The Push for Human Solidarity and Connectivity

solidarity_260_tcm4-678389In this world, or at least in this part of it, we are socially conditioned to walk past each other. Seldom do we stop to engage, to say hi or listen to each others stories. Sometimes we make excuses for not doing so – we are rushing to our next meeting, we are fearful of what might be done to us if we stop, or for the socially awkward among us, we simply just don’t know what we would say. In spite of our rationale, we simply do not carve out enough time and space to be in each other lives in meaningful ways.

This is particularly true considering the many people we walk right pass who are in desperate need of help and relief. Be it the woman on the corner holding up a sign, ‘Will Work for Food,’ as we exit the freeway or the homeless man laying on the street as we walk right by, we don’t stop. Afraid of the consequences or perhaps, our hearts so full of judgment for their predicament, we don’t even try to figure out how we can relieve the burdens of those we walk this earth with.

I thought about this as I flew back from a conference in Los Angeles this week. My hotel was about four or five blocks from the conference location and in route to the conference I often passed several homeless men sleeping or simply laying on the sidewalk, making the space their temporary shelter. Me, all dressed up and batting a hundred, just trying to get to where I needed to be so I could soak up all of the knowledge and wisdom this great event had to offer. But never once did I ever think to stop so that I could listen to their stories; I did not even make eye contact!

The irony of it all was that this was a conference focused on social justice! And doubly so, I consistently preach and teach the need for believers to advocate and provide for the least of these. Of course, I prayed for them as I passed by but would good are prayers when the real need was food, clothing, and shelter? What good is knowledge about best practices in the social justice movement if I couldn’t even consider the basic, common sense practices of meeting people where they are?

I am reminded of the story about the Good Samaritan, a story about a man who inconvenienced himself to provide for the needs of someone else. If we are honest with ourselves, and I certainly want to be honest, the truth of the matter is that we do not want to be inconvenienced. We do not want to waste our time, we do not want to give our resources, and we definitely do not want to take time to listen to someone else’s story, lest we feel the undue burden of coming up with a solution. We do not want to enter into the messy life of others; indeed, we are often so lost in making sense of our own. 

We need each other in this human experiment called life. We can’t continue walking past each other, whether we are in need or not, and expect to emerge from life successfully and operating on all cylinders. We have to learn to stop, learn to speak, and learn to listen to each other, so that together, we can navigate the messy realities of our world. In stopping, in speaking, in listening, we begin to find our way back into each others hearts, back to a place of trust and human solidarity where we are then able to effectively advocate on behalf of the needs of each other and simply be present for one another. We must get back to these fundamental components of the human identity, so that we can be well and do well. Our collective future depends on it!

Parenting: Now I Know How God Feels

parentingI love my kids. A lot! And after a long day at work, all I want to do is come home and spend time with them. I delight in seeing my almost 4 month old son smile and look for new ways to make him laugh which isn’t a hard task. And I get a kick out of reading with my daughter, seeing her play with her toys, and watching her favorite T.V. shows as we snuggle up and eat graham crackers with peanut butter (our favorite snack). So this is what I offered her when we came home this evening. I said. “Look we can watch TV, play games and have a snack while I am cooking dinner. All I need you to do is go to the bathroom so that you don’t potty on yourself.”

“OK mommy,” she says.

I go to the kitchen to take out the chicken that I plan to cook. Then I go to the bathroom to see what progress she has made on the whole pottying business. I ask her if she went to the bathroom because I did not hear the toilet flush and it did not seem like she used her little toilet. “Yes, mommy. I went potty.” We start to wash her hands and as we do, I notice that she has colored on the toilet and walls with her fuchsia pink crayon. I immediately call out her behavior and send her to the room, as I run to get the Comet and a damp rag to clean up the mess.

After I am done, I go to her room to ask her if she really went to the bathroom like she said she did. “Yes I did,” she insists. I ask her again and she tells me the same thing. Just in case I send her again and as she heads to the bathroom I notice that she has peed her pants. So not only has she colored on the walls, but she has lied and peed on herself after all.

