“I can’t breathe!”

I planned to blog about point-of-view in fiction writing today. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been able to settle my mind around point-of-view in fiction the last couple of weeks and especially not in the last seven days.

I don’t take lightly what I’m posting here today. I’ve wrestled with the words all weekend. I take no joy in saying what is on my heart.

I live in the United States. This is a watershed moment in this country. We are beginning to come to grips with social and racial injustice which has existed in America since its very founding. I will blog about point-of-view in fiction writing at another time when it seems more appropriate.

What happened May 25, 2020

On May 25, 2020, a police officer murdered Mr. George Floyd who was suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. He might not have even known the bill was counterfeit. Three other officers were there. Two were new on the job, so I can’t help but think the officer in charge was making a show for them.

Mr. Floyd was slammed to the pavement. One police officer held his knee on the man’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Part of the time, two other offices held the hand-cuffed man down by pressing down on his back. One of the officers asked his superior officer twice, “Shouldn’t we turn him over?”

Among the last words Mr. Floyd uttered were, “I can’t breathe!” He lost consciousness and died on the scene. The police officers were white. Mr. Floyd was black. It was all captured on a 17-year-old young woman’s cell phone video.

This type of thing has happened over and over again. One would think it would have stopped when the police knew that there’s always someone nearby with a cell phone, but this has happened repeatedly in the United States even as rogue police actions are captured on camera.

I want to believe that most police officers are honest, fair, and people of good character; however, we all know that there are officers who represent the worst in our society. There are “good” people and “bad” people among us and in every walk of life.

But the problem is more systemic than that. As police departments have been weaponized more and more since September 11, 2001, I think there has grown within that brotherhood more of a military mindset than existed before.

As a white woman, I’ve had several bad experiences with police officers. I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel to be a person of color dealing with a police officer. White people like to think, “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Sadly, that’s not the reality that black people live every day in the United States.

For black people in America, doing the right thing and being compliant when stopped by a police officer isn’t necessarily enough. Mr. Floyd didn’t resist arrest, as far as can be seen on the video. That wasn’t enough to save his life.

What happened to Mr. George Floyd on May 25 was tragic and abhorrent. “I can’t breathe!”

Black Lives Matter
Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

In response to this incident, there have been peaceful protests by hundreds of thousands of people of all colors across the nation. (My favorite sign in the photo above is the one that says, “If you’re not angry, you aren’t paying attention.”)

"God marches with us" sign in peaceful protest in the US in June 2020
Photo by Andrew Winkler on Unsplash

In some of the cities, a violent element has emerged and committed acts of violence and looting of businesses. The few looters give the peaceful demonstrators a bad name and they draw attention away from the real issues.

I was horrified to watch the murder of Mr. Floyd on television. I was saddened and angered to watch the looting on television. The rioting and looting only served to take the spotlight off of Mr. Floyd and the other black men and women who have died at the hands of rogue cops. The looting of businesses hurts the very people for whom the peaceful protesters are marching.

Insurrection Act of 1807 Threat

Last Monday, Donald Trump threatened to enact the Insurrection Act of 1807 and, in the process, turned the police against a group of peaceful protesters with tear gas, flash bangs, and rubber bullets so he could stage a photo-op across the street from the White House at a church. I heard the Attorney General of the United States say it wasn’t tear gas. He said it was pepper spray. He went on to say that pepper spray is not an irritant. And so it goes. And so it goes.

Mr. Trump went on the threaten to deploy the US military into states if state governors didn’t put an end to the protests. He essentially said that if the governors didn’t take care of the problem, he would.

For those of you who are not US citizens, I want you to understand how despicable Mr. Trump’s threat is.

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra



Since Washington, DC (District of Columbia) is not a state or in a state, the president has the authority to call in the US military into that city; however, he does NOT have the authority to order the US military into states if the governors don’t put a stop to the protests in their states. He cannot legally do that. Under the Insurrection Act of 1807, the president can only mobilize the military in a US state at the request of that state’s governor.

What has happened over the last two weeks has made me sick to my core. I cannot find the words to adequately express my anger, sadness, disappointment, shock, sorrow, or fear.

The US military is supposed to protect us, not beat us into submission! Mr. Trump’s idea of “law and order” is to quell anyone or any group that dares to speak out against him.

The list of retired US military officers who have spoken out against Mr. Trump’s threats last Monday continues to grow. Several have used strong language such as saying Mr. Trump is “a threat to the Constitution.”

Use of a Church and the Bible just as props

The icing on the cake was when Mr. Trump posed in front of a church and held up a Bible. Then, he called his all-white White House staff to stand with him for another photo-op with the Bible.

