Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Play Like a Raven? How #RayRice has exposed a society still naive to the realities of domestic violence

I have been a Ravens fan since they moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996.

I was at their inaugural game.

I celebrated, with a housefull of family and friends, their first and second Super Bowl championships.

I have endless memorabilia (or what my wife calls, "junk") related to their history and success as an NFL franchise.

And that is what the Ravens are known as around the league: a successful and model professional football organization. The Ravens are frequently lauded for their professionalism and ingenuity, solid draft picks and stellar defense.

They have warranted praise for consistent success over the last two decades.

That is, until they failed. The Ravens failed. The NFL failed. Many sports pundits failed. Fans have failed. Social media trolls continue to fail.

The organizational mantra, "Play Like a Raven," is under review.

The Ravens and NFL eventually got the call right by cutting and indefinitely suspending Ray Rice, but their response was much too slow. A tragic parallel to most incidents of domestic violence.

Slow. Belated. Hesitant. Too Late.

Ray Rice exposed the ignorance we continue to demonstrate as a society when it comes to Domestic Violence and Abuse. Ray Rice also exposed how we are all mere pawns in corporate games of capital gain and empire construction.

I am grateful Domestic Violence is a trending topic on social media platforms, stirring awareness, funds, and much needed advocacy on those who frequently suffer in silence. Still, I am throwing my yellow flags of caution and concern as #RayRice continues to dominate our news feeds.

Blame Shifting: Janay Rice is the victim (better said, survivor) of a horrific offense and crime known as domestic violence. Let's say that again, Janay Rice is the victim and survivor. Yes, she did go on to marry her abuser. Yes, she has been quoted as defending "the man she loves." Yes, she has been seen at Ray Rice's side in press conferences and interviews. But Janay Rice is the victim and survivor.

The questioning of why she stayed with and wed the very man who threw a right hook and drug her unconcious body out of an elevator only shifts blame upon the victim. Abusers and their lawyers, even employers, wickedly navigate ways to maintain control and soften the blow of responsibility and consequece. A victim's economic circumstance, parental responsibilities, and simple uncertainty and fear about life without their spouse or partner (read: abuser) are frequently leveraged against them as yet another means to ensure power and control.

Ray Rice is the offender. Janay Rice is the offended. Let's not shift blame and play into the very hand of those who are paid a pretty penny to acquit the assailant. Even when and if she continues to defend her abusive husband. [Check out a Related Post on #WhyIStayed and #WhyILEft]

Addressed Only When Caught: This tweet says it all.

The NFL, like many institutions, organizations, corporations, and political figures, has a lot of dirty laundry. They don't like it aired out, but sometimes the public catches a whiff of the odor and only then do they consider possibilities for washing away the residue of responsibility or responding to social demands for change. We are naive to think the NFL is as innocent as we are, as though TMZ has more access to elevator video than a multi-billion dollar industry. Football runs this country from September, nay April, through the first Sunday in February. It's worse than corporate Christmas. It's time we held them accountable and said enough.

Which doesn't mean burning your Ray Rice jersey only to purchase a new one. The NFL would love that.

Maybe consider something like what this Baltimore pizza shop is doing with every jersey turned in- donating to a local DV Center.

Hold Athletes Accountable to Higher Standards: I know guys like Charles Barkley dismiss their role model status. I beg to differ. While my kids will be cautioned not use the likes of football players and celebrities as their unquestioned heroes, they still are public figures. When you are in the entertainment industry, you bear certain responsibility to your audience who makes your profession possible. And many of the fans in sold-out stadiums are children and youth who have instant access to off-the-field antics, too.

You are accountable. So are the teams and leagues who employ you.

Player conduct, even away from the locker room, must become a greater concern. And not only as a good business plan, although it probably is, but also and especially because it's your human obligation. Domestic violence is a very real problem that many children, youth, young men and women know all too well. We must have a consistent message from playground to fifty yard-line, high school hallways to casino elevators, violence is never to be tolerated. Victims of assault are never the ones to be blamed. We are forever on the side of the abused and offended.

This past Sunday I missed the Ravens game. Apparently I didn't miss much. Instead, I was at a fall kickoff event at our church where attendees could make their attempt to dunk this Youth Pastor in one of those carnival-esque dunk tanks.

Way too many succeeded.