I am livid at this point and I just don’t understand. After offering her an evening of fun, games, snacks, and TV, she chooses something else instead. I offered goodness and instead of accepting it, she choose to do her own thing, go her own way and it just doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

Now I know how God must feel. 

He offers us life. We choose death.

He offers us companionship. We choose distance.

He offers us abundance. We don’t trust him so we choose to steal and kill so that we might have more.

He offers us His Son. We choose to reject him.

He offers us peace. We choose to break harmony with Him, ourselves and others so that peace is no where to be found.

When you think about it our actions, just like my three year old’s action, it just doesn’t make any sense at all. Why would we willingly choose something so evil and so hell bent, when God is offering us something so wonderful? Perhaps it all comes back to trust – maybe we just don’t trust God. We don’t trust Him to deliver. We don’t trust Him to do what He says. Or maybe, just maybe, we just want to do our own thing and go our own way. We think that even though God has been around forever and knows all things, that we just might have a better strategy to govern our own lives.

Adam and Eve suffered from a combination of these two ideas – lack of trust in God and way too much pride in themselves. God offered them dominion, free range of the most beautiful garden in the world full of flora and fauna galore, unabated access to himself, and so much more. All they had to do was stay away from one tree, one tree in the garden. Although there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of other trees that they could eat from, they chose this one. Even though God told them that the day they ate of the tree they would die, they decided that they had a better idea. But choosing death over life just doesn’t make sense. There is nothing appealing about this scenario. Sure they exercised their rights and free will, but at what cost?

I think about these things as I reflect back on my daughter’s behavior this evening. Yes, she stood her ground, got to do what she wanted, but she missed out on a pretty fun evening as a result. Why she chose this route I will never understand. But next time I think that I want to rebel against God and do my own thing, I will try to remember what I feel in this moment. Hopefully, I will take Him up on His offer and put my foolishness aside. I hope you do the same.

Redefining Freedom in 21st Century America

We often count ourselves privileged, even blessed, to live in a nation where we have access to so many freedoms and rights. In comparison to other nations around the globe, we have the ability to pursue life, love, happiness and a host of other things that people in other countries wish they could enjoy. But what does it mean when our freedoms violate the wishes and the liberties of others? Is this freedom? Or is it slavery with a different face?

A few weeks ago, Clint Eastwood performed the Invisible Man skit at the RNC convention. Though some viewed the skit as strange, and maybe a little awkward, it was very clear that he purposed to attack President Obama’s otherness. Not his politics, not the way he governs the country, but his black skin. His African heritage. His otherness.

Like many others, I found myself put off by it. I felt like the skit was an effort to dehumanize and take value away from President Obama simply because he is different. And this is not okay. We can challenge his policies all day long, which I think is acceptable because we all come to this political animal with different lens – we are bound to disagree on a lot of things. But, we cannot write him or anybody else off because of the color of their skin. We cannot minimize someone’s humanity, their wishes, their needs, simply because they represent all that we are not. That is not exercising freedom at all; that is exercising hate.

To make matters even worse, there were some very disturbing occurrences of Obama chair lynchings in Virginia and Texas. The man who committed the offense in Texas even admitted that he had the nation’s African American president in mind when he did it. Though the freedom of speech protects the ones who did these awful things from legal consequences, is this not taking the notion of freedom too far? Where is the line? How can this be freedom when people of color (of which I am one) feel that their safety is compromised?

Further still, our endless pursuit of material things and wealth robs security and comfort from others around us. As we stock our closets, our garages, and our banks with more and more stuff, we limit other’s access to basic human necessities such as food and housing. Yet, our consumer driven economy gives us the freedom, and in fact, encourages us to consume more goods upon ourselves at any cost. And unfortunately the poor all too often pay that cost. Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau released data showing that 46.2 million people were living in poverty in 2011, and that women and children are disproportionately affected by this. At the same time, the incomes of the top 1% continue to grow. Still, they have that audacity to ask for a tax-break while 46.2 million struggle to put food on the table and a roof over their children’s heads. Is this freedom? Or is this greed?

