“I Don’t Know”–Charles Kinsey, and the danger of our unknown motives

“I Don’t Know”–Charles Kinsey, and the danger of our unknown motives

“Why did you shoot me?” was the question Charles Kinsey asked of the Miami police officer standing over him.

The answer he received surprised him: “I don’t know.”

As you may know, Kinsey is a behavior therapist from Miami who works with autistic individuals. One of these, a young man, wandered away last week and sat down in the street. Kinsey attempted to retrieve him, and police arrived, called to the scene by someone reporting a man who looked suicidal, and who may have a gun.

Kinsey explained to police that this was not the case, but to no avail. At the time that police fired, he was lying on his back, empty hands in the air, explaining loudly that the young man sitting next to him was autistic, that he was playing with a toy truck, and that Kinsey was his therapist.

All of this is clearly seen and heard on video (see here).

Kinsey begs officers not to shoot. He pleads with his client to stay calm. He continues to explain the situation, and he does everything imaginable to demonstrate that he is not a threat.

Well, perhaps not everything. He does not cease to be a black man.

Reports later showed that the police officer who shot Kinsey fired not once, but three times. Then after Kinsey was shot, he was handcuffed and laid out on the pavement for twenty minutes while bleeding from the bullet wound. Thankfully, he survived.

Later, when pressed about the incident, the police union claimed that the officer had shot Kinsey by mistake, while aiming at the unarmed autistic man, who they believed to have a gun. (This, despite clear audio of Kinsey explaining that it was a toy truck, and despite the fact that police then handcuffed the wounded/unarmed man (Kinsey) whom they were reportedly trying to “rescue”).


Much more could and should be said about this incident. Yet, surprisingly, this is not a post on racism and police misconduct, at least not exclusively.  (See here for that.)

For the record, my assumption is that most cops (indeed, the vast majority) perform their thankless jobs with honor, and that they deserve far better than the blanket blame that often dogs them. As I’ve said before, acknowledging real cases of police misconduct, should be a way of protecting good cops whose reputations are sullied by the actions of a few, and who are subject to cowardly acts of retribution.

In looking at this case, however, I want to focus on something few have covered: the odd RESPONSE to Charles Kinsey’s simple question: “Why did you shoot me?” Answer: “I don’t know.”

While some may read this explanation cynically (he and his lawyers had not settled on a “reason” yet), or skeptically (perhaps it never happened), I want to explore another possibility: Perhaps this strange response was honest. And perhaps—as the officer initially implied—he was genuinely baffled as to why he fired three times on an unarmed and fully compliant Good Samaritan.

If this is so, then maybe it says something important about the murky motives behind even our snap decisions.


My proposal is this: In many cases, and especially under stress, humans do not make decisions by weighing the actual evidence. Especially when fear and conflict are involved, we simply react, and we do so based on a mental and emotional database of subconscious intuitions and assumptions.

And, while this gut-reaction, fight or flight reflex, may be life-saving if there is a lion in the bushes, it can be deadly to men like Charles Kinsey.

In truth, this proposal is not new. As best I can tell, it is corroborated by both psychology and brain science.[1] Here, the data suggests that in many cases, our subconscious mind makes decisions for us, and we may not even be aware of the real motives behind them. In short, we see what we have been conditioned to see by a wide variety of prior forces and (yes)prejudices.

Someone reported a gun.

There is a black man.

Is he lying?

That young man is not responding.


“Why did you shoot me?”

“I don’t know.”

To be clear, this does not excuse the officer for shooting Charles Kinsey. He should be held responsible.

Yet it may mean that all of us should pay more attention to the what is being fed into our subconscious, for as one psychologist notes (here), “that is the information that our brain uses to make decisions, before we even realize [that] we’ve made [them].”


In it’s own way, Scripture also supports this line of thinking.

In the book of Acts, a mob forms near Paul and company in the city of Ephesus. Things get tense, people see what they want, and by the end, Luke tells us that

“Some were shouting one thing, some another. [And get this…] Most of the people did not even know WHY they were there” (Acts 19.32).

Did you catch that last line?

Elsewhere, Scripture claims that the heart of fallen man is desperately wicked (this much should be obvious), yet the verse finishes like this: “who can know it?” (Jer. 17.9)

Note that the question is not “who can tame the wicked heart?” but rather “who can KNOW it?”

