Can I Please Get a Witness!?

witness
I get paid, primarily, to talk. My words are meant to be used to inspire, teach and encourage. I have also found passion in writing. Blogs, articles, even a book. (Maybe more, who knows.). But can we be real for a minute?  Words are a dime a dozen. For every catchy phrase or inspiring story there are a thousand more that head in any number of opposing directions. That’s why Jesus didn’t call the church to be His great communicators, He called us to be His witnesses.
Witnesses may or may not persuade, but that’s not up to them. Their only real job is to oathshare what they saw, heard, felt; what they experienced. And let me tell you what makes an effective witness: credibility.  An effective  witness isn’t necessarily one that can articulate what they experienced, it’s the one you believe.  In a day and age when everyone has an agenda words are cheap.  But show me someone who has been changed by what they witnessed; a person who came out the other side different? That is credibility.  Let me see that your experience affected you beyond the immediate circumstances and then I’ll listen.  Anything less is suspect.
So, Church, this one’s for you. You say that Jesus died so that you might make the crossimpossible journey from your sinful self to a redeemed child of God. That because of what He did you are no longer assured damnation for your sins but have in fact been saved from your fate and instead been grafted in to the family of God.  You claim that you are the beneficiary of the atrocity of the cross.  Basically, you enjoy the gifts that came from someone else’s unjust pain and suffering.
How could you not spend your life in service to those who are suffering as you should have?  
How can your heart not break when you see others beaten down by injustice?  
I was having breakfast with a great friend and colleague this morning.  It has been some time since we had a chance to see each other so we crammed everything in from “How are the wife and kids?” to “How about that election?”  In the course of our conversation this idea came up.  We both work in full time ministry and have come to the same conclusion.  Your words are not what will inspire people, what will make a difference; only your life can do that.  Do you actually care for others when it isn’t convenient or even smart?  Do you sacrifice your own comfort or happiness to help others find the joy that supposedly changed you? Do you live your life like someone who has actually been a witness to the most incredible event to ever take place?
If so, then let me remind you that right now in our country there are men,  women and injustice-1children who are suffering injustice that they don’t deserve.  Even as we prepare to sit down and celebrate, or hopefully solemnly remember that EVERY AMERICAN CITIZEN (who is not indigenous) benefits from an atrocity that we had nothing to do with, but we benefit from just the same.  Let me remind you that there are men, women and children that are not enjoying the free gift that came at the labor of someone who didn’t need to lift a finger to help them.  So, Church, can I please get a witness!?
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We the People…

president-elect

I am going to just be frank with you: I woke up with a sick feeling in my stomach this morning.  And yes, it was because Donald Trump won the election.  And yes, that is a problem for me because I believe him to be a man of poor temperament who actively perpetuates ideas that are ethnocentric, xenophobic and misogynistic.  Bottom line: he seems hateful and bigoted. My initial gut level reaction has been to rely on the reality, and it IS a reality, that my hope lies in God not man.  This truth has moved the immovable, changed the unchangeable, redeemed the non-redeemable.  Not the least of which was me.  And because I know that so deeply, I want to share that truth with all of those who are hurting and scared about the idea of  what a Trump presidency will mean.

In my earnest desire to help the hurting heal I want to remind people of that reality.  But my reality isn’t the same as that of the children who are afraid their parents will be taken away from them.  It isn’t the same as that of the mother of two girls who spent her whole life fighting to be treated as equal.  And it isn’t the same as that of the father who simply cannot afford to insure his family because his son has a “pre-existing condition”  and subsequently lives in fear that anything will happen.  I am a white, middle class, heterosexual man which doesn’t mean life is never hard for me, believe me.  However, there are men, women and children who woke up afraid this morning.  Not because they don’t know what the future holds, but because they believe they do.  If I really want to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are hurting and scared, those who are weeping, I simply need to weep with them; sit with them; be present and listen.

In our culture there is almost nothing more effective and more powerful than listening.  Not listening so that we know how to respond; not waiting the respectful amount of time praying1before we “drop some knowledge”.  I mean to listen intentionally.  The kind of listening that has me watching the faces of those who are speaking and see the emotions that are swirling around behind their eyes.  When I allow my self to become so totally engrossed in what they are saying that I imagine what it would be like to be them.  I have seen this play out in all different relationships in my life.  With folks that are different from me.  I have had the chance to really listen to the homeless and come to sittingunderstand that they are not what I assume them to be.  I have had the chance to listen to the African American community on issues of racial injustice and have moved my heart closer to their struggle.  I have had the chance to listen to the LGBTQ community and feel a deep and personal sense of remorse and repentance surrounding how the Church has treated them.  It is these type of connections that make us the UNITED States of America, ONE nation under God.  And it is this very thing that I fault Donald Trump for failing to do.