Freedom in the way that our nation envisions it, and in the way we live it out, is killing us. Like cancer, it is eating away at the core of our being, leaving more people marginalized and destitute in its path. We have to do something about it! And as people of faith, we have an obligation to do something about it including viewing freedom from a godly perspective. Just in looking through the Bible, it is clear that God calls us to use our freedom to set others free. Everything He gives us, is for the purpose of building others up, not tearing them down. He blesses us, so that we can be a blessing to others. He saves and rescues us, so that we can share the hope of salvation with others. Our words should give life, not take it. And what we have in our hands should be utilized to build the kingdom of God, instead of our own name.

I believe that we have a golden opportunity here. Right now, we are at a delicate moment in our nation’s history, and it will take the community of faith to navigate us through it successfully. But that means we have to use our freedoms, both God given and given by nature of our citizenship, for good. And we can! We do not have to buy in to what the culture around us is selling – we do not have to keep consuming, we do not have to say whatever we feel in the moment that we feel it, and we do not have to write others off simply because they do not look like us. No, rather, we can, with the help of God, live differently. We can, in fact, redefine what freedom looks like in our 21st century America.

Thoughts on Ubuntu: Are We Really All Connected?

A few years ago, I read ‘No Future Without Forgiveness’ by Desmond Tutu which talks about the process of reconciliation and healing after apartheid in South Africa. As I read it, I became immediately fascinated by this concept of ubuntu which seems to be a pivotal component in South Africa’s road to recovery. Here is how Tutu defined ubuntu:

“My humanity is caught up, is extricably bound up in yours.  It says that I am human because I belong.  I participate. I share.  A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she had a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed or treated as if they were less than who they are” (Tutu,30, 31).

So here are a few questions: How does this notion of ubuntu play about in the body of Christ? Is it a biblical notion with deep spiritual implications? Or is it simply a nice idea?

When Our Problems Begin and End With Ourselves

Most people when confronting a problem or a difficult situation like to figure out where to place the blame. They want to find out who or what they can point to for the mess that they find themselves in. Children blame parents for an awful upbringing, wives blame husbands for a turbulent marriage, nations blame other nations for instability, poverty, and hunger, politicians blame other politicians for the lack of economic recovery. In life, there just seems to be a whole lot of blaming going on, and in all honesty, not a lot self-reflection to figure out if we may actually be the source of the problem we are up against.

This is not to say that the other party isn’t guilty; there may be some of that too! Parents can do some really awful things to their children, husbands can be very negligent to their wives, nations do play a role in the ability of other nations to thrive economically, and some politicians as well as other entities are very responsible for the present economic crisis that the United States finds itself in. All of this is well and true. However, have we ever stopped to consider how we ourselves are contributing to the mess before us? How our are actions creating problems and stirring up strife for ourselves and others around us? I would guess that all too often we don’t ask these questions of ourselves because our pride and need for self preservation gets in the way. It is just so much easier to blame the other.

And that was the case for Haman in the book of Esther in the Old Testament portion of the Bible. Haman was this guy with a big name and a big title in Persia, who apparently thought too highly of himself. This guy really liked to have his ego stroked, and he was threatened by anyone who refused to do that. Mordecai, a Jewish servant, refused to play a part in Haman’s quest to exalt himself and so, when all of the other king servants bowed down and paid homage to Haman, Mordecai didn’t budge. As you can image, Haman was irate. But instead of just ripping into Mordecai, Haman decides to go one step further and annihilate the Jews.

Craziness.

You see, because Haman could not see that his own pride was the source of his discomfort, he chooses a target, a scapegoat if you will, where he could lay all of the blame. So now, not only Mordecai but the entire Jewish nation is on the hook for this guy’s inability to check his ego at the door. For Haman, it was so much easier to point the finger at the other, rather than to take responsibility for his own actions.

