- Allow your self-praise to outweigh your self-criticism (hat tip: Carla Chud). Last year, this was a guiding principle in my approach toward others, but I never considered showing myself the same grace. For there to be any integrity or successful application of this idea, it needs to first be solidified within me. I have come to realize just how important it is for me to be in control of my own narrative, which requires me to strive for an unhealthy perfection and favor the voice of inner critic rather than the voice of my Maker.
- The world tilts toward an extrovert ideal (hat tip: Suzan Cain). I have been mindful of this truth for some time, but Cain’s Quiet (which I finally got around to reading) illuminated the full impact of the world’s arrangement in accordance with more outgoing personalities. The educator in me has been particularly challenged to ensure that I value and cultivate a learning environment that values the 50% of humanity that too easily remains unseen.
- Creativity, in all its forms, is core to human purpose. Long before the Fall, God created and made little creators in His likeness. As Annie Dillard says, “The question of agnosticism is, ‘Who turned on the lights?’ The question from faith is, ‘Whatever for?’ ” Fundamentalist Christianity has built walls around a core set of beliefs, and somewhere along the way, it has lost the context for why such beliefs exist. “In building for the kingdom come, we must move beyond the goal of fixing things and instead set our hearts on the art of making” (Makoto Fujimara).
- Knowledge is understanding what’s right; wisdom is understanding when it’s right (hat tip: lots of wise folks, but most significantly, Lincoln Chud). I’m not sure where I picked up this definition, but it has been the one that has been solidified this year, often in corrective discussions with my eldest, currently knowledge-driven son. As Adam Welcome has said, “if Alexa can answer it, we need to be asking different questions.” There is a significant distance between knowledge and wisdom, and I want to be found chasing after the latter. There were other great takes that stuck with me, like Adam Grant’s: “If knowledge is power, then wisdom is knowing what you don’t know;” and Richard Rohr’s: “Wisdom is the ability to hold onto the good of order alongside the good of disorder;” but I have found the timing element to be wisdom’s most significant mark.
- Beware the promise of abundance without dependance (hat tip: Andy Crouch). In this core thesis, Andy Crouch brilliantly ties together the dangers presented by modern consumer culture, technology, and individualism, which I see at deep work in my life and world. Core to the preservation of our shared humanity is work of ensuring we don’t eliminate the need to be needed (and known) by one another.
- Everyone grieves differently, and every situation requires a different approach, so be slow to offer answers and quick to offer presentness. The past 3 months have been uniquely full of grief among some of our closest relationships, and there have been many days spent questioning what responsibility is ours to bear. If nothing else, I have gone deeper in the conviction that most people just need to know they are not alone in their sadness. I love the way Oswald Chambers articulates it: “Never make a principle out of your experience. Allow God to be as creative with others as He is with you.”
- Be compassionate to all, but reserve true empathy for your inner circle (hat tip: David Blackwell). Sometimes hasty kindness is not the most loving gift, and it can subsequently produce unhelpful expectations. We realized this year that the length of our relational “B List” was probably creating more bad than good. Clarifying circles of priority is painful work, but it produces fruit that can actually endure.
- Trust your instinct over your intellect. I first wrote this line in 2006 as a summary of Bono’s biography. This year I have felt the stronger, more consistent challenge to resist over-analyzing and simplify my approach. As Steinbeck hypothesizes, “Laws change, but got-to’s don’t.”
- Live the questions (hat tip: Ralf Neumann). Increasingly, mystery becomes less an intimidating stranger and more a welcome companion. I am coming to believe the ongoing acceptance of unresolved places is simply a mark of maturity. Here it is worth quoting Rainer Maria Rilke at length: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
- Don’t take so much responsibility on yourself that you don’t have any room left to be yourself (hat tip: Justin Lebeau, Philip Chavanne). All men would do well to pay better attention to the boy inside their souls, but I probably do even more. The Heath brothers warn against the “soul-sucking force of reasonableness.” I must design and protect moments where I am responsibility-free and spontaneity-full.
- Welcome to Wrexham, Episode 17: “Wromance”
This series wonderfully captures the unique, multifaceted meaning of a local football club to a small British town. But as the season itself began to build toward a climactic end, episode 17 took a pause to offer commentary on the influence of sport on male relationships – firstly of co-owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, then “bromance” in general (including an exploration of that very term) before eventually aiming full focus at father-son dynamics. The episode concludes with a tear-jerking montage of Wrexham-connected fathers and sons to the tune of Cat Steven’s aptly named “Father and Son,” and it has made its mark each of the equally significant times I’ve viewed it.
- Sheldon Chalet
“Oh, we don’t need models; we just need some decent looking people to take pictures of.” And thus began our three-day stint as not-models at the Sheldon Chalet, a private luxury resort perched on a nunatak just 10 miles from the summit of the tallest mountain in North America. There may have been a fake tear or two along the way for effect (#modeltalk), but the absolute wonder was absolutely real, and we were floored by God’s Alaskan majesty and the still-unfolding legacy of Don Sheldon.
- Chiefs Bills playoff
We were vacationing in Kona when the Chiefs played their divisional playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. Our boys worked over the patrons of the Royal Kona open-air bar, making the rounds for high fives each time Kansas City scored (and there were plenty of chances). When all was said and done, there had been chairs and sandals and full cups thrown, strangers embraced like long-lost family, sons squatting in time out against brick walls facing the ocean in the opposite direction of the TV screens, voices lost to screaming cries, and 13 seconds of Mahomes magic that made not only the greatest playoff game of all time, but also a family memory that will be hard to replace.
Sometime in early summer, I was driving and felt something stuck in my teeth. After rummaging around a bit (as you do), I realized I had chipped my front tooth. I set the little morsel aside and purposed to schedule a dentist appointment before going back to the thoughtless task of chewing my fingernails. I immediately realized the primary location of my chewing was now half a tooth. At that moment, I decided I was done chewing my fingernails – no light task for someone who has spent the past 30+ years doing so. And yet, here I am 6 months free, the self-decided poster child of nail-free-teeth. Not sure if I’m old just yet, but you can most definitely teach a forty-year-old dog a new trick or two.
- Vipers in NO
A decade or so ago, three of my dearest friends and I drove from Kansas City to Vegas, and we were not confident we could ever top it. This year, against all odds, we met in Atlanta and made our way to New Orleans… and top it we did. The friendships you make in those formative twenty-something-years are golden, and when there are tears shared in both heart pain and absurd laughter, you are reminded of that irreplaceable truth.
- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
This book was highly recommended from a friend I highly respect, and I cherished it throughout the fall months, typically reading bite-sized portions on Sabbath mornings. There were times Dillard’s writing was too scientifically detailed for my liking, but the authentic nature of her own awe profoundly stirred mine as well, and without her specificity, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. Each time I finished a section, I caught myself staring out the window paying attention to the earth and its Creator with a rejuvenated delight and determination.