I need to admit that I don’t actually know what kind of man he is.  I know what I have read and seen in my research (yes, I did research) but I recognize that almost everything written now-a-days is biased or slanted in one way or another.  But that isn’t the point of this post.  Here comes the really uncomfortable part. I need to apologize to Donald Trump’s supporters.  I have seen your posts and read your articles and I will be honest, some of them were absurd.  But to assume that someone either practices or condones the things I believe he is guilty of simply because they support him for president is hypocritical of me.  I have listened to folks who support him. I have some very close friends who are happy that he won. They see this election as a victory for everyday people.  They are feeling disenfranchised and oppressed by the very wealthy in our country, by those with more power than them.  I still believe that his campaign was driven by fear. But I cannot fault people for being afraid; for feeling like something, anything, needed to change.

So where do we go from here? Nowhere.  We stay right where we are and take responsibility for our nation.  Whether you think that Donald Trump will be the worst downloadpresident in history and the government is no longer of any use to us, or you think that Donald Trump’s victory is a celebration of the everyday people of America finally having a say in our country, the outcome should be the same: We the People of the United Sates need to take personal responsibility in making this nation the greatest version of itself and we need to do it together!  How do we take personal responsibility together?  I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly how, but I promise you it starts with listening.

 

 

Standing Rock, Racial Injustice & This Presidential Election.

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Let me start this in the most honest way I know how.  I really want you to read it.  Not only do I want you to read it, I want you to be so touched/challenged/empowered by it that you share it.  You see, I had this crazy experience over the summer where A LOT of people engaged with something I wrote and for a brief moment I felt like I had a window into other peoples lives: their celebrations and their pain. And for that moment, I felt like I was making a difference. It was a very personal and very powerful experience that I will always hold dear to my heart.  However, every time I have sat down at my keyboard since then I have had to fight the urge to write simply so that I could experience it again.  And I am afraid that I never will.  That fear has made it difficult for me to simply share my heart, which is likely the very thing people responded to the first time.  Ironic, huh?

That’s the thing about fear though, it keeps us trapped; holds us hostage to its demands.  Before you start thinking of that time that your fear of failure motivated you to achieve let me show you what I mean by looking at three things that have a lot more in common than you might think:

Standing Rock, Racial Injustice and this Presidential Election.

Each one of these issues, all of which break my heart on a daily basis, are driven by fear. I think it’s fair to say that we can call out the bottom line of each of one quickly and simply:

Standing Rock– Private interests before the common good.

Racial Injustice– Personal perspective before empathy and compassion

Presidential Election– Political agenda before national well-being.

In every one of these instances one group or person is focused on themselves, their interests.  That’s not a judgement, it’s an observation. It’s human nature to think about ourselves first.  I know fearsthis all too well.  I’m a Christian.  What’s more, I believe in the Church.  And we (the Church) know from fear: fear of change, fear of loosing control, fear of losing all we hold dear.  I also happen to be white.  There’s a whole other set of fears.  Fear that I am going to find out that I’m the bad guy, fear that I may realize that the happy little world I thought I lived in is an illusion.  And I am an American.  One who loves this country dearly but can’t help be see the cracks in the wall.  There is so much too fear.  You might argue that I just need a little courage, but courage is a side-effect.  The opposite of fear isn’t courage, its kindnesslove.  The kind of love that is willing to get dirty and take risks; the kind that sees what could be instead of what is or was; that kind of love will trump fear any day of the week.  You see, fear is about me and love is about you.  As long as I live my life focused on myself, my interests, my perspective, my agenda, I will always be ruled by fear.  But when my
focus shifts, when I put others first, I become free to engage the world for what it really is: scary and terrible, but beautiful beyond compare.  Then and only then can I become a part of the solution.  That’s when I can effect change, the kind that actually matters.

 

So I will care more about the health and well-being of people and less about how much I pay for gas; I will continue to learn what it is to not be white in America and call BS when I see it; and I will pray like crazy for my country and those people who are trying to lead it.  What will you do?

An Open Letter To My Christian Self

Dear Me,

I know you are frustrated; I know you are sad; I know you are worried.  Everything you have come to believe is important seems to be less and less important to everyone else.  People at large think you are arrogant, judgmental and hypocritical.  It seems like even your own “brothers and sisters in Christ” can’t do anything but rip on you and each other.  It almost seems like half of your time needs to be spent defending the reality that your faith is not the same thing as your politics and the other half of your time is spent trying to figure out if you are reaching people for Jesus or selling out to popular culture.  You often feel like you have more in common with the people you are serving than you do with the “body of Christ”.  You are tired, you are scared and you feel alone.