Funds raised went to support the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County. We laid out a purple table cloth and gave away purple wristbands as a simple move of solidarity with those in our community who are victims, better said, survivors of domestic violence.

Purple was the color of my Sunday. And not because I was wearing Ravens gear, which may not occur again for a while.

Purple was the color of advocacy and awareness.

Maybe the Ravens should consider the same.

[updated at 11:00pm: Ravens Owner did just that and delivered a letter of apology and announce a partnership with local DV program and advocacy center in Baltimore. Click here]

Helpful Links Related to Domestic Violence

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Holy Crap, My Kids Are in Preschool: Annual Back to School Letter

This summer, my wife and I reached a new milestone in parenting. Some claim the event is a rite of passage. Others say the experience is the final nail in a coffin that burries your man card and any cool factor you may have once held dear.

I feared this looming possibility, nay, probability, [naively] convinced my cool factor was just beginning to peak.

So, like many dads, I tried to avoid the inevitible- not wanting to be forever-marked with the giant "M" sure to prevent me from being invited to future neighborhood BBQs.

Then the Hyundai died. Then I realized a family of (almost) five can't exactly cram into a Mazda 6. Then I got the needle and thread out and began to stitch the dreaded letter to my polo shirt now properly tucked into my dad jeans versus left free-flowing.

You guessed it, we bought a minivan.

We thought we were officially parents when the Twinado was delivered some three-plus years ago. That was before we started rolling up in the Black Mamba (my name for the man van) and pulling out our dual stroller and cooler of snacks from the automatic hatchback and dual-sliding side doors.

Now we are real parents.

And in just over a week we will reach another milestone- our kids will begin school. Sure, it is preschool and only twice a week, but they begin school nonetheless. We will join the fraternity of parents who entrust the care of our chldren's education and formation into the hands of other thoughtful adults.

This year we are going back to school, not as students or a youth pastor, but as parents.

And we have our own anxiety.

So while this time of year I typically write a letter addressing youth, this one is for parents. Not because I work with some of your kids, but because I have kids, too. I write as a parent not a pastor. I write in solidarity versus from afar. I write pleading for your prayers even as I offer my own.


Dear Back-to-School Parents

I write this letter because we just received one. We got that letter in the mail written in the same comic sans font I remember my preschool-teacher mother using in her mailings to parents. We got the letter not addressed primarily to us, rather to our kids from their first-ever teacher.

And we cried.

We didn't weep and sob, we just shed a few tears.

We cried, not because of what the letter said, but because of what the letter meant. It was a nice letter. Actually, it was a beautiful letter saturated in kindness and welcome.

But still, we cried.

We cried because the letter served as another reminder that our kids are no longer babies. Our children, like yours, are rapidly evolving into persons unprotected from this world that is a holy mess, a hybrid of sacred and painful wonder.

And we have realized in a whole new way the value of that hard little word, trust, and it's faithful companion, prayer.

We have to trust and pray for the parenting of others. We have made our humble attempts to raise our kids in the kindness of Christ, which celebrates the value of every person made in the image of God and called a child of the kingdom. We have to trust and pray other parents are seeking to instill a similar kindness that, while not always lived out by adults let alone preschoolers, enables children to co-exist within a classroom.

We have to trust and pray for our kids. We pray they become those kids who befriend versus bully, demonstrating they have already been schooled in peacemaking. We pray our children learn to use their imaginations as they practice the delicate art of love and compassion. We pray they are the ones who look after the kid others may steer clear of because of some sort of difference. We pray they offer kid-sized forgiveness when others don't treat them with the kindness they know to be good and right. We pray they receive the same sort of forgiveness when they fail to exercise kindness.

We have to trust and pray for other people's kids. We pray all children experience the fullness of community as they meet new people their age and begin to discover the goodness that dwells within us all. We pray for the circumstances that surround other children, some more difficult than others. We pray, should they not know of a caring environment at home, they would experience hospitality and dignity while in classroom or on campus.

We also pray for those children who, for whatever reasons, are tilted more towards violence and agression versus gentleness and love. As parents, we have all experienced the best and worst of what kids can be, so we pray for more of the former than the latter. We also pray for the ability to navigate difficult encounters our children may have with others. Even more, we pray for the ability to shepherd our children gracefully when they may be instigators of conflict with other children. We pray other parents are trusting and praying for us, too.

