By Pastor Mike Lotzer
Growing up in a suburb of Minneapolis, I was proud to tell my friends that my dad was a Police Officer. When other boys engaged in the “my dad can beat up your dad debate,” I would calmly remind them, “Oh yeah, well, my dad can arrest your dad!” In light of recent events, that kind of youthful remark doesn’t feel like the “mic drop” it once did.
As a teenager, my dad would regularly take me on “ride-alongs” in his squad car. For a few hours at a time, I glimpsed into his unpredictable, complicated and sometimes adrenaline-packed work as a Police Officer. Through those glimpses, I began to understand the value of an under-rated quality that Christianity has always promoted. It is often misunderstood but needed now more than ever. What is this character quality? It is the virtue of meekness. On the surface meekness sounds like weakness. After all, it even rhymes. It is not weakness.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” – Matthew 5:5
Meekness is best defined as “strength under control.”Early uses of the word can be found in the New Testament. The Greek term for “meek” paints a picture of training a powerful horse to be productive and safe. Meekness is the ability to tame something intensely strong.
Meekness Modeled: As a cop, my dad was not weak; he was not a bully; my dad was meek. I was and remain incredibly proud of the kind of Peace Officer he was. Believe it or not, I have a picture of my dad in his Police uniform brokering peace between a Black Preacher and a White Supremacist Leader! Somehow he talked them into reconciling, and then he prayed for them both while they held hands. Dad was the kind of cop that brought different groups of people together. He was known to disarm even the most hostile of individuals with his words rather than his physical force whenever possible.
Riding in his squad car gave me a window into another world. It showed me, without anyone having to tell me, that I was indeed privileged. I was privileged to have a mother and a father who cared for me, a safe place to live, and all my basic needs met. On those ride-alongs, it also occurred to me that I was somehow privileged to be white, albeit for reasons I could not fully understand. It seemed complicated to me then and that has not changed.
Early Lessons: That early and measured exposure to low-income housing, domestic disturbances, traffic stops, homelessness, crime, and addiction also taught me gratitude and respect for just how fragile law and order is. I learned that without laws and law enforcement, we would live in a world that none of us would want. At the same time, I learned that laws and enforcement are more of an art than a science. That art required a blend of humility and courage—strength under control.
Dad would frequently arrange for me to ride along with other officers for an hour or so, and he often chose the most strict or socially awkward ones. I think it was his way of inducing a healthy awareness in me that there are Police Officers who would write-up individuals for the slightest infraction. Those ride-alongs showed me that not all Police Officers are meek.
Indeed, not all Police Officers are motivated to serve and protect, but my impression from the passenger seat of those squad cars was that most were. Like in every profession, some individuals are selfish, insecure, racist, deceitful, and cruel. Others are less so. All of us are flawed and complex. That said, there are undoubtedly some professions that attract less virtuous applicants than others.
Watching Our City Burn: The recent death of George Floyd sparked lamentation and rightly so. Watching a Minneapolis Police Officer kneel on a man’s neck was extremely upsetting. Hearing George plead for mercy and even cry out for his mother, was and is haunting. The days that followed brought both peaceful protests and disturbing riots. Looting, burning, and the destruction of entire city blocks across the country ensued.
As a pastor, a Veteran, a father, and the son of a man who honorably served in law enforcement for thirty years, it breaks my heart—all of it.
Let’s get back to meekness. Remember, meekness is the ability to wield incredible power in productive and measured ways. Without meekness, raw strength and power serve no purpose higher than destruction, division, and despair.
The Officer who knelt on George Floyd was strong enough to kill him but not meek enough to honor George’s humanity and serve and protect as he should. The other three officers who watched, and also held George down, lacked the meekness required to confront their leader when they knew he was wrong. Meekness demands strength, self-control, humility, and courage. Those officers failed to show a basic level of meekness.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. The hundreds of people who looted rioted and burned businesses evidence that a disturbing lack of meekness extends far beyond the law enforcement community. When people broke the windows of shops, stole merchandise, beat shop-owners, and burned down what took generations to build, they added lament on top of lament. Most of these rioters had no intent of honoring the life of George Floyd, but rather sought to wreak havoc on a city in pain. A city brought to its knees by the unjust death of a member of our community.
