“A Box of Crayons Changed Everything”

I know the answer to the question, “Where were you on the day JFK was shot?” I was getting ready to leave my fourth grade classroom with Mrs. Hoffman and my classmates at Jackson Elementary School in Ohio to head home from a day of student toil. The announcement came from the principal over the brown, wooden, high gloss varnished loud speaker box that hung above the chalkboard in every classroom. That speaker was there for daily announcements that all little kids needed to know (like what’s for lunch), and for sharing important announcements (like parent teacher conferences) or the siren that occasionally blared ‘telling’ us to hurry to the bomb shelters to practice our nuclear holocaust drills.

I grew up in a sea of change in the United States from 1954 to my high school graduation in 1973. I didn’t know how turbulent the times where. It is only in retrospect that we learn the lessons of our lives and the power of those days unfolding around us.

These years carried many national events that changed this country and the world. In 1960, American advisers were sent to South Vietnam and would be followed by US troops in 1965. In 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to orbit Earth in a spacecraft and the race was on toward the heavens. Kennedy was shot in 1963. The first men landed on the moon in 1969 (I was in Washington DC that night at my mom’s relative Joyce’s house while we were on family vacation; the landing beaming at us from the Black and White TV set), and Woodstock drew 400,000 people to experience flower power and love. In 1970, Ohio National Guard soldiers fired on (and killed) Kent State University students protesting against the US invasion of Cambodia (just a stone’s throw from my home and where my mother graduated from college) and Vietnam ended for the US in 1973 (and I was thankful as a high school senior since my selective service draft number was in the top ten to go to Southeast Asia to serve in an unpopular war).

But there was a part of my life I didn’t know anything about growing up in an all white world. I didn’t really understand the civil rights movement. It was happening around me, but I was not paying attention to it because of school, football, girls, and well, girls. There were society altering events going on like the Jobs and Freedom March on Washington in 1963, the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968. Except for Kennedy’s death, the social plight of my fellow Americans went undetected by me as I tried to make sense of a white teenager’s life.

I sit now, at another point in my life….where the world has converged and I have chosen to know that history of the civil rights and the freedoms sought and fought for by my African American brothers and sisters. It was sparked by my now 18 year old biracial African American daughter when she was only 5 years old. We were coloring a picture one day after a preschool lesson on MLK when she said, “Martin Luther King was a great man.” “Yes,” I replied…”a very great man,” figuring this had been the subject of some preschool celebration. “I am glad he worked hard,” she continued. “Yes,” I replied as we filled in the lines of the picture. “I am glad he lived so I could not be afraid and be free.” That statement from my brown skinned African American daughter startled me. At five, she had connected with a time in history I knew nothing about because she already, somehow, identified with the skin tone of MLK and what he preached 30 years before her birth. Tears began softly rolling down my cheeks. “Yes,” I said…”you don’t have to be afraid and you are free.” That exchange over a box of Crayola Crayons changed my life and brought me fully into the time I had overlooked as a young man growing up in a world I did not really understand.

I have chosen these last 13 years to honor MLK day, not just on that day alone, but by reading books written by African Americans, and trying to understand this time in the history of our nation (and world). I try to understand this world from the perspective of my African American son-in-law for the sake of him and for my biracial grandsons. And I choose to consider this for my 18 year old daughter who is “free and does not need to be afraid.” I need to protect that for her and others intentionally….not simply by chance.

So on this day, I invite you to begin by watching the “I Have a Dream” speech of MLK from August 1963 in Washington DC. These 17 minutes are an important place to start. The speech of Martin Luther King Jr., is essential for us all. As he says in it “our destinies and freedom are intertwined.” It is a truth I missed long ago, which I will not miss again.

Blessings to you for this day. Grace and peace as you more fully come to understand the fullest meaning of our Declaration of Independence when our fore bearers wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” July 4, 1776

David Neidert

“You’re Probably a Have”

If you bought or own the tools to buy something online this year, you are in an elite economic group; the haves. This is the result of globalization and a growing divide in our national and world economy. It is a two-tiered economy of haves and have-nots. You may not have thought about it before and maybe don’t consider yourself in the ‘have’ group of wealthy people (as we have traditionally thought of this term). But if you own a bank account, credit or debit card, a computer, smart phone, and internet (whether dial up or broadband) you possess the tools to be a part of the thriving global economy.

Choice-what we treasure as people-is at your fingertips. If you possess none of the tools I mentioned above, you are relegated to the selection of the stores or shops in close proximity to you. If the merchandise you want isn’t on the shelf in front of you at the time you are in a store, you are forced to purchase what lays before you…no choice.

The global economy raises social and spiritual questions for me. How will we engage our world economically? What is my responsibility as a human being to help the have nots? How will the haves connect with the have nots if it is easier and easier to isolate ourselves by the touch of a mouse for purchasing what we need or desire? As a believer in Christ, what is my spiritual responsibility to others less fortunate? If I can purchase electronically, I actually have no further need to even be in proximity myself to those who do not have resources available to them. I can by choice become more isolated, and by implication make others irrelevant to me and my situation.

I don’t have many or all the answers to the ramification of this kind of world. There are many good books and those speaking about it in our world. Ron Sider is one I recommend who might help you (as he has me) think through this perplexity.

But from the computer sitting on my lap in my wireless connected, broadband home (I know I am a have), I want to challenge you to consider your response both socially and spiritually. I cannot answer all the questions you might raise in your own heart, but I encourage you to consider working through your local church (if you participate in one), work with the Salvation Army, United Way Agencies, and also global agencies that are trying to help those caught in the lowest tier of our global economy. One agency I recommend is the India Gospel League. I have personally witnessed the changes in people’s lives through this organization on my own travels in India. Or “Word Made Flesh;” an organization that a young friend of mine has given his life to for the purpose of bringing peace and equality in a divided world. These two agencies I highly recommend to you as a have.

You’re a have because you are reading this blog. The question is, “What will you do about your status through your actions and in the attitude of your heart?”

Blessings for this day…grace and peace to you.
David Neidert

“Keep Blogging”

The past twenty four hours have been rewarding and humbling. Over these hours it was my privilege to talk with a person via Email helping them think of ways to engage a family member diagnosed in the past 48 hours or so with a high level prostate cancer. As the shock turned to seeking information, the person went to the internet to find assistance. They came across my own blog and honest sharing about my journey with prostate cancer. They found it useful and I was blessed to guide them in this unexpected place in their lives.

When writing a blog, one always wonders “who cares?” It might feel like you are writing just for yourself. And realistically for the most part, we probably are. Most people probably skip over them when posted or shared in places like Facebook or Twitter or the blog is simply “not their cup of tea.” But what I discovered in this exchange is that if my blogging helps just one person out of 6 billion on the planet, it was well worth it.

The lesson for me and I hope for you is keep blogging. It may be that neither you nor I will ever get recognized for anything we write. Maybe we will get a “hit” now and again. But if your words of encouragement, guidance, experience or insight help one…it has been worth the time and effort.

Blessings to all bloggers. Keep at it because one may never know the impact your experiences might have in another’s life. Grace and peace.
David Neidert