I am here to tell you that you are in good company.  Don’t loose heart.  There is nothing in this world that ever came easy and there is no reason to think that will change now.  Sure, your stance on premarital sex seems antiquated to most.  Yes, your belief that life starts at conception will always draw the “what if” scenarios you don’t have a good answer for and people will automatically assume you are closed minded and heartless.  There is no doubt that people will spot your hypocrisy.   The more good you do in this world the more bad they will find in you.  Heck, even your fellow Christians will judge you.  Sometimes, them more than anyone.  And what’s worst of all is that most of the people you come into contact simply won’t care about you or what you have to say unless they are looking to argue with you.  Just don’t forget that you hold the most powerful truth that this world has ever seen: love.

I don’t mean romantic love.  That love that we see in the movies that can move mountains.  I mean the kind of love that suffers long.  I mean the kind of love that puts others first.  Listen, this world operates on the premise of power.  Those who have the power make the rules so you can never really come out on top, right?  But when you return hate with love; when you show grace first; when you seek to be present not right.  That is a game played by a very different set of rules and you know the guy who wrote them, personally.

So love the LGTBQ community and fight for their right to be happy.  Let  your heart break for racial injustice and say something about it.  Don’t just feed the hungry, eat with them.  Befriend the drug addict who just can’t get his act together.    Grieve with the would-be mother who just lost her baby because she chose to.  LOVE.  Love the way God loved you when you were alone and hurting.  Not in a comfortable, safe, feel good kinda way.  Love like Jesus loved.  Because if you do that, there is no force in this world that can stop you and an eternal place for you in the next.

 

Grace and Peace,

You

 

 

That’s what he said.

The two things you are never supposed to talk about are politics and religion…right?  Those are divisive topics.   They are so deeply personal that people who hold to different religion-and-politicsbeliefs can’t possibly talk about them and not argue.  Why is that anyway?  I think it’s because  everyone already has their mind made up.  What makes it worse is that in today’s culture it seems like every tweet, post, and “article” is a thinly veiled advertisement for some product or point of view.  We are not supposed to talk about these things openly, so we just try and sway people by tricking them into agreeing with us.  There has to be a better way!  There is no getting past the power of listening first and listening well, but when it is time for us to communicate how do we do that effectively?

Over the years I have discovered a very simple trick.  I just pretend that I am the listener and ask myself, “So what?” .  The So What breaks down into three questions:

  1. What does that mean? (What is the information you are giving me?)
  2. Why do I care? (What effect will this have on my life?)
  3. Now what? (What am I supposed to do with that?)

Let’s try it with both politics AND religion. More specifically, Donald Trump and his “locker-room talk.” A recording was recently released of Donald Trump having a conversation with Billy Busch about women.  (What does that mean?) Duringlocker-room-talk the course of the conversation Donald was recorded indicating that he has a certain degree of leverage when it comes to women because he is a star.  He used some really vulgar language to describe what he thinks he can get away with because of his celebrity.  (Why do I care?) You may been offended by his language or you may think our culture is pretty vulgar by and large and therefore you weren’t.  You may have thought he was describing sexual assault or that he was just engaging in locker room talk.
You may believe that this recording is simply one example of a long list of things he has said that dehumanize women and minorities or you might think he has said he was sorry and we should move on.  You may be reading this and thinking “I hate that guy!” or you might be thinking of all of the terrible things Hilary Clinton has done (and how you are going to post them in the comments…please don’t do that.) Regardless on your take on these things, when did humanity stop being important?  When did we stop wanting to stand for values and moral character?  Regardless of which candidate is worse you are likely voting for “the lesser of two evils”.  My take-a-way: we need to do better America.  We need to be better. (What now?)   As an individual citizen of this country, I need to start to demonstrate those values and moral character.  It is the only way things will ever get better.  I am a christian and my faith is a huge part of who I am.  It tells me that I am part of something bigger than myself; it tells me that I should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger;  and it tells me that there is nothing more powerful in this world than love.  If you don’t believe me, the next time someone comes at you with anger or hate be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. Respond with love and watch what happens.

I want to be clear that I am not posting this to get people to change who they vote for.  As a matter of fact, I don’t think the point of this election is who wins. I have struggled very deeply and very personally recently with how I am supposed to interact with this world as a white, christian man.  It seems like everywhere I turn there is just more anger, more hurt and more injustice.  As a result, I simply don’t know where else to start but with myself. So I will listen more and speak less; I will forgive quicker and love harder; I will be…better.

love-superpower

 

 

Racial Injustice and Righteous Indignation

Why is it that every time people find a non-violent way to cry out against racial injustice blak-lives-matter-toowe find a way to turn it into an offense toward some group it has nothing to do with?  #BlackLivesMatter DOES NOT mean others don’t.  That was a leap we made.  And let me clarify here. When I say “we” I mean people who have not spent their lives feeling the brunt of racial injustice.  Additionally, #blacklivesmatter does not mean “blue lives” don’t matter.