On Saturday, I was invited by some friends to help clean up Lake Street in Minneapolis after another rough night of people burning and looting in my hometown. As I was sweeping up a pile of glass, I looked up and saw a spray-painted plea…
“Don’t burn, kids live upstairs.”
My heart broke again as I imagined my own three children sleeping above stores that are being looted and burned. Our crew helped that store clean up and board over their windows for another night of violence. After securing a fresh layer of plywood the owner asked me to write the same message on the new layer. It was something I never imagined writing in spray-paint, let alone in my city. It is strange how even some of the looters didn’t disturb the side of the shop that had that message written on it. Why do we fail to treat adults with the care we instinctively treat children? We were all children once.
Rebuilding is Possible: Around the same time of my life that I used to ride along in my dad’s squad car he brought me to a Christian Men’s Conference at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. It was called Promise Keepers and I didn’t want to go as I was by far the youngest person in this mass gathering and I was wary at the time of people who were super religious.
At the conference, one of the speakers talked about racial reconciliation. He explained it is possible because of the costly sacrifice of Christ that brings all people of all races together. The speaker challenged anyone who harbored hatred for other races than their own to follow Christ’s example and love all races. He challenged the racists among us to make a costly sacrifice declaring that hate will no longer have a home in one’s heart. I recall wondering what he meant.
Was he simply asking us racists to tell someone we are racist? Was I racist?
What happened next shocked me. A very tall African American security guard who happened to be standing near me kneeled down in front of me. The message obviously had moved him as he had tears in his eyes. The man started talking to me as he began slowly twisting a large ring off his finger. He put the ring in my hand and clasped my hand with both of his. With more tears he explained to me and my very surprised father next to me, that since he was a little boy he had always hated white people because of how they treated him and his people. He emphasized in a firm tone that scared me,
“I’ve always hated white people—all white people.”
This giant of a man went on to say that because he was a follower of Jesus, he knew that he had to let that hate go now. To make his decision permanent he was going to give something of great value to a white person. He explained that he chose me since I was the youngest white person here and he had hope for my generation. Looking down in his hand I saw the ring he gave me. He told me it was his Vietnam Veteran service ring. Even in my ignorance, I could tell that this was very hard for him to give away.
I had no idea what to say other than thank you.
There I was, barely a teenager, at a sports stadium in Minneapolis with my meek police officer dad. Now I’m the recipient of a sweaty, teary bear-hug from a huge African American security guard whose name I don’t even know. All I know is that he just told me he hates all white people but that changes today, and to prove it, I’m now the owner of his Army combat service ring. That’s one of those memories you don’t forget.
To this day, I still have the man’s ring, and I have no idea whatever happened to him. That encounter was part of my motivation for joining the Army with I turned 21. It is part of my motivation for writing this post on meekness. This memory and that ring is a reminder that rebuilding from the brokenness of racial divisions is possible.
Just ask the meek African American security guard who laid down his hate in a vulnerable and costly way 24 years ago in Minneapolis.
Nevertheless, rebuilding is messy. Presently, there is a debate about what needs to be rebuilt. Is it the entire Government’s approach to race? Is it law enforcement training or law enforcement in general? Is it the perceptions white people hold about the plight of black and brown people? Is it trust? Trust between who?
What is certain is that there are much more than buildings in need of restoration.
Buildings are built one brick and one board at a time. I suppose trust is built like that too. It takes time to rebuild what has been burned and broken, but it is possible. The absence of meekness, strength under control, was partially responsible for all the brokenness we now experience. In every rebuilding initiative, the right tools are essential. What if meekness is an essential tool in the process of rebuilding all that is broken? What if both the absence and the presence of meekness is more contagious than any virus we know of? What if an outbreak of meekness started with you?