My ancestors likely violently stole land

______My ancestors likely had their land violently stolen

______I’m mixed.    My ancestors both violently stole land and had their land stolen.

______I’m a newbie in the United States.   My ancestors neither violently stole land nor had their land stolen.

______Other.  Explain:

______My ancestors likely made some type of profit through kidnapping of humans in Africa, trading them as property, using their labor to build a national economy, and then when they were given freedom it was as second class citizens who were vulnerable to acts of terrorists.

______My ancestors likely were kidnapped in Africa, traded as property, and were not compensated as their labor built the national economy.   When freed they were second class citizens vulnerable to acts of terrorists.

______I’m mixed.    My ancestors both likely profited from slavery and segregation and were victims of slavery and segregation.   

______I’m a newbie in the United States.    My ancestors neither profited through slavery and segregation nor were victims of slavery and segregation.   

______Other.   Explain:

Race is not as simple as a form.   The form just makes the systematic sins of America more  palatable.   No wonder my family wants to be called American Africans.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


This is not a philosophical question.  For me it is very real.    I have two beautiful daughters.   Both on occasion braid their hair.   One has black skin.    Dajerria Becton is about the same age and weight as my daughter with black skin.  

  When I started watching Brandon Brooks’ video I wanted to see what was the social media uproar about.    I giggled a little at Eric Casebolt’s barrel role.    Yes, he’s fit and athletic, but a little too gung-ho.    His language was vulgar.   It made me cringe to consider him an “officer of the peace.”    Other police officers seemed to be in a tough community conflict and acted reasonable and measured.   Eric Casebolt ran around with little apparent reason.   I only heard him use vulgar language with children who had black skin.    My judgement of Eric Casebolt drifted towards a serial racist.    Then he did the unthinkable.   

Eric Casebolt grabbed an unarmed teenage girl with black skin in a swim suit by the arm.   He threw her upon a concrete sidewalk.    I watched an assault.    Dajerria Becton bore a remarkable resemblance to my daughter with black skin.    My emotions no longer were about pastoral interest.    Phileo (family) love raged through my veins.    This could be my daughter being assaulted in public.  I was enraged.


The McKinney police chief, Greg Conley called Eric Casebolt’s actions “indefensible,” and “out of control.”   I add some other descriptions such as appalling, abhorrent, and reprehensible.    When one of my missionary heroes, Paul of Tarsus was describing the darkest parts of our humanity he lists fits of rage such as Eric Casebolt’s in the same breath as sexual promiscuity and drug abuse (Galatians 5:19-21.)  

I was most upset when Eric Casebolt grabbed Dajerria Becton’s braids.    I’ve watched my daughters and their friends go through the pain of their hair being braided for years.    It is a special intimacy they share.    Those braids make summer fun.    They make swimming frequently manageable.   They require pain and patience to acquire.      Those braids are a sacred female trust among our African community.

How dare Eric Casebolt grab Dajerria Becton’s braids?    As he grabbed those braids I wondered if I was about to see a sexual assault.    He was stripping her of her dignity.   He was publicly humiliating her and her community.    He intruded upon an intimacy that none should approach without permission.


By the grace of God I was not there.   Nor was my daughter being assaulted.    Yet, the question haunts me.    I could easily see myself in such a community conflict stepping in the middle of people – trying to calm emotions and seeking peace.   I’ve done that most of my pastoral career.    Yet, I’ve only twice seen my daughter’s safety threatened.  (Both were by animals.)

I probably would have done one of two things.   I may have fallen briefly into a daze.   I may have thought I was in a nightmare.   Surely this is not real?   How could a policeman commissioned to protect and serve our community throw an unarmed female half his weight upon the cement?   I may have just stood there in shock.

The second response could have been that phileo (family) love would take over.   I think I’m about as strong and physically as large as Eric Casebolt.   I may have quickly come to my daughter’s defense.  If I came to her defense some would accuse me of a crime.


Selfishly, I thank God that I was not in McKinney and my daughters were not at that pool party.   
Yet, the question of why haunts me.   I want to understand Eric Casebolt.    It is a question of discernment.   It takes me to painful angry places.   Yet, from those places where justice and mercy mingle freely are the places where we heal.

My first inclination was to assume racism drew out Eric Casebolt’s rage.    Maybe, he had been nurtured his whole life to fear those with black skin.    Maybe, he really felt threatened by a girl half his weight?    Yet, friends counseled me not to quickly rush to the judgement of racism.   Though Eric Casebolt’s language was crass he did not use racial slurs in Brandon Brooks’ video.    
Maybe, Eric Casebolt just never had a mom or grandmother who washed his mouth out with soap when he used such vile language?   

If Eric Casebolt is not motivated by fear of race what motivates him to behave so violently to a female child?   Did he grow up in an abusive home?   Did he see his father hit his mother?    Is it generational?   Did he see his grandfather hit his grandmother?    Is Eric Casebolt married?  Does he have kids?   Is his own family afraid of his rage?