We have to trust and pray for teachers. We have to lean on those adults who have felt called to care for and educate young people. We have to trust their wisdom and giftedness as they uncover the briliance and creative possibilities of our children. We have to trust teachers are looking out for our kids' well-being and will ensure they are safe when we are not there to protect them. We have to pray teachers have the support and training to do their job well. We also have to advocate for teachers when they do not. We also have to generate opportunities to celebrate, elevate, and empower teachers so they know they are appreciated as they partner alongside us in the formation of our childrens' young hearts and minds.

We have to trust God, whose ears our prayers fall upon. We have to trust that the God who walked alongside us as we navigated the same hallways will also journey with our children. We also pray our kids sense that presence every day of their lives.

We have to trust and pray that presence is what they practice, too.

So as this new school year begins, which is a first for us and many others, I am trusting all of you. I am also praying for you.

I hope you will offer us the same.


Grace and Peace,

A Fellow Anxious, Excited, Nervous, Eager, Fearful, and Hopeful Parent


Related Posts:

2013 Letter: http://gregklimovitz.blogspot.com/2013/08/annual-letter-to-youth-prayers-for-new.html

What I Would Tell My Graduate: Letter to Class of 2014: http://gregklimovitz.blogspot.com/2014/06/what-i-would-tell-my-graduate-letter-to.html

10 Living Hopes for Class of 2012: http://gregklimovitz.blogspot.com/2012/04/10-living-hopes-for-class-of-2012and.html

2011 Letter: http://gregklimovitz.blogspot.com/2011/08/letter-to-youth-hopes-for-new-year.html

Friday, August 22, 2014

Lamenting in Luxury and Laughing at God's Promise

I was in a folding chair sunken into tho the sandy beach of Ocean City when I first read about the murder of a black youth named Mike Brown by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri.

The beach.

In the comfort and security of family and friends, with our only disturbance being over-zealous young lifeguards and their whistles, I remembered racism is far from dead and the Civil Rights Movement far from over.

I was drinking my coffee on the front porch as I perused articles on my iPhone about increasing persecution and genocide of Christians and other adherents to minority religions in the Middle East, most notably in the mountains of Iraq. I wondered what the earliest Christians would say to them- and us- in the horrific wakes of modern martyrdom?

My porch.

I was at the dining room table and eating dinner with my family as we live-chatted a friend of ours via Facebook messenger. She is a young Orthodox-Jewish woman with two kids and a husband who works in pediatrics outside Gaza, caring for both Palestinian and Israeli war victims. They live nearby Tel Aviv. Our courageous friend shared with us how she lives in daily fear, moving from living room to shelter multiple times each day. It was 2 a.m. Israeli time and she couldn't sleep.

We were eating dinner at our dining room table.

I was on a plane with a group of youth headed back home from Honduras as I reflected on the Child Refugee Crisis. Thousands of unaccompanied children were fleeing Central American countries, like the one I just freely left, in search of safety and security their families could not provide. You can read a glimpse into their experience in Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazrio.

I have been reading it- at home.

I am not sure if the world we live in is becoming increasingly dark and the despairing groans are louder now than in generations past or if our sensitivity to global issues is greater due to social media and the ease of access afforded by modern technology.

It's probaly a combination.

What I do know, my heart aches with intensifying pain every time I turn on the television, scroll through Twitter feeds, or open that news app I am confident will have more bad news than good news to report.

I cry when I talk to friends in Honduras or Tel Aviv. I get angry out of solidarity when I read posts by my black friends, some who are pastors, who shed horrific light on racism that continues to plague our nation, churches, and local police forces.

I lament. A lot. But my lamenting is in luxury and privilege. I grieve in security and safety. I can pick and choose the issues that tug at my heart strings, even post videos of buckets of ice water being dumped on my head, because my life is not in jeopardy.

But the lives of my friends are. My brothers and sisters in the faith, even though I may not know the names of those who call the Iraqi hills and sanctuaries home, do live in fear.

Their laments come from a very different place. They lament in fear and oppression.

The same is true for those in Ferguson, Tel Aviv, and regions surrounding Tegucigalpa.

Maybe that's why I laugh. I don't laugh in joy. I laugh with the cynicism of Sarah- at God's promise.

""And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, 'After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?'" (Genesis 18:10-12)

I wonder, how long, O Lord, will you forget us- them- forever?