Numerous religious leaders have spoken out against what Mr. Trump did in front of St. John’s Church last Monday. He held a Bible in the air and looked stone-faced into the cameras. He didn’t read from the Bible, he didn’t pray, and he didn’t call for prayer for our country in crisis. He offered no words of consolation for all the hurting people. He didn’t mention Mr. George Floyd.

Still oblivious, on Friday Mr. Trump said “George” (not “George Floyd” and not “Mr. Floyd”) was probably looking down on us and saying it was a great day because the unemployment rate in the US dropped to 13.3% in April. He failed to mention that unemployment rates for black Americans increased to 16.8%.

My hope and prayer

I pray that people will think long and hard before they vote in November on the national, state, and local levels. Every four years, Americans tend to say, “This is the most important election in our lifetimes.” I’ve thought and said that myself. It was certainly true about the 2016 election but, if the 2020 presidential election goes the way the 2016 election did, there will be a real constitutional crisis in store for us.

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

The United States Senate had a chance in January to impeach Mr. Trump and remove him from office. The Republican majority caved. They’ve been predictably silent throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and the president’s mishandling of the current racial injustice crisis.

Mr. Trump’s answer has been to make threats and have layer after layer of fencing and concrete blockades built around the White House in the past week. He got an expensive education, but it’s sad he wasn’t given a history or civics lesson. The White House is “the people’s house.” It’s not his house. It’s his, rent-free for four years.

It was never my intent to use my blog as a political platform, but I have this internet platform and I would be remiss if I ignored what is happening in America. It is way past time for all Americans to look within ourselves and honestly recognize our prejudices. I believe we all have prejudices. Each of us has flaws and faults.

If I see injustice and I don’t speak out, I’m complicit. I’m part of the problem. There is racism in the White House. There is racism in the US justice system. There is racism within city and county police departments.

Until people in all positions of authority and those of us who are not in positions of authority recognize and name our prejudices, the problem of social and racial injustice in the United States will remain with us.

Until we embrace these words in the US Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” our country can’t reach its full potential. Until Americans of all colors can reach their full potential, our country can’t reach its full potential. I sincerely hope 2020 is a turning point for the good of the whole of the United States.

“I have a dream…”

Martin Luther King, Jr. statue, Washington, DC
Photo by Sonder Quest on Unsplash

I pray that the day will come when the words of Dr. Martin Luther King in his “I Have a Dream” speech August 28, 1963 become a reality. Dr. King said, in part, the following:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood….

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

We’ve come a long way since 1963, when I was 10 years old, but I’m appalled to realize how far we still have to go before Dr. King’s dream can become a reality. It’s been 57 years since his speech. Let that sink in for a minute. Fifty-seven years.

I thank God I live in a country where I have the right to criticize the government and political office holders without fear of retribution. I pray it will remain so today and especially after the November 2020 election. Free speech is a fragile thing.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I suggest you make a conscious effort to read a book written by a person whose skin color is different from your own. Ask for a recommendation at your local library or bookstore.

Continue to stay safe during the Covid-19 pandemic. Care for one another. Wear a mask to protect others.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. Be an instrument of God’s peace. Seek ways in which you can work for social justice.

Janet

LEAPFROG and The Immoral Majority

Two books I read in March worked hand-in-hand. I hadn’t anticipated that, so it was a pleasant surprise. I mentioned them in passing in last week’s blog post, https://janetswritingblog.com/2020/04/06/eight-books-i-read-in-march-2020/.

The two books are The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe and LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

I read Ben Howe’s book first. It addressed something that has dumbfounded me:  How can Christians come down on opposite ends of the spectrum about Donald Trump? How do many evangelicals continue to support him when his speech, Tweets, and actions are in total contrast to the teachings of Jesus Christ?

I took copious notes while reading The Immoral Majority and thought I’d write a blog post about it. Then, I read LEAPFROG, by Janet Givens. I was immediately struck by how the two books could work together. This is probably the longest blog post I’ve written. If the topic interests you, I hope you’ll have time to read it.


The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe

How can Christians see Donald Trump so differently?
The Immoral Moral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe

In the introduction to this nonfiction book author Ben Howe relates a story from 2012 when the Chick-Fil-A restaurant chain came under attack for its charitable foundation’s support of several organizations the Huffington Post labeled as anti-gay. Mr. Howe and a gay friend set out to make a video to show that Chick-Fil-A was a good company that did not discriminate against anyone due to their sexual orientation.