- Sailing to Catalina
Took a trip on a catamaran with a group of quality blokes – both old and new lads, for Justin’s birthday. I realized the night before I flew to LA that I had very little clue what we were doing, and packed my passport wondering if we were going to Mexico. A few nights of sleeping on a net over the water and under the stars, a few scooter rides, a few bogeys, a few dolphins, a few pivotal conversations with a few good men… and my heart was alive in ways I had forgotten. As I’ve confessed elsewhere, while all men would do well to pay better attention to the boy inside them, I probably do even more. The Heath brothers warn against the “soul-sucking force of reasonableness.” I must design and protect moments like this one where I am responsibility-free and spontaneity-full.
At its worst, Yellowstone is a shamelessly disreputable mobster show. At its best, it’s an intriguing commentary on the ways the past, present, and future clutter and coexist. And at its absolute best, it’s a window into the finest scenes God dreamed up for the planet, and if you let it, you’ll be brought back to sweet simplicity in all the right ways. It has lingered with me far more than I would have initially expected. A conversation between John Dutton and a fading elder cowboy in a recent episode captured the sentiment well:
I’ve come to believe that perfection only lives in little moments… it can’t be sustained over hours, just instances. Little wisps of time. Then the world becomes imperfect again. But this day damn near proved me wrong…
Well John, if it wasn’t perfect, it was damn close. The governor of Montana sleeping on the side of a mountain with his boots on… This world may have a chance yet.
- Counseling & Coaching
In an effort to keep up with routine maintenance on the things that matter most (thanks for the nudge, Bryce), I experienced some coaching and counseling this year, some alongside Marisa and some on my own. Although there are moments I still wonder if we are just poking a beehive toward the inevitable creation of a new problem, the various sessions have offered meaningful insight into core places I (and we) are still being formed.
- Solo Birthday Retreat
On my 40th birthday, my wife and friend surprised me with a 24 hour, personal fly-in retreat. The heart of the time was spent on the front deck overlooking Knik Glacier, sipping whiskey by firelight, pouring over the wisdom of people who have loved and challenged and formed me into my current self. I started a song when I was twenty, wrote a second verse at 30, and finished this last one during my retreat in that sacred space:
10 more pages turn
And I have come to learn
That I don’t write this script
Pretend adulting still but
Filled with children and greater consequence
I raise my kids inside the
Story where my own story began
Gray haired hints of wisdom
Show when I’m good not knowing the plan
Here I am now, half the way through
Perusing second mountains
Viewing all these riches, singing
Master, who am I?
To be honored as a son
To be trusted as a father
To announce the kingdom come
And bring it now
- Ben rector “The Joy of Music”
- Kristine Dimarco “The Field”
- Intentional Family Podcast
- Andrew Peterson & Andy Crouch
- A Touch of Wonder
I savored this book for the simple fact that I knew it would one day end. I do not remember the last time I was so moved by the power of a good story told even gooderer. The basic premise is that those who appreciate life the most will be given the most to appreciate. Gordon underscores this idea with poignant and romantic writing through bite-sized story-telling, making it a very convenient read. I was brought to tears from the earliest pages and throughout multiple chapters, breathing in deep the wonder of this gift of life. It was a bonus joy when my mom saw it on the coffee table and let me know that it was one of my dad’s favorite books as well.
- Ted Lasso
The abundant nationwide love for Ted Lasso makes me reluctant to further praise it here, but let’s face it – it’s beloved for a reason. The humor + the humanity + the optimism = pure magic. It also doesn’t hurt that the setting is a fumbling American in a properly un-American football environment. I would love to be in the writing room for the unfolding of these episodes of glory. As a side note, I appreciated Apple TV’s release of one episode each week, which undoubtedly made them more money but also made me slow my intake, almost like TV when I was a kid.
- Jesus & John Wayne
Du Mez fundamentally argues that Trump was not a surprise, but rather a fulfillment, of evangelical desires. She wrote this book with patience and precision, crafting a historical narrative that read more like a thrilling piece of fiction, making it hard to put down. The scary thing is that this storyline is not made up. It is a history uncomfortably intertwined with my own, with many of the names and events being landmarks in my journey as a lifelong church kid. I thoroughly enjoyed the follow up series of podcast interviews with Du Mez via the Holy Post as well.
- Long weekend on the Peninsula
We spent 5 days as a family on the Kenai Peninsula, and the weather showed up to show off Alaska at its absolute best. Boating with friends, sleeping on an island, bear hunting, camping at Marisa’s childhood stomping grounds, lazy walks and naps and rock collecting on the beach, campfires, stunning hikes and wild boys to ensure our riches. What a gift of a state this Last Great Frontier is.
- The Rise & Fall of Mars Hill
This was a painful listen, but one that was equally addictive to explore. I can’t believe how quickly the long-form episodes passed. In the end, I found myself both stunned and grieved at the way the Church that claims to represent Jesus to the world has so hated and abused itself. It was timely in a season when the world and the Church alike have forgotten the art of effective, generous disagreement. I finished The Rise & Fall sobered and keenly aware of our fragility and the need for a much greater humility if we have a prayer of honorably and accurately representing Christ.
- Marisa’s 40th & MSHF
My wife continues to stun me (and the world for that matter), but this year took on new significance. 40 years on the planet. 20 years married. Taking on new ventures of servanthood and significance in the community. Marisa is unencumbered, undeterred, and unrestrained. She has constantly moved me and everyone who has encountered the force that she is, blending a childlike freedom with a seasoned tenacity. The boys and I couldn’t be prouder to be associated with her and enjoy living in the wake of her confident exploration of these days on planet earth. This girl is on fiahhh.
- A Burning in My Bones
My goodness, what a read. I delayed taking in the last few pages because of the inevitable finish, but I loved the journey Collier took me on of Eugene’s life. I was enraptured from the beginning with the way he captured the Flathead Valley, where I too spent many a childhood summer. The first three quarters of the book were storyline, and while the final quarter continued the trend, more of Eugene’s belief system was articulated in those pages, and it packed a punch after hearing such a well-lived life. Collier meandered through Peterson’s high and low points, weaving in journal entries and excerpts from his abundant personal letters and describing his constant wrestle between a practical theology that could bridge the university and the butcher shop. Challenging and insightful insight poured out of every story and stage, and I finished with a renewed faith in the complicated yet simple Church and a strong desire to be a more devoted disciple of Jesus.
- Jesus, I Have My Doubts
Jon Foreman has long been a profound influence on my life and thinking, so I’m aware of the bias that informs my opinion every time he releases something new. But I remember sitting quietly with these lyrics a few days after the events of January 6th at the Capital, thinking he must have written them during those days:
Jesus, what a week we’ve had
Jesus, has the world gone mad?
Jesus, feels like the world’s in pieces
I’m sure You’ve got Your reasons
But I’ve got my doubts
Jesus, I’ve got my doubts
I so appreciate Jon’s willingness to keep singing his song in a foreign land. His pursuit of questions beyond questions is always a place of equal comfort and conviction.