Before you start to berate Haman, let me remind you that we all do this in some form or capacity, some much more than others. We are constantly pointing the finger to those outside of us, and many times those who are unlike us, and we make them stand account for our own pain. ‘The other’ has become our fall guy, and as a result, we don’t have to deal with our own sin.

At least that is what we think. But we should know and understand that our pride will always come back to bite us right in the rear end. And this happened to Haman. As much as he tried to label and blame Mordecai, Haman’s pride eventually cost him his life. Haman thought that he would never have to deal with his biggest problem in his life, himself, but in the end, his refusal to own up to his shortcomings did him in.

Now, our pride probably won’t cost us our lives. Probably. But it will destroy us and the lives of those around us until we take control of it. As long as we refuse to own up to our shortcomings and recognize the role that we have played in the problems that we face, we will never do well. We can keep blaming others all day long, but it wont get us any closer to the solutions we need to move forward.

Prayer for Syria

Dear God,

My heart is heavy. Sometimes I feel like it will break. Tears I can barely keep from flowing down my face as I look, and I see, my brothers and sisters losing their lives in Syria. Day after day, more and more people are taking their last breaths, slipping into eternity, at the hands of a man who refuses to abdicate power.

It disgusts me.

And it overwhelms me.

I feel like I need to do something, like I need to say something. Like somehow, some way, but I am without power. I don’t have an international platform and I sure can’t influence heads of state.

But you can. By your Spirit, you can change even the hardest of hearts and minds. And I pray that you would, because frankly God, this is getting out of hand.

See all of the blood spilled, God, look and see. How long will the wicked prosper at the expense of the vulnerable? How much longer must these people suffer – fathers losing their sons and daughters, children losing their parents? How much longer until the cries of these reach heaven and you allow time to stand still so that you can act?

How much longer will my brothers and sisters be regarded as a political game – pawns in somebody’s chess game? When will the world lay aside all that it could gain, and forget about what it could lose, and respond?

How much longer until your people rally together and pray? When will they begin to weep, really weep, on behalf of someone who does not look like them, does not believe like them, but who is equally valuable and equally precious in your sight?

Syria can’t afford to wait any longer, God. Move today. Move today.

Be sure to join Demanding Justice for Syria on facebook. We are a group committed to praying for justice and peace in Syria. All you have to do is like us, pray for Syria and tell your friends about us.

In Memory of 9/11

Tonight’s drive home from work was not particularly special. I stopped by the day care to pick up my daughter, ran by Target to get one or two necessities, talked to a friend I had not seen in a while, and was back on the road toward home in no time. As I drove, I listened to MPR’s All Things Considered report on terror suspects at the Mall of America. But that’s just the thing, they were perceived suspects as a result of something that they did at the mall. One old man forgot his cell phone at the food court and was considered suspicious. Another man displayed strange walking behavior, and was also considered suspect (turns out the later was just looking for a toy for his son). Disturbing reports? In my opinion yes! But that opinion is not the same for authorities at the Mall who were just trying to protect the public from possible acts of terror. I believe that it is safe to say that it was fear that motivated them to pursue these suspects, fear of the other.

This fear of the other, or people not like us, has increased since 9/11. Through different policies, regulations, armed forces, and so many other things, we have tried to keep people from being able to perpetrate the same events that robbed this world of thousands of lives. Our goal, I believe, has been legitimate, I mean, who would want the events of 9/11 to ever be repeated? However, in doing so, we have often singled out people, innocent people, profiling them simply because they fit the description of the other. And more specifically, the religious other.

How do we get beyond this fear? Do we even want to? Can we name it? Juan Williams named his fear and got in trouble. But does that get us anywhere, or at least anywhere desirable? What would happen if we replaced our fear of the other, whether they be Muslim, Christian, Democrat, Republican, Atheist, a Tea Party Advocate, male, female, poor or rich, with genuine heartfelt love. Perfect love drives out all fear. How can we begin to love the other perfectly? Even more than this, how do we begin to love in such a way that we no longer divide ourselves against the other, and instead reach out across cultural barriers to embrace a new way of life?