About the same time, a man in another state went to a Chick-Fil-A restaurant with video camera in hand to prove that Chick-Fil-A was a horrible company. A video he made of an exchange with the employee at the drive-through window went viral. Ben Howe more or less led a campaign to give that man “what he deserved.” The result of the campaign resulted in the man losing his job and having trouble finding employment for years to come.

In telling that story, Mr. Howe concludes: “It’s not really whether the punishment fits the crime; it’s more about the decisions of those who react to the crime and whether they are carrying out justice or simply joining the wrongdoer in being wrong.”

He asks the reader to imagine what happens when you put millions of self-righteous people together. An echo chamber develops.

“This is a book about what happens when the people who believe they have the moral high ground find themselves on the low road.” ~ Ben Howe

Feeling under attack, evangelical Christians in the United States had to decide whether to cling unflinchingly to Biblical principles or to act “according to Christ’s example.” As a group, they clung to principles and turned their backs on Christ’s example. The result was the election of Donald Trump in 2016.

Mr. Howe theorizes that the shift started with Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s January 2016 endorsement of Trump for US president. Although a few evangelical leaders spoke out against Trump, Falwell held sway over the majority. Just as Jerry Falwell, Sr. had helped launch the “Moral Majority” movement in 1980, his son was instrumental in urging evangelical Christians to support Trump in 2016.

The difference was, in 1980 Christians were encouraged to influence politics, but in 2016 Christians were, in Mr. Howe’s words, “being forcefully changed by politics.” In his campaign, Trump played on people’s fears. He told Christians they were being persecuted by the government and the Internal Revenue Service, and he promised to put an end to it.

People like Dr. Ben Carson maintained that Trump was a chess pawn in God’s hands and we needed faith that God knew what He was doing. Franklin Graham also took the pragmatic approach, saying God had always used imperfect people to work out His plans.

Trump campaigned as the one and only person who could save America. He mocked (and continues to mock) people who follow Christ’s admonition that we should pray for our enemies. By offering such counter-Christian ideas, Trump was able to win the U.S. presidency via the Electoral College, even though he did not win the popular vote.

In his book, Mr. Howe presents a chronology of how the old “Moral Majority” lost their way and set their sights on the political power Trump promised them instead of the power, grace, and eternal life Jesus Christ promised them. They somehow – which still puzzles me – fell for Trump’s showmanship and voted for him by the millions. He was that new shiny object that sounded so appealing to so many.

Mr. Howe says the real shift happened on June 20, 2016 when Trump “held a meeting with a thousand value-centric conservative leaders.” Endorsed at the meeting by such respected Christian leaders as Mike Huckabee, Dr. Ben Carson, and Dr. James Dobson, Trump was able to silence his evangelical naysayers and capture the hearts and minds of enough Christians to put himself in the White House.

The irony is that Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 presidential race, was and is a practicing Methodist. Trump supporters somehow believed that Trump was elected because God is in power; however, the same people believed the world would end if Clinton were elected. I can’t get my head around their belief that the all-powerful God would delight in Trump’s election but that same God would be held powerless if Hillary Clinton were elected.

All this and I’ve only touched on the introduction and first chapter of Mr. Howe’s book. I admit that I just skimmed through the rest of the book.

In subsequent chapters Mr. Howe writes about such topics as how Trump has been compared to King Cyrus of Persia in the 6th century B.C; people who criticized President Trump’s character; the influence of social media in the vitriol in today’s politics; the belief of many Trump supporters that you’re either pro-choice or you’re pro-Trump – there’s no middle ground; political correctness; desire for revenge; racism and the perception of racism; us against them; abortion; gun policy; defense of the indefensible; excusing the inexcusable; separation of church and state; and choosing between immoralities/the lesser of two evils.

On page 161, Mr. Howe states:  “By directly defying their stated desire, ignoring the character of Donald Trump, and creating a ‘Christian’ culture that has become divisively self-interested and bitterly self-righteous, these leaders have taught their flocks to value the things of the world, rather than the things of Christ.”

And on page 205:  “There simply is no pulling of a lever in a voting booth that will deny God His purpose when He pursues it, nor is there any pulling of the lever that will earn His allegiance to your ‘side.’”

Mr. Howe concludes that God will accomplish His plan regardless of who the U.S. president is. I agree.

“If you wish to be all that Donald Trump and his ilk are not, then the greatest service you could do for the world is to love them despite themselves. Love doesn’t require agreement. It doesn’t require compromise. It doesn’t require surrender or shedding of values. It only and ever required the simple truth that we are stuck together. And if things are going to get better, you cannot wait for others to do it first.” ~ Ben Howe

In the current political climate in the United States, the loudest voices to the “far right” seem to think, “If you don’t agree with me politically, you have no right to live.” This must stop!


LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

How we can learn to agreeably disagree.
LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A.

 “If it is our desire to live in a civil society, we must be willing to engage in a dialogue with those with whom we disagree.” ~ Janet Givens, M.A.

Ms. Givens titled her book LEAPFROG — an acronym of four verbs, Listen, Empathize, Assess, and Paraphrase that help us listen, while the nouns Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude “guide us as we present our ideas in a way that will increase the likelihood that we will also be heard.”

Ms. Givens dedicated a chapter to each of the four verbs and four nouns. In a nutshell, here are snippets from the chapters about Assess, Facts, and Respect:

Assess – Ms. Given wrote, “Assess, as I’m using it here, simply means ‘pause and think’ while you ask yourself, “Is this a conversation I am able to have at this time?’ This is more important than you realize.” Are you and the other party coming to the conversation with curiosity and compassion?

Facts – Ms. Givens wrote, “… since understanding is our goal, we must ignore facts. For now. They have their place in any conversation, of course, but first, receptivity, a willingness to hear them, must exist. On both sides.” She gives “a question to ponder before moving on” at the end of each chapter. At the end of the chapter about facts she wrote: “Think back to your last political conversation. Or, your last Town Hall meeting. Or, your last family feast that ended badly. What went wrong?”

Respect – I love Ms. Givens’ chapter about respect. She wrote, “When we forget our common humanity, we create a chasm between us that is hard to bridge. Respect serves as a bridge to cross that chasm,” while “blame lets us abdicate responsibility for our discomfort by putting it on the other.” We’re all biased, whether we realize it or not.

In conclusion, Ms. Givens wrote about human beings’ need for social interaction. She calls difference “the source of all creativity. Indeed, think of difference as the beginning of all learning, Then, consider a disagreement as a difference of opinion that creates an enlightening and stimulating mystery, one which can be solved, together.”

She then lists her concerns about where our society is heading if we continue to be at such odds politically like we have not been since the American Civil War.

Ms. Givens asks many questions for our consideration throughout the book and at the end of her book. I think most people would benefit from reading LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era. I’ve just hit a few high points in my blog post. For more information about Ms. Givens’ work or to contact her, go to https://janetgivens.com/.


How the two books helped me

I approached The Immoral Moral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values, by Ben Howe with the following mindset: I’m a Christian, a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and I have been guilty of being critical of Christians who continue to support Donald Trump. I wanted the book to explain their rationale to me. I’m still trying to understand it.

While I was still contemplating the theories, Mr. Howe gave in his book, I read LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era, by Janet Givens, M.A., and it really opened my eyes and made me evaluate my opinions.

It helped me see that I tend to listen to the cable news channels I agree with. When I read or listen to “the other side” I approach them with a biased ear and eye. Ms. Givens’ book helped me acknowledge my biases. Overcoming those biases is a work in progress.

If you disagree with my politics, that is your right. I respect your right to disagree; I just don’t understand it. As an American and a Presbyterian I will defend your right to believe what you believe and vote as you feel led to vote. That doesn’t mean I understand how you got there. When the Trump presidency is over, I hope we, as Americans, will once again be able to agreeably disagree.

In the current political climate in the United States, the loudest voices to the “far right” seem to think, “If you don’t agree with me politically, you have no right to live.” This must stop!

I still haven’t had that difficult conversation with anyone whose political views are far from mine, but I will read and re-read Ms. Givens’ book so I’ll be better-equipped to Listen, Empathize, Assess, and Paraphrase when that opportunity presents itself. I’ll have that conversation someday, when the other person and I are ready to approach it with Facts, Respect, Observation, and Gratitude.


Since my last blog post

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, my next appointment with my orthopedic doctor has been rescheduled for a week later, which means I’ll have 13 weeks without putting any weight on my right leg instead of 12. I’m disappointed but that’s a small price for me to pay.

Until my next blog post

Please rest your eyes. If you read this lengthy blog post of mine today, you need to rest your eyes.

I hope you have a good book to read.

I hope you have some creative time.

I hope you stay safe and well. It has been a year like most of us have never seen before and it will, no doubt, continue to be so. I hope you will find something positive to do as we all journey through this pandemic.

Let’s continue the conversation

Have you read either of these two books? How did they affect you? Have you acknowledged your biases? Have you had that difficult conversation with someone? How did it go? Has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your thinking about politics and your fellow citizens whose views are very different from yours?

Janet