Many European-Americans in Texas attend church.   Does Eric Casebolt?  If so, how did the preaching not sink in?   Is there something deeply wrong with his church?   Or is Eric Casebolt one of those in America with no faith.   If so, it would make my judgement of him much easier.   I hear my mentors of faith proclaim over and over again that our physical strength of manhood is to be used to provide and protect.   It is never to be used to physically harm a woman or child.    What led Eric Casebolt to such a public moral failure?

I heard Eric Casebolt be vulgar.   I saw him be cruel as her threw a child.   I saw him be cowardly as  unarmed people came to that child’s aid and he drew his gun.   What kind of a man is Eric Casebolt?

Maybe the best I can conceptualize for Eric Casebolt is that he just snapped.   A missionary colleague once told me that everyone can reach a point of psychosis if you deprive them of sleep and create enough stress in their life.     Maybe, Eric Casebolt is going through a season with no sleep and high stress that took him to becoming vulgar, cruel, and cowardly?    But if so, why did none of his friends or family tell him not to go to work on the day he assaulted Dajerria Becton?

Please give me some answers about what type of a man is Eric Casebolt.  


Two of my five children have black skin.   I’ve watched the deep pain when my children with black  skin realize they have been falsely judged due to their skin color.  I’ve cried with them a few times.   I’ve watched my children with white skin become enraged when they stumble upon racism directed at their siblings.   

I’ve accepted a painful reality.   My son with black skin needs to be extra respectful and cooperative when dealing with police in America.   I’ve had to tell him that horrendous truth to keep him safe.
Until Eric Casebolt publicly threw Dajerria Becton I didn’t conceptualize my daughter could be assaulted by a policeman in America because of her race.

It might happen in a few African countries where corruption is high.   It would never happen in Rwanda.   Yet, I have to concede this possibility in America.   

When nightmares fill my sleep I see Idi Amin’s henchmen, Rwanda’s genocidaires, and Eric Casebolt.   He joins my list of those who used the authority of a government to assault basic human rights.    My friends and family have been in the past or could be in the future victims.

We told our daughter with black skin the messages we’ve told our black skinned son.    Don’t make fast movements.   Don’t argue.   Cooperate.    Wait until another time when you can safely confront if your conscience says you must.    

I tell my children with white skin how to deal with a police stop.    Yet, I don’t have much fear of when that happens.

Eric Casebolt has profoundly changed my fear quotient.


I don’t know how one can with an open Bible defend Eric Casebolt’s actions.   One of the most  shocking matters the last few days was the small number of American Evangelicals who called Eric Casebolt’s behavior sin.   Evangelicals in the past have written and spoken about the death of outrage and shame in American culture.   I concur with their theology.    Our humanity wrestles with both our dignity and our depravity.   Sometimes our depravity reigns.   When depravity reigns we wound our community.   The community should have an impulse of outrage.    When the Spirit convicts us of our sin we should have an impulse of shame.     Then the process of change and forgiveness happen.   Our community heals.

Why did many’s empathy drift to Eric Casebolt instead of Dajerria Becton?    Some have proposed that we didn’t know the whole story.   I understand that a bit.   I’m a missionary.   I know context matters.    Yet, no matter what the context throwing a child upon concrete is wrong.   Dajerria could have been my daughter.   She could have been your daughter.   Why was so many’s empathy so misplaced?

Some remark that I just don’t understand policing.   True.   I’m not a cop.   However, I’ve pastored soldiers, police, and security personnel my whole adult life.    My friends in those professions brought our community safety from those who were abusive to women and children.    Eric Casebolt is not like my brothers and friends in America, Uganda, and Rwanda’s security services.    In fact, my brothers and friends in those branches at their most measured states would use the words “indefensible” and “out of control” to describe Eric Casebolt’s actions.   

I sense a deep spiritual problem in the fabric of Evangelical America that did not express outrage at the public assault of Dajerria Becton by Eric Casebolt.


However, another deep spiritual problem also remains.   Can I forgive Eric Casebolt?
My boss, Jesus of Nazareth repeated forgiveness is one of His commands.   I must forgive Eric Casebolt.   That journey of forgiveness may last my entire life.

Forgiveness will not mean that I forget his assault on a child much like my daughter.    Nor will that forgiveness mean that I close my eyes to the systematic injustices and sins of race that haunt the American experience.    

Forgiveness will practically mean that when nightmares of Eric Casebolt awaken my sleep I pray for his good.    When I need a motivation to run a little farther or lift a little more weight I don’t conceptualize using my strength to take revenge on Eric Casebolt.    I know how evil Eric Casebolt’s assault was.    I call it sin.    Yet, I let go of the need for revenge.    I cry for justice.    I know ultimate justice will also find me guilty.   I have also done appalling, abhorrent, and reprehensible sins.    Forgiveness leads me to hope that on the Day of Judgement Eric Casebolt will kneel with me and call upon the grace of God.