- Lincoln Starting School at Cottonwood Creek Elementary
Since when did choosing a Kindergarten start feeling like choosing a college? (Pensive nod to an honorable mention on this list, the Coddling of the American Mind.) Even as an educator myself, I couldn’t have anticipated the complex emotions and excitement that would come with a choice of how my firstborn spends his 9-3:45. The process was (and is) utterly exhausting, exposing all-the-more that second-guessing is my default setting. As Rachel Held Evans says, “parenting is one big exercise in changing plans.” And after it all, he has ended up at the same place I entered first grade some 35 years ago.
- New AP Role
I made a shift into school leadership this year. Although I have long felt there to be an overemphasis on the concept of leadership itself, I have also entered into many of the stereotypical struggles of one such position. All in all, I have enjoyed myself immensely, and it has felt like a natural fit. That is due in no small part to phenomenal elders and mentors who have run their race well and wisely encouraged me as I enter a new phase of my own journey. “Never have I let my schooling interfere with my education,” said Mark Twain (probably).
Bring it, 22.
Some time ago, we were out with some friends on New Year’s Eve, and each person shared their “Top 10 of the year.” It took me a while to accept that it was a category-crossing activity, which doesn’t fit too kindly into my brain’s organizational abilities. But it has since become a personal tradition, and yet another helpful way to reflect on some of the defining moments and influences in my life. This year I decided to further the reflection with some explanatory thoughts below each number.
In the late fall of last year, Marisa and I consumed a new book by John Mark Comer called The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. We were left in deep consideration over a number of topics, but our chief takeaway was the application of a weekly Sabbath. Every Friday evening, we shut off our phones for 24 hours, feast on Marisa’s homemade pizza, get outside as a family, take naps (most notably me and 4yo Owen), and take time to intentionally drink in the present riches God has given. After pizza and before we dive into our skillet cookie & ice cream, we hold hands and sing a prayer together:
We remember how You rested, and we want to be like You
So when we’re tired and we’re tested, may You find us to be true
We slow down, and we breathe deep *sigh*
Cos when we look around, we have all we need
Hear our Sabbath Prayer; make us more aware
Thank You for the love we share
- The Beatles
One day this spring, my son asked me who was the best band ever. I nonchalantly answered, “The Beatles.” I did not anticipate that, for the next five months, John and Paul’s tunes would be dominating the Chud family soundtrack and cartoon time (thanks Beat Bugs); my kids would be correcting my lyrical shortcomings, and we’d be having philosophical conversations about whether or not all you really need is love.
- Kansas City Chiefs
Growing up in Alaska, you tend to have your pick of professional sports teams, and it’s based largely on who is most dominant at the time. I still feel a faint affection for the Bengals dating back to Boomer Esiason’s left arm. But I earned legitimate loyalty stripes for the Chiefs through 8 meager years living in Kansas City, and my buddy Joel and I defended them in Boston bars while being taunted by drunk Pats fans. Then Patrick Mahomes happened. You can’t not love this guy, who plays the game like a true idealist and shatters records like it’s a side hobby. There were so many magical moments throughout the past season, but the Wasp call on Super Bowl Sunday was one of the more legendary. I’ve made a superfan of my 6yo, who requested a Chiefs-themed birthday party, enjoys casual conversations with Alexa about useless postseason stats, and cries every time the men in red prove themselves human. I’m afraid my boy has peaked too early with these Super Bowl Champions, and while he may very well live out his childhood in the days of the dynasty, he, just like Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce, will eventually grow old. I can’t help but imagine my son mumbling to his own children about the good old days of the 2020 Chiefs.
- Principal Certification
I started an online principal certification in January and wrapped it up during the opening months of the 2020-21 school year. It’s helpful to self-reflect as a student myself and find new depths of empathy for the kids I teach and advise. I realized afresh the difference between a good grade and actual learning. And while I couldn’t have planned it, studying leadership in the midst of a surprise worldwide pandemic made for some insightful observations (along with the recognition that everybody is faking like they have a clue what they’re doing). I finished with no greater urge to rush into administration, but I’m grateful to have gleaned more intentionally under my remarkable principal’s guidance and to now entertain the option of school leadership in the years ahead.
- Adam’s 40th
I received a request for some words that might be shared at a dear friend’s 40th birthday party, and while COVID had stalled just about any travel plans, I made an exception out of the deep urging in my heart to be there in person. A wise sensei once told Marisa and I to pay attention to who God builds our lives with. He said that who we were called to be with was just as important as what we’re called to do. Half a lifetime later, I have found few mantras to be more true. The trip was brief (shorter, in fact, that my required quarantine upon return), but it confirmed the truth that my greatest wealth is found in my closest relationships.
- Jayber Crow
Wendell Berry is a wonder, and this landmark novel is too. Hands down, my favorite book of the year. It does not capture you with an enthralling plot, but rather it is meant to be sipped like a fine whiskey with a slow burn. The order of the author reads similar to that of Mark Twain’s prior to Huckleberry Finn, and it sums up much of the book’s outlook:
Persons attempting to find a “text” in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a “subtext” will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise “understand” it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.
- American Church Politics
In 2016 I was disheartened with the American Church, and in 2020 I sadly found myself a bit disillusioned. It began with a deep lament over George Floyd’s murder and crescendoed as the presidential race finished (or didn’t, depending who you’re talking to). Throughout it all, I argued, bit my tongue, rebuked, and repented. I questioned – and continue to question – what seems to be a declining likeness of Jesus in the Church that claims to represent Him. It has become far too normal that we trade our heavenly allegiance for an earthly one. And while I don’t understand the unwavering, unapologetic loyalty of evangelicals to Donald Trump, I also don’t want to be found claiming to have a corner on the unpredictable, untameable, boundary-breaking Jesus myself. Ultimately, I think I just want to ensure that my integrity is intact, and that the Church’s is too.
- Liverpool FC
Liverpool have entertained over the years, and 2019 saw them back at the top of the world having won the Champions League. Nonetheless, I was still in single digits when they last conquered England. Under the management of Jurgen Klopp, at once the most passionate and the most fatherly of coaches I’ve seen, the Reds have inspired at unprecedented levels. Sharing the moment of their historic EPL victory with my elder brother, who made me a supporter in the first place, was a special one.
- Mountain Biking
I invested in a “proper” mountain bike this spring, and countless summer evenings saw me blissfully weaving through Alaskan trail systems. I managed to pop only one tire and run into only one bear, but the moments where I tasted the abundant life were many. It’s similar to tearing down the edge of a freshly groomed trail on quiet night of skiing. It’s like finding the pocket with a collection of musicians that are all much better than me. And it’s flying between the trees of Matanuska Lake or down Lost Lake toward Seward, just slightly beyond my control, soliciting an unprovoked, joyful, and longing filled groan from deep to deep. I’m hopeful this coming year I’ll be able to share a bit of this magic with my son.