I pray God's covenant, one that nudges us towards golobal reconciliation and new creation, would no longer be a mere theological teaching point or carrot dangled in front of grieiving parents who claim Jesus as Lord.

I pray for the day to hasten when our mourning turns to dancing.

I pray for the weapons of war in the Middle East and Missouri to be turned into agricultural tools of the harvest, promoting growth and vegetation versus injustice and segregation.

I pray God's covenantal promises would become our reality. The whole world's lived experience.

I pray for the kingdom Jesus preached about, lived out, and died for the sake of, would be resurrected within each of us and all around us.

I pray our prayers of how long would be transformed into jubilations of about damn time.

But I wonder if God is saying the same to each of us.

How long, O children, will you hate each other forever? Will you forget the image each of you bears and the love each of you have been invited to share?

Will you choose prejudice over conversation, greed over generosity, power over communities and countries where all are welcome as though they have always belonged?

Is God saying to us, this blogger included, it's about damn time?

Because it is.

So as one who laments in luxury, I covenant to commune with those who do not. I commit to learning real stories, researching possibilities for change and transformation, surrounding myself with diverse voices and convictions, and echoing the cries of victims of all forms of violence, marginalization, racism, poverty, oppression, and any and all manifestations of evil near and far.

I am not sure what this will look like or even where to begin, but I know it's time.

It's about damn time.

"Promise-making God, I get Sarah's laughter. It's the sad snicker that covers a cracked heart. Faith withers when life feels wrung dry and past it's best-used-by date. For all who feel life has passed them by and find that faith comes hard, create through your Holy Spirit the laughter of love, the faith that your promies are true, and the hope that in Jesus the best is yet to be. Amen

---from Seeking God's Face by Philip F. Reinders

Relaated Links:

Not as Helpless as We Think. 3 Ways to Stand with Those in Ferguson by Rachel Held Evans

PCUSA Office of Public Witness & Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson on Ferguson and Gun Violence

Good News and Bad News in Honduras

Is There a Nonviolent Response to Isis? (SoJo.Net)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Beginnings of #icebucketchallenge: Reflections from a Charitable Cynic

Let's be clear, I hate the New York Yankees. I despise the Evil Empire at the core of my being. I lump them right up there with insurance companies and cable television.

Then there was Lou Gehrig.

When I was in high school, I did a report on this pinstripe-wearing icon of both sports and medical research. I had a friend whose father passed away due to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and wanted desperately to know more about what took his young life and raise awareness among my peers. The setting aside of hatred of the Bronx Bombers was hardly a sacrifice compared to the horrific nature of this disease now known by the Yankee legend's name.

The Iron Horse had set the mark of most consecutive games played, 2130 straight, until he could no longer play the sport he loved and mastered because of the effects of this disease. The record stood for over fifty years until an Oriole by the name of Cal Ripken, Jr. broke it in 1995.

I was there.

While Gehrig was not the first to succumb to this mysterious neurological disorder, the first baseman became the face and name of the disease. Doctors and researchers alike invested increasing amounts of time, money, and advocacy in search of a cure for Lou Gehrig's Disease or ALS.

This quest continues today. It's simply gotten colder and more creative.

See the beginnings of #icebucketchallenge

I was cynical of #icebucketchallenge when my Facebook news feed became dominated by short videos of friends and acquaintances dumping buckets of ice water on their head. I also was anxious about being guilted into donations, reminiscent of old-school chain letters from the 90's.

I don't like forced charity. I cringe at new means to generate on-line narcissm. Trend drives me cray cray.

Slacktivism is no different.

I also felt #icebucketchallenge was a new way for teenagers and adults alike to sport their latest swimsuit attire, or lack thereof, for the whole on-line world to see.

So I hoped I would not receive a nomination. But I knew it was in vain.

I also knew my cynicism was, too.

So with my wife and kids' help, I took the challenge. Afterall, I want my children to embrace playful and more intentional, dare I say risky, social movements.

Sure, there may be better ways to generate awareness, raise funds, and advocate for victims of variety of causes and charities. But cynicism is not one of them.

So even if you do not have the funds, I challenge you to watch the video below, make a video of your own, and consider what other causes you'd like to champion.

Then get creative. Become an advocate. Get to know others who suffer at the hands of a wide variety of illnesses related to physical and mental health.

Because when you know victims, your cynicism begins to fade and compassion takes center stage.

Even if the most famous victims wear pinstripes.


Helpful Resources