Roadside assistance

heard county deputyOn a rural Georgia road, covered by nightfall, comes a powerful beam of light that cuts through the darkness of hatred and misunderstanding.

A Heard County Sheriff’s Deputy was doing his job when he observed a young man ignoring a stop sign. In law enforcement, there’s no such thing as routine. An innocuous traffic violation performed by the wrong person, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, can cause a situation to go south in a real hurry. The deputy in this situation didn’t know if the driver he stopped was an innocent teenager who wasn’t paying attention, or an escaped convict with a taste for blood. The deputy stepped forward with his hand on his service pistol, completely unaware that he was moving toward an encounter that just might change his life forever.

Consider, for a moment, the current state of affairs for anyone wearing a badge. Officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge are dead because of the anger over shootings that had nothing to do with them. Some people, not all, but some have indicted an entire profession because of the actions of a few. It’s not fair. It’s like destroying an entire orchard because of the worms found in two apples. It is but another example of hatred run amok. Nothing good comes of hate.

That Heard County Deputy had no way of knowing if he would be the next target.

Then it happened. Another car arrived. Two people got out and walked toward the deputy. He tensed.

“I immediately start running situations through my head, and praying for the best,” the deputy wrote on his Facebook page. “I’m nervous, and praying to God that nothing is going to happen.”

One of the people approaching the deputy identified himself of the father the young man the deputy had stopped. Papa Bear had arrived to protect Baby Bear, always a potentially volatile situation.

“That’s my boy,” he told the deputy. “I just want to make sure everything’s okay.”

The deputy calmly informed the man that his son was going to get a warning for running the stop sign. What happened next came straight from all that is pure and good.

“God bless you,” the man told the deputy. “I just appreciate everything you do.”

The man went on to tell the deputy that he was on his way to the hospital to visit his father, who had just suffered a stroke. Then he reached for the deputy’s hand.

“Do you have a minute? I’d just like to say a word of prayer.”

Right there, on the side of that dark Heard County road, a man whose father had just suffered a stroke stopped to offer compassion to a complete stranger, to a deputy who’d just interrupted his trip to visit a loved one.

“Lord, keep this man and his fellow officers safe as they’re out here trying to keep us safe,” the man prayed, all of it captured on the deputy’s dashboard camera.

The prayer ended with a hug.

“As he prayed for me and my brothers in blue, my eyes filled with tears,” the deputy wrote. “This man, with all he had going on, stopped to pray for me. As I walked away, I was in total shock.”

Think of that. The deputy was in shock that someone would pause to express appreciation for his commitment to protecting others.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers leave their homes for a day’s work, unsure if they’ll make it back to their families. They’re sassed, disrespected, and cussed for doing their job. They’re not perfect. None of us are. There are a few who have allowed the power of the badge go to their heads, resulting in horrible decisions. But the overwhelming majority of officers I’ve known are good people with a genuine heart for protecting the rest of us. Still, it’s a job where they’re more likely to hear a threat than a thank you.

This doesn’t have to be about law enforcement officers. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about prayer. It’s about bringing peace to a troubled world. It’s about lifting your neighbor when they’re down.

Imagine you work for a business that’s struggling. You’ve said goodbye to co-workers forced out by layoffs. You have no idea if the next pink slip is bound for your in-box. You’re on a sales call, stressed over the added pressure, when a customer, a total stranger, offers you comfort and understanding. It might not erase all of your woes, but the pressure might not seem as overwhelming. Your outlook might not appear quite so dark.

Despite all of the marches, the protests, the pain, and the doubt, that officer in Heard County now knows at least one man cares.

On a rural road covered by darkness, there is light.

 

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Whom shall I fear?

candlelightAmericans are afraid.

I understand. Once a week, it seems, we wake to the news crawl at the bottom of our television screens telling us of 80 dead here, 49 killed there, a terrorist attack in France, gunfire in Orlando.

FBI crime statistics argue against our fear. Violent crime in the U.S. is down. In fact, there has been a steady drop in the number of murders, rapes, robberies and assaults since 1995. But we don’t meet statistics while walking down the street. Instead, we confront our impressions about a world that seems to have gone haywire.

There is nothing wrong with a little fear. Fear makes us cautious. Allowed to evolve into awareness, fear can become a means of protection.

It’s when we allow fear to transform into hatred that we run into problems.

A little hate can poison an entire nation. It clouds your focus, burns you alive and encourages others to hate you right back. Hate accomplishes nothing except to beget more hate.

Think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who woke up each morning to a frightening world. He walked in a time and place that despised him for a hue that was not of his choosing. Surely, he had to harbor some hatred for the small-minded bigots who considered themselves superior. Somehow, he molded those volatile emotions into a movement of peace.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that,” he once said. “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

Fire hoses turned on his brothers. The gnashing teeth of police dogs nipping at his throat. Threats that culminated in his death. The world encouraged Dr. King to return hate with hate, but he and his followers refused. They had to be scared as they marched down streets lined with those who wanted to lynch them. While trembling inside, they encouraged the world to dream of a day full of understanding, a day without fear.

“The chain reaction of evil, hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars, must be broken.”

Today’s fear is focused on extremists. The natural inclination is to hate ISIS, to hate the ideologues who think with a gun rather than with compassion. Dr. King, you’re thinking, didn’t have to deal with radical Islamists.

No, but he did have to deal with incredible injustice. He had to go face-to-face with the KKK, with sheriffs and police chiefs and mayors who wore robes after hours. He hated their ideology. He must have. I’m sure he was afraid. But he never acted out of hate.

“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred,” Dr. King warned us.

As I struggle to find the words to express my own fear of a world ruled by hate, I keep turning to Dr. King and the teachings of those who followed them. Their words are written on my heart. Among the men of that era I admire most is Ambassador Andrew Young, who is still calling for peace in our current time of turmoil.