I remember seeing Lin Manuel Miranda’s mixtape origins at the White House and thinking it was something unique… but I couldn’t imagine how much more he could write. Once I finally saw the fully recorded show, I was repeatedly – and blissfully – dumbfounded. I have cried at the soaring, smooth melodies of “Helpless,” pondered the brilliance of our founding fathers (and grieved the self-centeredness of our current leadership) through the insight of “One Last Time,” and sat with my sons in the long-parked-in-the-garage-minivan explaining the notion of forgiveness after Eliza shows Alexander just that. Besides, who doesn’t love hearing their toddler stumble around cluelessly rapping “how does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore…” History has its eyes on all of us.
I gave this message in spoken form at my local church yesterday, but I’m resurrecting my dusty blog account to include the written text here.
It’s been a deeply disturbing couple of weeks. I have had that steady feeling like someone punched me in the gut, knocked the wind out of me, and I haven’t gotten back a full breath. Watching George Floyd lose his breath has made it hard for me to breathe as well. I’m very troubled:
Firstly, by the pain of black people in America, whose story in this nation began and has progressed very differently than mine as a white person. This is not a new injustice. Our nation is just beginning to take in the seriousness of the wound. As Will Smith has been quoted saying, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” I think a grown man, pinned to the ground and unable to breathe, crying out for his momma is probably a deeper metaphor for many black people’s journey than we realize.
But I’m also troubled by our inability to respond in such a way that we are not offending someone. I feel for black Americans. I also feel for the thousands of good and courageous police officers whose reputations are being tainted and whose motives are being questioned. I feel for the public servants trying to govern in an effective manner. I don’t want to add to anyone’s pain.
You know what my consolation is?
Jesus. Offending people was not an unusual experience for Jesus.
The sobering part is that the people he angered were people like you and me. Church folk. Pharisees. The older brother of the prodigal son. People like Saul before he became Paul – a man who kept the 10 commandments flawlessly but simultaneously promoted racism – despising Gentiles and violently killing Christians.
But then he met Jesus. And that’s when everything changed.
All of this is why I’ve primarily just raised my voice in prayer, lamenting and clinging to the safety of the throne of God as the one place I know I can feel confused and confident at the same time.
And yet, while we know there is a place to be hidden in Christ, the transformation that occurs in His presence means we are also compelled to venture out of the prayer room and into the world as His hands and feet and likeness. To raise our voice and speak with that throne-centered conviction. Consider the words of MLK as he wrote in a Letter from Birmingham Jail:
So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.
It’s in this letter that he also confessed his struggle to sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happening in Birmingham, just as we can’t sit idly by in Wasilla, Alaska and not worry about what happened in Minneapolis, and across the nation, and around the world. As you’ve probably heard, it was out of this context that Dr. King famously wrote one of our favorite MLK Day Instagram quotes: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Or as the Apostle Paul said: if one part suffers, every part suffers with it. There is no us vs them right now… there is just one big multi-colored us.
We love MLK for his non-violent efforts. Do we also love him for the way he challenges and chastises the church? As I imagine our modern American capital “C” Church reading the excerpt above, my worry for many of us is less about how convicted we would be by Dr. King’s strong tone and more about how likely his words are to be interpreted along the lines of various political frameworks.
It’s amazing how quickly the pain of African Americans is overwhelmed by our political allegiances, and how quickly it reveals our emphasis on the kingdoms of men over our hope in a kingdom that Jesus said was not of this world.
“This world…” looks at the current racial tensions and picks a side of any given event: defund the police, or look at the looters destroying our cities, or Donald Trump is heartless, or Joe Biden is clueless. But the church is called to cut through the politics and put the attention on the suffering of the oppressed, the injustice that breaks the heart of God, and the hope of Jesus our peace, who has destroyed every dividing wall.
Like many of you, in my lament and in my personal repentance, there have also been moments of great encouragement as I feel our national conscience awaken and watch people begin to lean into traditionally avoided, difficult, but crucial conversations. It’s also given me room to reflect on my own experiences within the bigger story we are all a part of.
Growing up in Alaska, having black friends was no easy accomplishment – less because of any personal bias and more because there were only twelve such people in the State (give or take). When Marisa and I moved to Kansas City, we lived with some friends on the East side of Troost, a street that historically served as a clear racial dividing line and presently serves as a not-quite-but-largely-the-same racial dividing line, as is the case in so many cities across America. Suddenly finding white faces was no easy accomplishment in my neighborhood.
And I began to learn: one of the most transformational experiences we can have when it comes to combating racism is to simply live alongside people who do not look like us or have the same life experience we do. To follow the natural growth of empathy.
When we moved to Boston, I studied education while working as a teacher in a school that was extremely diverse – made up primarily of students of color. We did home visits for every student in the school before the first day of class, meeting each family in their own space, and I began to see the layers of the hardships my students faced long before they opened a textbook.
I learned about the achievement gap, which refers to the significant difference of academic performance between kids in low income communities and those from more affluent communities. I soon learned that it was less of an achievement gap and more of an opportunity gap. It was less about these kids’ intelligence and much more about their access to a decent education that could develop that intelligence.
I began to realize that this is what systemic racism looks like. You don’t have to dig very deep into our history to understand why this is the case. Let me temporarily veer from my personal story to our national one.
More than 12 million Africans of all ages, shackled in the bottom of ships, were sold into a lifetime of forced labor defined by nonstop violence and strategic dehumanization. It was written into the fundamental law of the land that slaves would count as three-fifths a person. Once slavery was finally made illegal, we went through Jim Crow laws – this notion of “separate but equal” – which, as we know, was anything BUT equal. Many black citizens didn’t even have the right to vote until 1965, which for many who will read this, occurred in your lifetime.
Our nation has made progress in eliminating some of these institutional forms of racism, which needs to be remembered and celebrated. However, these are significant wounds that our nation was built upon, and the fallout continues to influence society today. I know everyone has their own statistics they like the use, and everything else is fake news, but let me give you just a few numbers, and then you can go find other sources to combat them if you’d like:
- In the United States, the median wealth for white households is nearly 7x greater than for black households.
- The black unemployment rate has been consistently twice that of whites over the past 60 years.
- Even though black people make up 13% of the population, they represent about 40% of the prison population.
- And none of these even touch on the more implicit, more controversial statistics around racial profiling.
The problem is, while these may be accidental consequences, this was not an accidental system. It was a structure that was intentionally created to oppress one race for the economic benefit of another. And as a dear friend of mine in South Africa has said, when something is constructed so intentionally, it must be confronted, deconstructed, and rebuilt with the same intention.
When we moved to Lebanon, I met regularly with a friend who was a Syrian refugee. He wanted to learn English and I wanted to learn Arabic, so a couple times a week we had coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts (yes, you read that right) and conversed about all things life.