Sin has noetic side effects (Rom. 1.18). Perception is affected. And sometimes, even our full motives are unknown to us.

As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote:

“Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving yourself.”

This explains why one thing most all racists have in common is the belief that they are not racists. “Not me.  I don’t burn crosses.”


What then is the solution?

In the gospel, transformation comes not through the revamping of behavior, but through the “renewal of the mind” (Rom. 12.1). Thus repentance (meta-noia) is literally a turning of the nous (or mind) of the believer, so that it is conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8.29).

In short, even our subconscious must be reprogrammed by God’s grace, and by the careful searching of the Spirit. This may happen slowly, but it must happen, not just for people like the officer who fired on Charles Kinsey, but for all of us.

All of us must become more aware of the hidden assumptions, preconceptions, and prejudices that guide our thinking.

Lest the risen Jesus look down on us—as he did from the cross—and intercede once more: “Father forgive them, they know not WHY they do.”


[1] See C. S. Soon, M. Brass, H.J. Heinze, & J.D. Haynes, “Unconscious Determinants Of Free Decisions In The Human Brain,” Nature Neuroscience, 11:5 (2008), 543–5; J.L. Voss & K.A. Paller, “An electrophysiological signature of unconscious recognition memory” Nature Neuroscience, 12 (2009), 349-355.

Discipleship or Indoctrination: What’s the difference?

Discipleship or Indoctrination: What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between discipleship and indoctrination?

At several points, I’ve sat through sessions in which young people are being taught about the Christian worldview. Some have been quite good. Yet in others, I’ve had the following snippet of thought: “This is not discipleship; this is indoctrination.”

But what’s the difference?

In terms of literal meaning, there is nothing wrong with being brought “in” to certain doctrines (from the Latin, doctrina). That’s good. Yet words connote as well as denote. And “indoctrination” connotes negatively.

Here’s an incomplete attempt at a distinction:

  1. Discipleship embraces questions; indoctrination quashes them.

If you’ve ever read the Jesus story, you know how frequently he answers questions with more questions. This is not mere evasion, and it is not way a saying that there are no answers.  Instead, it is quintessentially Jewish and a method of discipleship.

I was reminded of this recently as I heard a quote by a Nobel laureate in physics, Isidor I. Rabi. He said that following:

Every mother in Brooklyn would ask [her child] after school: “So? Did you learn anything today?” But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. “Izzy,” she would say, “did you ask a good question today?”

Discipleship is fueled by good questions, while indoctrination gives rote answers. At its worst, it is an encouragement to flip happily to the back of the book and copy down conclusions that one has not worked through (and which may not even be correct).

Not all questions are benign (e.g., “Did God really say…?” [Gen. 3]), but that doesn’t mean that we can ignore or oversimplify them. That last bit brings me to the next point.

  1. Discipleship involves persuasion, not propaganda.

I sometimes ask my students: “What is propaganda?” In many cases, the response is vague, but often similar to that of the Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when defining pornography. He said, simply: “I know it when I see it.”

But do we always recognize our propoganda?

By my definition, propaganda presents a view of reality that is appealing but intentionally distorted. Indoctrination often does likewise.

Such slanted viewpoints are appealing, because we would like to simplify the complexities of life. Example: “Why don’t I have a job?” Donald Trump: “Mexicans. Obama. Everyone is stupid.”

For some, such caveman logic is appealing because it identifies clear “bad guys,” and then breaks problems into (sparsely punctuated) solutions. “Tarzan build wall.”

But while discipleship rejects religious propaganda, it must involve persuasion.

There is an objective. The goal is that people would be conformed to the image of Christ by the renewing of their minds. And this means tapping into emotion and desire. That’s not bad.

As Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) famously put it:

I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections [emotions] of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided … that [1] they are affected with nothing but truth, and [2] with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.

When this is done, we are in the realm of gospel persuasion (discipleship). But when the latter two shortcuts are taken, we slide into the bog of propaganda for the purpose of indoctrination. The ends do not justify the means.

  1. Discipleship requires dirty feet.

A few years ago, N.T. Wright wrote a fairly scathing critique of a book purporting to offer a “pilgrimage” approach to studying Jesus. Wright thought that the book did not engage enough with the ancient context of Jesus. Thus, as he put it:

“Real pilgrims would get their feet dirty on the dusty roads of ancient Palestine.” Yet what this book offered was a “pilgrimage by helicopter,” resulting in “pilgrims with suspiciously clean feet.”