“I don’t think I’ve sensed as much confusion among the American people in my lifetime since the bombing of Pearl Harbor,” Ambassador Young said recently, speaking of the recent police involved shootings and the protests that followed. “There’s so much bombarding us, we’re scared of the world.

“Violence grows out of frustration and emotion, leading to unintended destruction of life and property,” Ambassador Young goes on. “After it’s over, everyone is sorry.”

Easy for me to adopt this attitude. I’m not a victim of discrimination. I don’t have to deal with the growing threat of radical extremists. I do fear, however. I fear the day when hate compounds hate until it overshadows the brave men who encouraged us to dream. I’m afraid we’re on the verge of forgetting the words of those who have walked through darkness and used peace as their illumination.

Their words, their actions, can light our path through this frightening time.

Fear can fuel a movement. Hate will tear it apart.

Nice to meet you, Sen. Shealy

Screenshot 2016-07-10 at 3.01.27 PMI don’t know Katrina Frye Shealy, and she doesn’t know me.

I think it’s time we got acquainted.

In the face of the violence and discord that currently plagues our country, the state senator from South Carolina has suggested that, more than likely, members of the media are our nation’s biggest problem. People in my line of work, in Sen. Shealy’s own words, sensationalize everything. We stir the pot. We fuel a blazing fire. Silencing us for a month, she believes, might make our world a better place.

On Facebook, her supporters have referred to news reporters as “the enemy.”

I have to wonder if Sen. Shealy actually knows anyone involved in the media. I’m not talking about knowing them on a working level. I wonder if she’s familiar with the true heart and motivation of anyone who works in my business.

Sen. Shealy, let me introduce myself.

My name is Jerry Carnes. I’ve been a news reporter for more than thirty years. I am a child of the south, raised by Southern Baptists who taught me to work hard, love God, and to respect others. My father grew up in poverty, but worked hard to become an Olympic track coach. My mother had to overcome the scars of abandonment inflicted by a rather cruel father. She is the single strongest woman I’ve ever known.

Most of all, my parents taught me about humility. It is why I lean heavily on the words of the Apostle Paul:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourself.

I have witnessed more than most people ever should. I saw a man die in the electric chair. I arrived too early to a crime scene to find an infant lying in the street, shot to death by her own father. These are images that stay with you for a lifetime.

I know grief. I lost my father to cancer in 2011. It is a loss that has left a giant crater in my heart. I lost a cousin to the war in Iraq. This year alone, my church youth group has lost two of its members to tragedy. These are tender young lives who once called me their Sunday school teacher. I went on mission trips with them. Time and time again, my heart breaks.

It has made me more sympathetic to the pain of others. Over the past thirty years, I’ve talked to scores of people who have suffered from senseless tragedy. I’ve served as both reporter and counselor. There have been many times when the talking has gone on long after the camera was turned off. I do all I can do to lighten their burden rather than add to it. For thirty years, I’ve carried home the weight of second hand grief. It is the strength of God that keeps that weight from crushing me.

I am a natural born storyteller. That’s why I got into the business. Reporting has given me opportunities to shed light on wrongdoing, to give a voice to the voiceless. My favorite moments, however, have come when allowed to share stories of human triumph. I will never forget the uplifting bond created between a young lady who survived a plane crash, and the elderly couple who ran to her aid. The couple lived near the Carroll County cornfield where the plane erupted into a ball of fire. I met them at the hospital, where they remained at the young girl’s bedside until she’d healed enough to return home. By then, they were practically family. Out of incredible tragedy, love and compassion appeared. Good came from bad.

My years in television news have taught me that, at times, the presence of a camera can add to hostility or pain. As a veteran, I’ve learned to recognize the need to shed light on a moment, and the need to go dark.

Violence, hatred, and prejudice of any kind breaks my heart. I mourn often. I’ve mourned more this year, it seems, than ever before. I weep when I see our country torn apart in disagreement over how to end the rash of hatred. When others hurt, I hurt. I also have faith that we will rise again, stronger than ever.

I have been married for 31 years. My wife is an artist who runs her own business from our home. We have three children. Our oldest is married. He works for a non-profit and volunteers as the social media director of his church. Our middle child is a nurse. She is also married. Her husband works as an audio engineer for a church in Charlotte. Our youngest is about to leave home for college, where she plans to prepare for a career as a special education teacher. I’m immensely proud of them all.

Sen. Shealy, I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes during my long career in this business, and I beg your forgiveness. Working as a news reporter carries with it incredible responsibility. I know there have been times when I’ve taken that responsibility too lightly. I’m human, and that’s my point here. When you refer to the “media,” you’re not talking about a giant ogre that needs to be slain. We are individuals. Each and every one of us has a heart that has been molded by individual experiences. Each of us has our own faults and stumbles. Each of us, as individuals, deal with our own failures.

Now that you know something about me, I hope you’ll see that I would never intentionally sensationalize anything, or purposely throw fuel on a fire. Compassion is a driving force behind my work, which is why I devote so many hours warning others about the risks of prostate cancer. It’s the disease that took my father. Oh, I am not remarkable, by the way. Not by any means. There are plenty of reporters who have seen more than me, endured much worse, and learned a lot more. There are journalists who are much smarter and far more compassionate. I can introduce you to some reporters who would really impress you with the many ways that they’ve bettered the world. If you got to know them, you wouldn’t want to silence them for a half-second, much less a month.

I can get better at what I do. No question about it. We can all do better. But I think it would be a huge mistake to silence us. Yes, we do sometimes throw light on issues that make us uncomfortable. Extinguishing that light, even for a month, would leave us all in the dark. With all respect, I pray that you would consider that.

It was nice to meet you.