We’ve Been Traveling Over Rocky Ground


“Rise up shepherd, rise up
Your flock has roamed far from the hill
The stars have faded, the sky is still
Sun’s in the heavens and a new day is rising

You use your muscle and your mind and you pray your best
That your best is good enough, the Lord will do the rest
You raise your children and you teach them to walk straight and sure
You pray that hard times, hard times come no more
You try to sleep you toss and turn the bottom’s dropping out
Where you once had faith now there’s only doubt
You pray for guidance only silence now meets your prayers
The morning breaks, you awake, but no one’s there
 There’s a new day coming
A new day’s coming” –Bruce Springsteen, Rocky Ground

Life has a way of getting your attention when you least expect it.
Last Thursday night we were at Mizner Park dining with family and marveling at the MacLaren’s, Ferrari’s and Tesla’s cruising by.
It was a week when a town nearly went bonkers on social media over the Garlic Festival and when adults argued with each other over whether it is proper for a high school dance group and Cub Scouts to volunteer in exchange for donations.
Talk about ridiculous. And small.
We witnessed people squabble over whether John Prince Park was in Lake Worth or in unincorporated Palm Beach County which suddenly became “important” because that’s where the Garlic Festival ended up after a terrific 18 year run in Delray.
But then you come home and switch on CNN and see footage from Baton Rouge, Dallas and Falcon Heights.
And suddenly reality sets in.

People were dying.

On America’s streets.
I have a deep respect for law enforcement officers forged over years of watching them save Delray Beach. I had the unique privilege and opportunity to ride with our officers. I was an eye witness to their challenges, I saw their dedication and their courage.
I spent hours with officers taking notes as they patrolled the most dangerous streets of our city. I saw how the job impacted them in good ways and in not so good ways.
I saw them smile when they pulled up to a crowd and were greeted by people who genuinely liked and trusted them. I saw the chemistry and the rapport. I saw the closeness and the good natured ribbing.
But  I also saw an officer stare at the sky and hold onto a telephone pole for balance after responding to a rape call. The victim was nine years old. Being a cop is a tough job.
I will never know what it’s like to put on a uniform and not know whether today will change or end my life or somebody else’s.
But I do know what it’s like to try and comfort a community after a teenager is shot dead by an officer. I can’t help but think of Jerrod Miller these days. Google the name if you’re new to town.
So yes watching the news after an evening at Mizner Park ogling sports cars snaps you back to reality.
The reality of families dealing with the shooting of a loved one and the reality of officers murdered and injured  in Dallas.
It puts life in perspective. In a hurry.

It makes you want to focus on bigger things and deeper questions.
What are we doing? What are we focused on? Why it does feel that things are spiraling out of control?

It has been a helluva few weeks hasn’t it?
The massacre in Orlando. Terror in Turkey and throughout our world.

Insensitive, lightweight politicians who are so far from being leaders that it is almost surreal.
We seem to be spinning off our axis.
As a nation and I’m afraid sometimes as a community.
An old friend asked me what I thought was going on?
And I think the answer is simple.

We are losing our sense of community and our sense of what it means to be Americans. We are becoming tribal, quick to label, quick to condemn and ignore.
We are in desperate need of kindness, empathy and understanding. We seem to be getting  a steady and almost lethal dose of meanness, disrespect and ugliness.
The issues come and the issues go, but how we handle them leave marks. That goes for our national discourse and the way our local communities behave.
The conversation and decision making process can either enhance us as a community or diminish us. And too often these days– and for a long time now– they are diminishing us. How we make decisions matter; maybe as much as the decisions we make.

And if we slide into bad habits, one day we will inevitably pay the price. One day the stakes will be more than the fate of a festival or whether we should permit a particular business to open. If we don’t learn to compromise, invite and encourage dialogue we risk civility and we lose community. And then it’s too late.

Conversation helped us in the wake of Jerrod Miller. It was difficult for sure, but there was an effort to come together. But the shooting didn’t provoke the conversation. We had already embarked on a discussion about race. I don’t think we solved our issues. In fact, I know we didn’t. But I think the conversation made a difference. It just has to be ongoing and it has to lead to change.
Looks what’s happening across our nation.
In our politics, in our reactions to tragedy or terrorism and in how we seem to drift further and further apart rather than come together.
It doesn’t feel safe anymore.
It doesn’t feel stable.
We need to transcend. We need to think and we need to stop, breathe and consider.
I’ve been an observer of local government for 30 years. I like to write about what I observe. That bothers some people. So be it. I think we all have a civic responsibility to speak out and I won’t be silenced. You shouldn’t be either.
But I’ve noticed that when my writing is assailed it’s often not on the facts or even on philosophy it tends to be based on the gall of having an opinion, expressing that opinion and distributing it. When they want you to just go away, or they threaten to harm your business or blame you cryptically for stirring controversy you know you’re onto something. You hit a nerve, you exposed a truth, you lifted a cloak that others would prefer remain veiled.
That’s what conversation and writing is supposed to do. Nothing is ever solved through violence whether in deed or in word, but a lot gets settled with conversation.
A few years back, I observed some odd decision making as if there was a puppet master or two behind the scenes using elected officials as marionettes. A group of people grew tired of it and many of those elected officials were replaced by others who promised to do things differently. But what I have observed lately is not transparency, it’s something else entirely.
When visioning is replaced by personal preferences, when processes seem to be hijacked by agendas one has to wonder. Those of us who care about our community have a right and an obligation to speak out and seek change. If we don’t, we lose our community over time and when we lose our community we are in danger when something tragic happens.

In Washington, we see an inability to act against Zika, to even talk about ways to prevent lunatics from getting weapons of war or to effectively deal with a growing opiate crisis gripping America.
We look to leadership for ideas and solutions. We also look to leadership to engage not keep their own counsel or to listen only to a few people who never dare to differ or who stuff money in super pacs and campaign accounts.
We look to leaders to forge compromise, to frame issues and transcend the noise and do what’s right not what’s politically expedient or popular at the moment. We want them to think five, ten, twenty years ahead. Past the next election. Past the next post on Facebook.
Last week’s violence in Dallas, Baton Rouge and Minnesota led to a lot of national introspection.

We have separation not unity. We have divisiveness not community. That’s both our challenge and opportunity in our nation and in our own backyards.