Indoctrination often results in something similar:

“Disciples” with suspiciously clean feet. And that’s an oxymoron.

True discipleship happens in the midst of life, in all its messiness. It happens “on the way.” This does not mean, of course, that classroom learning is bad (I’m engaged in it). But it does mean that our “doctrines” must lead to engagement, and our theory must embrace praxis. If it doesn’t bring life to hurting people, then it is of little value.

In short: Discipleship requires dirty feet; indoctrination doesn’t.

Thus, to quote the Scriptures: “How beautiful are the [dirty] feet of those who bring good news” (Isa. 52.7; Rom. 10.15).


So here’s a closing question: What are some further differences between discipleship and indoctrination?




Black and Blue: Race and Violence in the wake of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas Massacre

Black and Blue: Race and Violence in the wake of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas Massacre

How do you say something without adding to the noise?

Is it possible?

Over the past week, I’ve wanted to offer something redemptive in the wake of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the massacre in Dallas.

“Don’t be silent,” many said. Yet my fear is to be like those who have nothing to say, but say it anyway.

Noise pervades.

And nuance is another casualty of violence. It seems to die alongside the victims.

Here, though, are a few half-formed thoughts:

  1. I need to listen. 

As a rural white kid, I know little of what it means to be black in America. That very obvious admission is an important step. Nor do I have experience in law enforcement. Given that, it would be wise for me to do some careful listening. We need to do that. While social media is a great place for “sounding off,” I wonder how much listening happens there. And as a white guy, I especially need to listen to the black community.

So here’s my most important point: While I am on vacation now, when I do return I’d like to sit down for lunch with some of my black friends and acquaintances. I need to listen—face to face—and I am ashamed to say I haven’t done that more. I’d also like to do that with some cops I know. It’s clear that we have a problem in this country, and my sense is that no solution will come until we actually hear each other, beyond the comment boxes.

Yet listening is not synonymous with silence, so here are a few more thoughts:

  1. It should not be difficult to decry BOTH senseless violence by police and senseless violence against cops.

A few weeks ago, I happened to see (again) the video of the Rodney King beating. It remains shocking. Here was a guy lying facedown (not resisting) while being clubbed almost to death after a traffic stop. It goes on and on.

Perhaps most shocking is then the remembrance that the officers were in fact acquitted of all wrongdoing. Go back and watch the video if that doesn’t shock you.

To be blunt, that’s why members of the black community find it difficult to “trust the investigation” after these events. They’ve seen that movie already. Literally.

So here’s my question: Why is it difficult to condemn THAT (what happened to King and certain other recent incidents) while also saying that most cops are decent people doing a difficult, dangerous, and thankless job?

Surely we can do both.

To prosecute bad cops is not to impugn police as a whole. It is not to say, monolithically, that cops are bad.

In the same way, to affirm that “black lives matter” and to admit that there is still a racial disparity in our justice system need not be “anti-police.” It may actually be pro-police, because for every Rodney King or Philando Castile, life gets more dangerous for the good and decent cops I know. And I don’t want that.

This is important: To decry police misconduct is itself a step toward protecting good cops, like those in Dallas who shielded protesters from bullets. It is actually part of what it means to be pro-cop.

  1. If you have a problem with the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” don’t read the Sermon on the Mount.

Some of my white friends have joined the ranks of those decrying the BLM slogan with the response that “All lives matter.” This is true. But it is also an adventure in missing the point. As Lecrae pointed out recently, it’s like angrily telling someone with lung cancer that “hey man, breast cancer matters too!” (see here.)

And for Christians especially, it is important to note that Christ’s most famous sermon does not say: “Blessed is everybody.”

Instead, Jesus goes out of his way to single out a marginalized minority from within a broader whole. Does God love everyone? Yes. Does everyone matter? Yes again. But Jesus still says, “Blessed are the poor … Blessed are the persecuted … Blessed are the meek.”

Christ exclusively and intentionally focuses upon smaller subsets of disenfranchised individuals inside a larger (blessed) populace.

I wonder how the ALM respondents would respond to Jesus’ sermon.

Would they tweet the following?

Actually Jesus, the rich and safe are blessed as well. Read Deuteronomy.