One week I was particularly annoyed by the visa issues we were having, realizing that we may need to go on a trip and reenter the country just so we weren’t overstaying our required limit. I complained for a good while to my patiently-listening friend before realizing how horribly the complaints coming out of my mouth compared to his current circumstances. He had been told to take up arms against his countrymen in a war he doesn’t believe in, fled across the border to another country where he has no legal benefit, and was now a stranger on the earth, unable to find any place to call home.
It was the quintessential example of #firstworldproblems.
But what I was feeling at that moment wasn’t just guilt. I worked hard to get where I was. I sacrificed a lot. Probably a lot of us feel that way about some of the complaints we hear people make about the notion of “privilege.”
No, it’s not about guilt. In that moment, it was simply me being made conscious of the fact that as a middle class, white, American male, I have advantages my Syrian friend simply doesn’t. I have protections and opportunities that he doesn’t. And how I steward that wealth is vitally important.
Furthermore, as a middle class, white American male that follows Jesus, the way I steward my riches matters even more. This is why Paul, writing from a prison cell much like MLK, boasts in his weakness and is loud about his internal wealth and the need to properly spend it. This is why James wrote that teachers would be judged more severely than their students. This is why Jesus himself explained, “to whom much has been given, much will be required.”
If this makes you uncomfortable, know that it makes me uncomfortable too. But one of the core tenants of privilege is the ability to opt out of the pain when it gets uncomfortable. That is not an option that black Americans have right now, and one of the most dynamic responses we can make is to stay in the pain with them. After all, we’re imitating the Jesus who paused at Lazurus’ tomb to weep. To mourn with those who mourn. To empathize without providing a quick explanation or a dismissive answer.
So let’s bring it back to that Jesus.
Does the world know that the Church, as the representation of Jesus, cares about stopping racial injustice?
In the words of one black person’s recent commentary, it’s a matter of how we use our words:
- You keep saying: “it’s horrible that an innocent black man was killed, but destroying property has to stop.”
- Try saying: “it’s horrible that property is being destroyed, but killing innocent black men has to stop.”
It’s a matter of our emphasis. Our priority. The stress of our words on people instead of property.
You may think this just is the ridiculousness of having to be politically correct. I would argue that it is more about our ability to see human beings made in the image of God rather than vague issues deserving of our personal political or sociological bents.
Andy Stanley, a well-known pastor out of Georgia, challenges us that it is not good enough to not be racist right now. We must be anti-racist. He compares it to how we address child abuse. You don’t see someone abuse a child and think, “well I’m not a child abuser.” No, you’re going to be anti-child abuse. You’re going to confront it. You’re going to oppose it. You’re going to evaluate the system that allowed it to happen, tear it down, and rebuild a more just system.
I fear that the Church – remember, that’s us – thinks it is a healer of the national divisions when it has often served as the creator of even greater divisions. I fear that the Church’s voice in this nation is much more known for its political alliances than its likeness to Christ, His kingdom values, or His love and commitment to the marginalized.
A few years back, some friends and I completed what is called a 360 evaluation of one another. We had a list of character traits like humility, courage, kindness, etc., and we rated each other on each of these traits. (I understand that this idea sounds delightful to some and horrific to others.)
In the 360 evaluation, I remember one of my friends rating me very low in the character trait of servanthood. It shocked me. After all, I’m a phenomenal servant. Probably the best servant there is. I serve extremely well.
Regardless, the point wasn’t even about whether or not it was true of me. The point was that it was true of the way my friend experienced me.
Initially, I was hurt by the feedback. I wanted to defend myself, and I had a list of reasons to prove why my friend was wrong about me. But as I showed a willingness to listen, and my friend showed a willingness to help me understand, we gutted it out and talked it through, and it became a moment of great significance in building a more trusting friendship.
We embraced the tension as a creative force rather than something to be afraid of.
The point is, there is a difference between how we see ourselves and how other people experience us.
So how does the world experience the Church?
What does our voice sound like to the world?
Again, with all the caveats of “fake news” and with all the freedom to go find conflicting statistics, here is some research on how Christians are currently perceived in America.
- In a survey completed by the Barna Group, the church is seen by society primarily from a political lens. Everyone agrees on that. The problem with that is that the gospel does not fit neatly into any political platform.
- The greatest disparity is between evangelicals who see themselves as caring, hopeful, friendly, encouraging, and generous (hovering around 60%) and non-Christians, who see evangelicals demonstrate many of these same traits at a rate of less than 10%.
- Or how about the 0% of evangelicals who view themselves as racist, versus what we are demonstrating to non-Christians, 1 out of every 5 who sees us as racist?
Are you ready to get more uncomfortable?
- In another Barna Group survey completed in 2016, Evangelicals were found to be more likely than Liberals, Conservatives, and people of no faith to say that racism is mostly a problem of the past, not the present. Given the current state of our nation, does this concern us?
- When asked whether people of color are often put at a social disadvantage because of their race, Evangelicals as a group were more likely to say “No” than either Democrats or Republicans. My friends, this should not be.
- When asked whether churches were part of the problem when it comes to racism, black people were nearly twice as likely to say “yes” than were white people. What are we demonstrating as a church that makes others feel this way about us?
- When asked in 2018 about the growing number of newcomers from other countries, 53% of white evangelicals called them a threat to American values while 53% of black evangelicals called them a strength to American society. Why is there such a wide disparity among the opinions of white and black Christians?
I know many of you have an immediate political explanation for these statistics, to which I would simply say: I don’t think that is okay.
When our instinct is to focus on a political answer rather than a Kingdom answer, our priorities are in the wrong place. When our intrinsic response is one of defense rather than compassion, we have lost our way. Our Jesus is drifting from the center of the Gospel to the fringes of our personal preferences.
Again, I’m not saying these insights are a perfectly accurate depiction of who we are, but might they be an accurate depiction of how we are coming across? Might they be an accurate depiction of what we sound like to the world?
I don’t think the answer is found in a self-obsession with how other people view us. We’re the church. We’re always going to be weird. Paul said the cross that looks like the power of God to us looks like foolishness to other people.
Nevertheless, we should be obsessed with how accurately we are representing Jesus to the world.
Just yesterday morning I read these words from Beth Moore:
The current state of American Evangelicalism is what we get when the gospel is reduced to an entrance exam instead of a whole way of living, serving, loving & self-giving. The point of discipleship & Bible study is to grow in relationship with Christ and in resemblance to Christ.
American Evangelicalism needs to file a missing person’s report. We have lost Jesus.
That we have somehow managed in the middle of a global pandemic and a worldwide outcry for justice in America to consume ourselves with theological armchair debates over critical race theory and the like is a testimony of how far we have shifted from Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Is it possible for us to unwed ourselves from political allegiances and get back to our true calling? I want to believe that it is. And while I think a compelling, biblical case can be made for a Republican OR a Democratic platform (as well as just about any other), frankly, I’m tired of that discussion, and based on the Jesus I read about in the Gospels, I think He probably is too.
