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‘I see a beautiful room’

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Retired Portland policeman tells luncheon crowd of his love for both God and city

By JOHN FORTMEYER, CNNW publisher

PORTLAND — The featured speaker looked out at the approximately 300 people who filled a local hotel’s event hall Dec. 14 — and he liked what he saw.

“I see a beautiful room,” said retired Portland police officer Robert King of the audience at the 32nd annual Christmas event for Portland Business Luncheons at the Double-tree Inn Lloyd Center.

The audience obviously liked him just as much in return, expressing deep appreciation at the conclusion of King’s talk. His comments clearly conveyed not only his deep faith in God but also his strong personal desire to see sincere reconciliation within the community.

“I’ve been praying for each one of you, that Jesus meets you right where you are at this Christmas season,” he said.

A retired commander of the North Precinct of the Portland Police Bureau, King spent 30 years in law enforcement. He is a firm believer in God’s readiness to intervene in individual lives, and points to a specific incident decades ago.  It was in 1991, while on duty, that King was stabbed by a suspect and survived.

During later therapy for the stress inherent to his work, a doctor confirmed what King already knew — the stabbing incident was the “most vulnerable moment” of his life, one where he had a total loss of control.

“I felt like there was something there keeping me safe,” King told the doctor.

Despite the anxiety it created, the incident didn’t lessen King’s desire to serve a community he loves.

“I am resolved, no matter what, to stand with and for my community,” he said.

The incident also connected King with Wendell Birkland, who was King’s attorney through the investigative process. Their friendship opened doors for King to become active in racial reconciliation efforts in the community.  From fellow Portland police officer Larry Anderson, who is African-American, King learned about the special challenges that people of color face in everyday life.

To illustrate that point, King asked the luncheon crowd for a show of hands on who becomes nervous if they are pulled over by police while driving.  Almost all hands went up.

“Are you afraid that you are going to get a ticket — or afraid you will be killed?” King then asked. Those who fell into the latter category were then asked to stand.

Dozens in the crowd stood — every single one a person of color. King said that as a white individual, he may not personally be at fault for this kind of racial tension in society, but now that he is aware of it, “I’m responsible for the knowledge I have.” He said that as racial tensions mount nationally, it is important for people to be genuine, tender, sincere and vulnerable if fear and hatred is to be countered.

“What’s needed is for us to engage with each other, hear each other’s truths, and see each other as human beings,” King said.

King acknowledged that he has at times felt like the situation nationally has grown more hopeless, with each successive incidence of violence permeated by racial tension. But because Jesus provides true hope, King now each morning asks God, “How can I cooperate with you?” in showing a compassionate and listening heart to people of all backgrounds.

King said his faith in Christ is rooted in the example of his Mexican grandmother, “She believed in Jesus,” he said. “She loved Jesus. I believed in Jesus because I knew her.”

King said it was while hearing famed Portland-based evangelist Luis Palau praying at a Portland Business Luncheons event that King got a picture in his mind of  Jesus standing with him at the Grand Canyon. In this vision, Jesus was pushing a wagon off the edge of a cliff into the canyon.  What King eventually realized was that the wagon symbolically carried all his own sin  — “everything that I put in my life before Jesus”— but that Jesus was removing it.

“It’s just like Jesus to show up and be a friend,” said King. “He is our Savior and healer forever, and I love Him.”

For information on the outreach of Portland Business Luncheons, go to pdx.lunch.com