#AllLivesBlessed  #DivisiveRabbi 

One need not affirm every statement of the BLM organization in order to affirm that “Black Lives Matter.” (All organizations are mixed bags, including the police.) And to rigidly insist on “all lives matter,” in response to “black lives matter” is to display either ignorance or antipathy toward Jesus’ very way of preaching. 

  1. Violence is a feedback loop; only love can stop it.

Retributive violence is a feedback loop; it always grows and spreads.

Violence begets violence, begets violence, begets violence.

After the terrible massacre in Dallas, it became more difficult to deal with the lingering racial disparity in our criminal justice system. That retributive act (by a lone gunman) didn’t right the injustices done to Castile or Sterling. What it did was make the black community, and all of us, less safe. (My black friends know that.)

Because retributive violence almost always does this.

Thus again, the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the peacemakers” (Mt. 5.9).


In the end, there is no tidy solution to the racial divide within this country.

Reconciliation takes time and face to face relationships: barbecues, prayer meetings, hugs and handshakes.

And without question, the solution will come over dinner tables more than in the pixeled battlefield of cyberspace where all are bold and brilliant.

Remember that if you comment on this post. I’ll do likewise.




In Your Anger, Do Not Sin

In Your Anger, Do Not Sin

Question: How many of your best decisions have emerged from a fit of seething rage?

Last week, as I watched interviews with disgruntled BREXIT voters, a common theme emerged. Several had voted “Leave” as a way of expressing the anger of being left behind by their economy. They were upset, and perhaps for some good reasons.

Yet as the pound plummeted, markets dived, and the (potential) implications of the vote set in, some on the “winning” side expressed regret:

“It was simply a protest vote. I was angry. I felt like no one was listening, and I wanted to voice my frustration. I wish we could have a do-over.”

Comedians had a field day.

Despite the humor, this also brings up a serious point: Anger can be both warranted and dangerous. When we’re angry, we don’t think clearly. We throw off cost-benefit analysis, and sometimes, it comes back to bite us.

Thus the ancient words of Paul:

“In your anger, do not sin” (Eph. 4.26).

Or to paraphrase: “In your anger, don’t be stupid.”


It is important, however, to note what Paul does not say. His command is not “Don’t be angry.”

Anger can be righteous and redemptive. Jesus got angry. And if things like hunger, racism, and gross incompetence don’t raise your ire, then there is something wrong with you.

When guided by the Spirit, anger can be the spark that lights the fuse of righteous action. Yet a controlled demolition of unjust structures is what’s needed, not a random bombing of anything in the vicinity. Anger (like TNT) is capable of both.


While anger jolts us out of apathy, it is not a virtue. If seen as one, then we end up assuming (wrongly) that the shrillest voice is that of wisdom. It is not.

Several commentators saw this phenomenon behind the rise of Donald Trump. While other candidates said: “I understand your anger,” Trump yelled “I am the angriest!” and then set out to show IN ALL CAPPS that he was the most fiery option on menu—a habanero amongst bell peppers; a boy amongst men. It worked. For awhile.

But few people enjoy an exclusive diet of habaneros for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There are—how shall we put it—digestive repercussions. And the same is true with anger.


I wish I were immune from this.

I’m not.

This is “moving week” for us, which has involved one-hundred degree temps, inspectors who can find safety violations in a bar of soap, a moving company that suddenly does not have the truck we “reserved” (word used loosely), a scheduling mistake by PSO that delayed necessary repairs, and an electrician who turned out not to be licensed, leaving us with an expensive job that the city would not approve. Add to this three small children, a funeral message, a Sunday sermon, and (oh yeah) actually moving, and it was a volatile cocktail.[1]

All this came to a head as I worked to remove belongings from an attic that made Dante’s Inferno seem like a crisp fall day. “Why do we even have this [stuff]!?” I fumed. And instead of carrying said belongings down the stairs, I began to launch them through the attic opening as if I were manning the bomb bay in an old-time Flying Fortress. To complete the metaphor, several exploded.

It felt really good. Until I had to clean it up.

Sic semper ira.

Thus always with anger.



In sum, this post is simply a reiteration of the apostle Paul, said mostly to myself.

“In your anger, do not sin.” Also:

Realize that some things are not worth getting angry about.

Take a deep breath.

Don’t take things out on innocent bystanders.

And in your anger, don’t make a mess that takes far longer to cleanup than the one you were angry about in the first place.

Now, off to move more boxes…



[1] In truth, all these problems eventually worked out better than I could have hoped for. But in the moment, things were frustrating.