Hear me out: I am under no pretense that this is straightforward. Issues of social justice, such as how to effectively combat racism, are complicated, and outworking actual solutions rather than just criticizing from a distance is even more complex.
What is not complex are the fundamental tenets of Jesus, which he stated in great clarity: Love God and love your neighbor. Everything else about our faith hangs on these two pegs.
Let’s make sure the world hears the same emphasis from those of us to claim and aim to represent Jesus on the earth.
I defer once again to the words of Dr. King:
The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will.
I’m leaving you, but not because I don’t love you. It’s complicated.
But complicated is your middle name, so I know somehow you get it. I honestly don’t know if I’ll be seeing you soon or just reminiscing about you from a distance. Ours has been a contentious relationship, but I think I’ve finally accepted the fact that this is just how you treat people. You seem to be quite comfortable with the paradoxes of this world.
I walk down the corniche staring at a shimmering Mediterranean Sea, distracted only by the glint of snow-capped peaks in the distance. Can it possibly be ski season when all these joggers around me are in shorts and tank tops? As long as I keep my eyes fixed on the long-view, I can avoid the piles of trash that are washing up against the rocky shore.
There are scantily-clad supermodels posing in front of a proud collection of yachts while a fully covered woman casually looks on from the only visible part of her own body. Appearance isn’t everything to you, but it certainly is something. You are adorned with post-surgery bandages on your nose, and who knows exactly where else…?
My normal clothes make me feel severely under-dressed as I walk through Zaytouna Bay, but within 15 minutes by foot, I can feel embarrassingly overdressed next to other people staring at me from their make-shift tent.
Why do you so love to stare? I work hard to always stare in response, but I can never outlast you. I just walk on.
Then again, it’s a toss up if it’s safer to drive or walk. After all, the life of a pedestrian here is not an easy one. Sidewalks are an extra place to park and freeways are merely an opportunity to see how quickly daredevils can sprint and dodge oncoming traffic. As a driver, I count it a great accomplishment that I have not severed any limbs in my two years on the road (even if I have bruised a few fellow cars). It’s another victory that I was never hit by one of the packs of Ferraris weaving in and out of the four lanes – or was it three lanes – or one – or seven? What’s the purpose of those lines on the road again?
I can’t decide if you are the absolute worst or best drivers in the world. Every time I’ve ended up on the opposite side of a douwar I pause to consider the miracle I just witnessed. Perhaps my greatest win as a driver is simply that I am not still not stuck in the bottle-kneck traffic of Jounieh.
I will have to work hard to remember the rules for my children’s car seats when I leave you. Last time I brought one into a service, the driver briefly studied it in confusion, shrugged his shoulders, and tossed it in the trunk. I’ve ridden in way too many Bus Fours to recall whether or not it’s odd to be able to see the road underneath my feet while we’re speeding along to the sound of honking horns.
So much noise. At such volume. I can never tell if that’s gunfire or fireworks or just the sound of some sh3b’s overzealous exhaust pipe. You play “Happy Birthday” way too loudly, and your candles are always in danger of lighting the restaurant ceiling on fire. You do everything with everything you are… there is no middle ground.
You wear your emotions on your sleeve. There are still times I can’t tell if you’re angry or confessing your adoration, as both are done with such a full heart and such flamboyant hand motion.
Why do you charge so much money for everything? And always in cash! You are a living economic miracle. I have no idea how you have persisted, but against all odds, you have, you do, and you will. There is a new building under construction everywhere I turn. Who is buying these places? Who can afford you? This Lira seems like Monopoly money to me… 2000 of something feels like it should earn me a lot more than a loaf of bread.
Too much bread. My gut is bulging for the first time in my life, and I blame it completely on the convenience and deliciousness of man2ouche. You have the most savory food on the planet, and it has ruined me, I’m telling you. I may need to change the size of my pants for the first time in twenty years.
You fill empty space, and not just in my belly. In the narrow streets. In casual conversation. In anything that requires some form of organization. I once almost missed my flight to Cyprus as the supposed “line” gradually ballooned into a cone-shaped collection of bodies clamoring for their turn through customs.
But how I can defend myself in these situations? Two years of learning Arabic and I still receive most of my replies in English or French or just a raising of your eye-brows. You are truly your own code-switching collision of “bonjouraks” and “merci kteers.” You smile respectfully at we foreigners’ obvious accents while weaving in and out of three languages with effortless proficiency. Then you go and make an entirely new language for the sake of texting, merging numbers and letters… whatever, you invented the alphabet, so you have a right to flaunt your linguistic prowess. Let’s be honest, I’ve spent most of my effort just trying to learn your vast array of hand and eye signals, to say nothing of the proper timing to offer a kiss or shake a hand or just avoid physical contact all together.
Most days I feel like I’m just beginning to get to know you. But I kind of think everyone who meets you, even those who claim to know you best, are in a similar condition. For much of our relationship I’ve simply gone with the flow, trying to follow the motions of the person in front of me like I’m the final shakhis in the twisting chain of some grand Dabke. I’ve been tempted more than once to just break free, thrust my hips to whatever Fayrouz tune is playing, and flick my wrists in order to blend in while sticking out. I’m never sure if you’re about to smile at me or scold me.
You shamelessly berate me with “harams” when my children aren’t wearing six layers and the breeze is gently blowing. I love and hate the audacity you freely show by involuntarily teaching me to properly care for my kids. But children are indeed adored. And elders are indeed respected, despite – and perhaps because of – their quirks.
The most endearing of khityarin are often found driving down a side street honking their horns and beckoning me into their cars (not to make it sound creepy or anything). Even if the self-proclaimed service driver doesn’t make enough money in a day to pay for his own gas, at least he has the power to half-heartedly glance up from his foam throne and turn away the poor soul that has stooped down to humbly request a ride in his chariot.
There is a family loyalty known nowhere else on the planet, even when you are outspoken of how crazy your own family is. I have never so badly wanted to have a village to call my own, nor a Teta to cook me a traditional Sunday brunch. The characters in my own imaginary Lebanese family are as quintessential as a Saturday night at Em Nazih.
You gifted me with two of my three children, but awarded none of us the grand perks of Lebanese citizenship (by which I mostly mean that cool passport with the cedar on it). Being in my early dad years meant that I rarely saw the side of you that emerges after dark, which feels like perhaps 95% of who you are. Do we even know each other at all? I once accidentally found myself awake past midnight in Mar Mikhael and wondered if I was dreaming. How do you do it? How do you stay awake?
Ah yes. Coffee. Even Dunkin’ Donuts couldn’t stay away from you… how could I? I once stopped at a dukan to try and purchase a caffeine boost and the old man behind the counter insisted I sit with him and ponder life over a cup of his homemade Joe. Ahlan wa Sahlan ‘til I die.