The journey to forgive on this earth can lead to reconciliation.    However, that also requires the offender to recognize his sin and take responsibility.    I hope to hear Eric Casebolt make a public apology for his sin against Dajerria Becton.   I hope in that apology he offers no excuses and only a contrite broken heart.   I hope Eric Casebolt will spend years making amends to all those he has hurt.   If his assault goes to court I hope he’ll simply say, “Guilty.   My actions were inexcusable.   I throw myself at the mercy of the court.”    Those type of actions would not only heal our broken community in America they would heal Eric Casebolt.

Yet, for me I must forgive Eric Casebolt whether he repents or not.    This journey may take the rest of my life.   So help me God I will try. 


The social media banter and lack of empathy for Dajerria Becton has exposed some dark places in the American experience.   I can’t blame.   I must assume responsibility.     I’m going to continue to make friends with police, soldiers, and security personnel.   If God allows us to plant another church I hope those men and women who protect our community will feel welcome.    I’m going to find ways to volunteer and help.    I hope if a security personnel is near the point of snapping he’ll call me, let me pray, and he’ll listen to my counsel.

I’m going to accept the reality that America has deep systematic and generational patterns of sin related to race.    I’ll try my best to be a faithful presence in the institutions of America.   We must bring about change.

I’ll try most days to read my Bible and pray.   In the process I hope to see my own sin plus those of my community.    I pray we can find the grace to repent and forgive.

How can I not take responsibility?   After all, Dajerria Becton could be my daughter and Eric Casebolt could be my brother?

Monday, May 25, 2015


Photo by Ruth Jenkins
I woke in deep emotional pain on Saturday, May 23 2015 at about 2 a.m.   Thankfully, my wife Jana woke with me and graciously calmed my spirit.   A few hours later I was sleeping again.   I slept in a bit and woke assuming whatever was causing the emotion would be gone.   Instead it remained.   I thumbed through my Bible and skimmed newspapers trying to find either comfort or a distraction.   The pain remained.    I decided to go on a long bike ride.    Maybe, exercise would provide relief?   The sun lifted my spirts, but something deeper still hurt.   I took a nap hoping that the pain was just exhaustion from three moves in less than three years.

                We had dinner that evening with good friends, Otieno and Kim Ochieng.   We planned my daughter, Sophia’s upcoming gusaba / kwanjula (Traditional African Wedding.)    Their joy, wisdom, and shared service lifted my spirits, but as I drifted off to sleep the pain remained.   Maybe, I was still missing Africa?

                I woke Sunday with the pain still in my spirit.   I knew it was Memorial Day weekend.  We planned to have friends over on Monday.    I planned to cook muchomo (grilled meat.)   Maybe, the pain was missing the churches we had planted and pastored?   Sundays can be painful.

                Then I remembered the life rhythms of my American childhood.    We used to go to our family cemetery in Elmore, Minnesota on Memorial Day.   We always stopped at the grave of my great uncle, Sanford Cornelius Eichhorn.   I remember being there with my grandmother, Minnie Sophia Eichhorn Jenkins.   She was such a treasure to me that I named my first born daughter, Sophia after her.    Grandma Jenkins was full of wisdom and hope.   Yet, her pain remained on Memorial Day.    Her brother, Sanford died as a soldier on the battle fields of France in World War One.  

                I googled my great uncle, Sanford Cornelius Eichhorn.  The date of his death was May 23, 1918.   Ninety seven years ago he paid the ultimate cost for our freedom.   Childhood memories and rhythms were catching up with me.    Life for all must go on.    Yet going on is more than grilling meat with friends and watching baseball games.    When life goes on we establish rhythms.   Those rhythms make places for memories of grief.    That grief brings our resolve.    Some matters though painful we must never forget.

                After so many years in Africa re-developing my American rhythms is tricky.   Many have forgotten the rhythms and ideals of my American childhood.    This one I will not forget.    Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives for freedom.   They had names.   They had parents and siblings.   They had stories.   They had great promise.   

                Somewhere in my unpacked files are the diaries of my grandmother Minnie Sophia Jenkins.   In them are the stories of her childhood with her brother, Sanford.    I can’t find a picture of her nor of my great uncle Sanford either online, on my computer, or in my family photo albums.  The next time I am with my parents or aunts and uncles I will find those pictures.   My great uncle Sanford was the first born child of Cornelius and Lola Belle Rowe Eichhorn.  I have few memories of my great grandmother, Lola Belle Rowe who passed from this life to another in June, 1971.  I remember her joy.   I also remember her grief when the name of her son Sanford was mentioned.  He was born on June 3, 1897 in Elmore, Minnesota.    His next born sibling was my grandmother.    He grew up on a farm on the Iowa border.   All the memories I heard of him were good.   He and my grandmother were especially close.   Life did go on after his death.     Yet, his memory was never lost.   

Today I will remember a man I never met, but whose death profoundly affected my great grandmother and my grandmother.    His death like many others gave not only the United States but other nations their freedom.    These painful distant memories must remain part of our life rhythms.   I hope to wake in pain on May 23 each remaining year of my life.