Decent White Guy


Community Missionary Baptist Church, Elkhart, Indiana   

Photography by D. Plasman

I’m a decent white guy. I saw the movie Selma a few weeks ago. This past Monday, I attended a Martin Luther King Day service at the Community Missionary Baptist Church in Elkhart, IN. Decent white guys were in the minority. Next month—Black History Month—I’ll probably re-read King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” Maybe Oprah will have something for me, too.

For sure, I’m a decent white guy. I even care—somewhat—about the Super Bowl. Will the Seahawks repeat as champions? Back-to-back wins haven’t happened since the Patriots did it in ‘04 and ’05. (Why would I know that?) Will New England’s quarterback, Tom Brady, in the twilight of his stunning career, finally receive his fourth, Super Bowl ring? I’m sure Gisele, his model wife, is cheering for him. (And why would I know that?)

Beneath this decent, white guy stuff, I wonder if I’m just another fool. Too easily distracted. Too slow to make lasting investments in people’s lives, especially those different from me.

In the book I’m working on: Jesus, a Life – Daily Meditations on the Gospel of Luke, I wrote the following reflection on the story of the rich man who builds bigger barns to store all his crops. “God said to the rich man, ‘You’re such a fool!’” (Luke 12:20)

God calls the rich man a fool, but there are many names he isn’t called. He isn’t called a crook, a scoundrel, or a thief. He isn’t called a liar, a scam artist, or a cheat. He isn’t guilty of bilking senior citizens out of their nest eggs. Never once, apparently, has he overcharged customers for his crops, even though he could have gotten away with it. He’s not a sweatshop operator. He’s a decent guy.

God doesn’t call him a bad man or an evil man, just a foolish man. He’s a fool for placing too much weight on the wrong things; a fool for thinking security can be measured down to the square foot; a fool for imagining that his materialist insulation could keep him from death’s cold grip. His grave marker will say it all: He had lots of stuff. He built big barns. His harvests were awesome. He knew how to spend. So much potential. So many opportunities. So little to show for it.

The story begs a few questions. What people-investments did he make? Did he work to alleviate suffering? Were other lives better off because of him? Did he ever stop to think of the “have-nots” in his corner of the world, and what he could do?

If this were merely an ancient tale, we could easily forget about it and move on. However, it speaks powerfully today, prompting some personal inventory. For what will I be remembered? Whose life was touched because I was here? What in this world will be better because I lived? Who are the people—different from me—I need to get to know?




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  1. Jim January 21, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    Thanks Dan! From another hopeful decent white guy! (especially the hair)

  2. Dave Kidd January 21, 2015 at 2:35 pm #

    Thanks, Dan, as always! Our granddaughter just left for a Peace Corps stint in Morocco. She left us with a gift that is a smart read for us decent white guys as well as our families and everyone else. “Mistaking Africa” by Curtis Keim. Westview Press, 2014. This is an eye opener regarding our images of Africa. A great study book for any group, it is at the top of my list!

  3. Heidi Mann January 21, 2015 at 5:04 pm #

    Too funny that you should ask “Why would I know that?” about the Super Bowl stuff because in just the fraction of a second before I read that parenthetical question, I thought to myself, “How does he KNOW that??” LOL And of course, that’s not the main point of your post, but it struck me (again!) that you and I have much in common.

    From a Decent White Woman 🙂

  4. Marge January 24, 2015 at 3:04 pm #

    The phrase that struck me was “people investments.” I work with memory care residents. It stabs me in the heart when I hear, “Do the same things, they’ll never remember.” They can distinguish people who love them. They know the care givers and life enrichment people who do their best to brighten their day. At jail, the Bible studies I give are illustrated (as best I can) and songs are sung to CD’s. The lyrics are typed out so the women sing them again in their cells. These women know I am investing in them. Watching their eyes is the reward of my investment.
    Take a risk, volunteer. Get paid in smiles and pats on the arm.
    Trying to be a decent woman.

  5. Patrick Roland January 26, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

    Thanks, Dan. I’ve experienced a whirlwind of events since Christmas. I have connected with such a great share of people over such a short duration of time, sensing and holding their grief, their exultations, and In one case, their fight to survive. Some who never knew what they meant to me, and I to them, surely know it now. Some who were complete strangers have seen fit to make themselves known to me during this time as well. Even the assumed relationships like the ones in my own family have taken on a new light. I am grateful for your message today, your lasting encouragements, and that part of your path which coincided with my own in real time.
    Peace, brother.

  6. Pat January 26, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    You have impacted my life immeasurably and inspired me to be a better person. I also remember you referring to yourself as “privileged” – as white, male etc. and I notice in what ways I am privileged (and a good person generally). Thank you. And thanks to MLK,Jr. for doing what he could to bring out the best in others. Hopefully you will announce the birthing of the book soon.