And I need a lot of coffee in the morning since there’s no need for me to leave my house with your endless delivery options. It’s not like that fancy restaurant doesn’t have to deal with the same power outages I do here, so why would I ever leave my building? Why would I ever leave you? Well, I guess there are more Lebanese in Brazil and more cedars in Britain. Undoubtedly the Lebanese diaspora will continue, and you will sprinkle your presence across the earth, if nothing else than to provide the rest of humanity with a little flavor.
My high school students unanimously wave their hands in the air when I ask who feels proud to be Lebanese, but only a few sparse hands remain after I ask who plans to stay. Is this the ongoing consequence of war on a new generation that has never fully known it themselves?
I’m reminded of the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony taking place under the shadow of the Grand Mosque on one side and the watchful eye an infant messiah in the nativity scene to its opposite. Perhaps you are less concerned with the religious divides of former wars than you are with one’s loyalty to Barca or Real Madrid (although on your finer days you know you prefer Messi’s genius over Ronaldo’s good looks).
When people ask me to describe you, “resilient” is the first word that comes to mind. I still haven’t found the right translation for it in Arabic, but perhaps that’s the telling part… perhaps your resilience is so core to who you are that it need not be named. I don’t know anyone that has taken so many beatings and dealt with so much heartache but still stands so confident and proud.
There is a great age difference between us, but you’ve never made it a big deal. I was born in 1982 when your southern border was opening to uninvited guests. It wasn’t the first time, and certainly not the last. You’ve played host to unwelcome guests for most of your existence, and your existence is about as old as existence gets. I question now if you actually ever invited me… but regardless, welcome me you did.
You have given and given, with so little given in return. You are literally littered from top to bottom, and I fear we have all taken advantage of you – taken you a bit for granted. The temples of your ancient days whisper of a time you were revered at the center of the planet. Modern voices gave you pet names like Switzerland and Paris to link you to other noble places on the earth. But you are your own personality. You always will be incomparable.
Jesus of Nazareth was once in casual conversation with you before you overwhelmed him with that unparalleled wit of yours. He said you had the kind of faith that meant you will get whatever you wish for. Well my wish for you is that you would have that kind of faith once again… the kind that fights for a seat at the table and defends your own dignity. I hope I’ve been a small part of that becoming real in you.
Yes, it’s true, I’m leaving you, but not because I don’t love you. It’s complicated.
Headlines have been dominated by the recent executive order made by President Trump, and our little corner of the world has definitely been caught up in the fray. We are routinely asked by friends here for an explanation, and it has been challenging trying to try and give them one. The day after Trump’s decision, I was teaching my English class in a nearby neighborhood composed fully of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. I was brought to tears by their questions, fears, and uncertainties regarding the current situation; many tears would follow in secret prayer as I wrestled through my own confusion.
I am always hesitant to add the commentary on this stuff, largely because at some point it all begins to run together as noise. Yet at the same time, I know we currently have a unique vantage point on this particular situation, given the place we live and the work we are giving ourselves to. It’s not that we have any brilliant authority to talk about international immigration or American politics, but we have spent a lot of time listening to and learning about the stories of those most directly affected by Trump’s decision. They are not just headlines or statistics. They are innocent victims of unthinkable atrocities, and everywhere they turn, they are turned away. While we passionately toss out our various arguments or contend with the media’s interpretation of events, these refugees continue to quietly battle their daily realities: Where will I get food? Is my brother still alive? How do I keep my children warm another wintery night in this tent?
In light of all this, I’d like to offer a few points of consideration (everybody loves a good list). Feel free to take them or leave them or – absolutely – to challenge them. If you’re reading this right now, there’s a good chance it is because we ultimately want the same conclusion to this Grand Story.
1) Make Jesus Central
In moments like this, when I see people I respect passionately saying very different things from one another, I find it helpful to remember that no one has a corner on the kingdom of God. In my own journey with Jesus, I aim to always find the sweet spot of growing in knowledge, conviction, and authority while remaining childlike, teachable, and humble. When the opinions fly freely and bury a sense of clarity, I return to the core of Jesus’ life and message, which he said summarizes the whole of the Story: Love God… and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22.40).
2) Don’t contribute to the inhumane categorization of people
This is so hard. We need categories in order to talk about issues on a large scale, but in the process it becomes very easy for those generalizations to minimize actual human lives. Compassion must be core to our conversations, not tossed in as an afterthought. There is nothing that builds more divisive momentum than employing an “us” versus “them” approach. Be very wary of talking about “Muslims” or “Conservatives” or “Evangelicals” or “Liberal Elites” on the whole without spending more time listening – actually listening – to their individual hearts and stories.
3) Embrace tension as a creative force, not something to be afraid of. (Props to Joe Steinke)
You can disagree with someone and still treat them with respect. You don’t have to choose between caring about yourself and caring about others. Protecting borders and protecting oppressed people are not mutually exclusive ideas. Jesus called his disciples to anything but a safe life… this could mean stepping out onto the water, or standing between the accusers and the accused, or laying down your life for your friends. Places of tension are usually uncomfortable, but they are also usually the places where Jesus calls us to be.
4) Get involved in solution-oriented ways
- There are organization all over America and all over the world that serve refugees. Long before we worked primarily with refugees here in Lebanon, we volunteered at centers in Kansas City and Boston (here’s a great description of one in Anchorage too, for you Alaskan folk). It is incredibly easy and unbelievably fulfilling to serve the most vulnerable of people who are living around us, wherever we currently call home.
- If you don’t know a Muslim or someone from an Arab country, now would be a great time to try and get to know one. I promise they will legitimately compete with America’s famous Southern hospitality, although their interpretation of sweet tea is slightly different. Make it personal.
- Pray. Drown out the news you have been reading with the perspective of heaven. Silence your fears by pressing into the love of God. Ask Him to show you how you can represent His heart and be a part of the solution wherever you are.
It’s been some 24 hours since we’ve elected a new president to lead and guide the U.S. of A. Looking in on the decision from across the world has me feeling particularly reflective in my current insider/outsider status. I am actually encouraged to see my Facebook feed full of such contradictory opinions, because it gives me hope that the grand American experiment, which has long-held opposing ideologies in successful tension, will continue to do so. (After all, my FB feed is a great place to draw assurances about historical events…)
I grew up in a conservative Christian family, and I am very thankful for my foundations. Although I have had to unlearn a lot of empty religion associated with those years, I still count it my greatest honor in life to be identified with the likes of Jesus. Foundational to this identification is learning to love my neighbor as myself. Since leaving Alaska, my neighbors have ranged from African-Americans across the racial divide in Kansas City, Latin-American immigrants in East Boston, and most recently, scores of Syrian refugees here in Lebanon. These neighbors have all taught me to listen. They’ve taught me that issues are complicated. They’ve taught me the dangers of categorizing and stereotyping people groups, and the joys of getting to know individual, amazing, made-in-the-image-of-God people.
I like to follow MLK in the way he followed Jesus, and one of the wonderful encouragements he held regarding politics was this: “Look objectively at both parties and be the conscience of both – not the servant or master of either.” So this morning, as the sun rises across Beirut and sets over Los Angeles, I feel the need to speak my conscience and remind us all that we are people, not peoples.
If you’re having trouble understanding why people are hopeful about this new chapter in the American experiment…
This outcome is exciting because many have disagreed greatly with Obama’s policies for eight years, and for the first time in almost a decade, they feel like they have a chance to make their voices heard. I genuinely believe these people did not vote in agreement with the divisive language that marked much of President-Elect-Trump’s campaign. No, their vote was about their desires for policies that more clearly reflect their own values. They wanted someone who was the opposite of a professional-politician, someone with business experience and insight, someone who came into the game from a completely new viewpoint. They see a health care system that is unhealthy. An economy that is broken. Many of them voted with a desperate desire to defend the rights of the unborn.
Not all of the people celebrating the outcome of this election feel like this, but perhaps some, with all their nuances and unique reasoning from their own life experience, do. You may disagree with their politics or their interpretation of the Constitution, but you cannot judge their motives. They voted with genuine concern and conviction… they want the best for their country, their community, and their kids, even if their way of showing it looks strange to you.
If you’re having trouble understanding why people are upset about this new chapter in the American experiment…
This outcome is painful because their president elect ran a campaign that made them feel marginalized or afraid based on something that is core to their existence. It got very personal. There are women who still shiver with memories of sexual assault, and they fear their incumbent president minimizes their pain. There are Muslim-Americans who are afraid of being forced back to the countries they fled for their own safety. There are Hispanic children coming home from school in tears because their friends are telling them that their parents are not allowed to live in the country. Watching a black man rise to the position that Obama did gave many people of color assurance that times were changing for the better – that there was hope for them despite the color of their skin, but now they fear that times are reverting. There are many who worry for America’s relationship with countries across the earth, not to mention the earth itself.
You may disagree with their politics or their interpretation of the Constitution, but you cannot judge their motives. They voted with genuine concern and conviction… they want the best for their country, their community, and their kids, even if their way of showing it looks strange to you.
The Jesus I read about in the gospels confounded the wisdom of the elites of his day. He saw and spoke to people’s hearts. He skirted around the political drama of the Roman empire and operated according to a different framework. At the core of his life and teaching: love your neighbor (including your enemy) as yourself.
As a teacher, I worked hard to give my students core values like empathy and respect for the opinions of others. I have interacted with a wide variety of kids from a wide variety of backgrounds. Sometimes their parents seem engaged and encouraging, and sometimes they seem checked out and clueless. But as I learned to take the time to listen and consider their own journey, especially now that I’m a dad myself, I began to realize that they are all trying as best they know how.
You may disagree with their approach or their interpretation of morality, but you cannot judge their motives. They parent with genuine concern and conviction… they want the best for their kids, even if their way of showing it looks strange to you.
May we have eyes today to see those who don’t see like us. May we love our neighbors (and our enemies!) like we love ourselves.
“We are a contemplative order. First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for him in disguise.” – Mother Teresa
Last week I visited a friend of mine named Mhanna in a refugee camp where he lives with his family. There were two new young faces in the tent that night, and so I asked Mhanna who they were. He introduced them as his younger brothers, aged 10 and 12, and explained how they had come from Syria two nights earlier. The bombs had been increasing in their village and they were forced to flee, but since the border to Lebanon has been closed due to the massive number of refugees already here, Mhanna used all his money to have them smuggled over the mountains in the night and into his camp.
I looked thoughtfully at each of the boys, exchanging pleasantries in basic Arabic and laughing with them as they laughed at my poor pronunciation. I reflected on what I was doing the summer I turned 11.
…I had played on my first competitive soccer team. Spent the night at my friend Garon’s house on a regular basis, where he taught me the art of adding chocolate sauce on my pancakes. I anticipated the thrill of starting my first year at Colony Middle School…
I looked again at the boys across the tent and was struck with the chasm of difference between their childhood and mine. And I wondered why.
Why was I born to such privilege and them to such destitution?
Why was I born (in the misguided opinion of many) to a nation of “good guys” and them to a nation of “bad guys”?
Why was I born into such opportunity and them into such tragedy?
I don’t reflect on these questions to make myself (or you) feel guilty. We don’t get a whole lot of say in how or when we’re born. However, I do reflect on them with genuine conviction, compassion, and a deep sense of responsibility: what is my “ability” to “respond?”
Though we can’t know why we were born into such blessing, we can ask the natural questions that follow: how do we steward the blessing we have received? How do we seek the best for those who have the worst, while also enjoying what we’ve been given?
I often think of Jesus savoring a long meal and – I imagine – laughing with his best friends after an even longer day of “work” and “ministry.” I like to imagine the Apostle Paul enjoying the view of the wine dark Mediterranean Sea in between shipwrecks and stonings and visiting young communities of friends learning how to follow the Way. I know Marisa and I were grateful to wake up one recent morning after we’d been in the camps and relax over a couple of cappuccinos from a popular modern cafe (yes, these people have an ancient and severe love of caffeine).
We tend to swing to one side of the equation, as most of us do with most things in life. There are those who see a need in the world and spend every ounce of their life and energy to becoming the solution; sadly, such people often lose sight of their own dignity and sanity along the way. On the other side are those who can’t or don’t want to cope with the gravity of extreme poverty or illness or depravity, and they respond with equal extremism of indifference or self-preservation.
As I read in a recent article about the influx of refugees in Europe, “…the fact is, we can’t care all the time. Our survival instinct compartmentalizes that stuff in a clever way that means we can keep functioning despite being aware of horrible suffering. But nor can we stop caring completely.”
There is a balance. There must be! I just still haven’t comfortably settled into it myself (tips much appreciated). Yet perhaps that is the very point. Maybe the tension, the wrestle, the “striving to enter rest,” and the ache to see all things made new is the very place we’re meant to live from. One of my fathers in the faith taught us long ago that running away from tensions like the one I felt in that refugee camp last week means we actually miss the plot.
What if we didn’t rush past the questions and onto the simple answers?
What if we didn’t pretend everything is perfectly black and white and void of mystery?
What if we embraced tension as a creative force to actually effectively build the world we want to see?
The older I get, the less comfortable God seems to be inside my boxes and the more comfortable I get in letting Him outside of them (He must find it entertaining that I offer Him this permission).
I dream of those 11 year old boys, who have recently joined millions of other children as refugees, knowing the God that I know: one that is not distant but near; mournful but always in a perfectly good mood; one that holds in His heart and his authorship a story that brings my personal drama and those boys’ lives together in glorious tension.
I don’t know why, but I’ve been blessed something fierce. And in the spirit of my father Abraham, I like to think I’ve been blessed so that I can be a blessing.