 

“…they were crying out against INJUSTICE, not people…”

 

During the week Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were shot and killed I saw many of my friends and acquaintances become VERY vocal on social media.  They were sad, angry, scared, hopeless, etc… They cried out that Black Lives Matter because they felt like it give-me-our-huddled-massesneeded to be said.  At the same time, many who were arguably on the “other side of the equation” were silent.   During the hours and days after the shooting of five police officers in Dallas, those who were previously silent cried out at that Blue Lives Matter because they felt like it needed to be said.  And those people who had been shouting that Black Lives Matter stopped for a second.  Not to be silent, but to cry out “No! This isn’t the answer!” “My prayers go out the families of the officers in Dallas.” And yes, for a moment, “Blue Lives Matter.”  How could they say black lives matter in one breath and blue lives matter in the next? Because they were crying out against injustice not people; because this country has always been about coming together and reaching out to those in need.  You know, “your huddled masses yearning to be free”.

 

“Please hear me, care about me and please help me! Because I cannot do this without you.”

 

Now we have athletes, professional, college and even high school, taking a knee during the taking-a-kneenational anthem and somehow we have determined that this is a disgraceful show of disrespect toward the military who make such an incredible sacrifice to allow us the opportunity to make protests like this one.  First, if I were to sacrifice my safety and time with my family and possibly my life to create an environment that allows for freedom to protest and you protest, I would not be offended.  I would be glad someone is actually taking advantage of the thing I’m sacrificing so much for.  Second, taking a knee during the national anthem is NOT an f’ you to veterans or active duty military.  It is a plea that cries out, “Please hear me, care about me and please help me! Because I cannot do this without you.” And if that’s not what this country was meant to be about, I don’t know what is.

 

“Rather than deflect the uncomfortable reality of racial injustice with manufactured righteous indignation, lets try compassion for a change.” 

 

Rather than deflect the uncomfortable reality of racial injustice with manufactured righteous indignation, lets try compassion for a change.  So when our fellow countrymen, our fellow human beings, our neighbors and friends are crying out to be heard, to be cared about and to be helped can we all just please “take a knee” and listen!  What if rather than getting outraged at the perceived “injustice” they are committing we just reached out our hand instead?

hands

Why I’m a Racist…the Response

Two weeks ago, I sat in my favorite chair at 6:00 am with a cup of coffee and troubled IMG_3140heart.  I opened up my lap top and started writing.  I didn’t know what I was going to say or how I was going to say it, but only that I needed to say it…for me.  My heart was so heavy that I needed to look directly into it and see why.  So that is exactly what I did.  Less than an hour later I hit “publish” primarily because it was time to go to work.  To be honest, I didn’t even know if the post was done yet and I certainly didn’t think many people would read it,  but I just had to get it out.  (Have you ever had something you had to share even though you “knew” nobody was really listening?)   I spoke to an issue that breaks my heart, but aside from that I had nothing to offer it but authenticity.  What happened next was incredible.

In less than two weeks over 1.5 million people have read my words, radio stations have called to talk to me about it, people have republished it and wrote articles about the article.  That’s cool and all, but the thing that has absolutely floored me, and the reason I am back in my chair with a cup a coffee writing, is the responses.  The conversations, comments, emails, posts and private messages that you have shared so genuinely with me.  Whether we agree or not, you have shared something deeply personal with me and I want to honor that.  You have given me a gift.  When I first sat down to write I had a very limited perspective on the issue of racial inequality and in a lot of ways that is still true, but you have given me a bird’s eye view into the heart of America on this issue.  Yes, the reactions ran the spectrum.  There were those whose responses were just hateful. I am not going to waste your time with them.  There were others that were comical, but held deeper meaning.  And then there were most of you.  You bared your heart and I will never be able to say thank you enough.  I hope that I am able to do justice to your words.

Let’s start with the comical:

 “Your wife and kids are not blond.”

Yes, I received this multiple times.  For the record, they are sandy blond; lighter or darker depending on the season and the lighting.  That being said, if you read an article about judging others based on some physical attribute and you get stuck on how blond my family is, I have to ask you: What are you avoiding?  I don’t mean this as a dig at anyone, simply a question for consideration.

“You don’t know what the word racist actually means.”

or

“You’re title is just click-bait.”

Yes, I do know the official definition of the teracismrm racist.  I also know what the full definition is.  But without arguing those points let me just explain why I used that term.  First, there is just about no more offensive thing you can call a white person than a racist.  It creates such a feeling of discomfort that I am forced out of my comfort zone and I promise you, that is the only place change ever happened.  Second, I have realized that because I had this picture of what racism was, and it doesn’t line up with who I am, I feel like I am in no way connected to it.  If I’m not connected, there is nothing I can do about it. Re-examining what that word could mean helped me to connect with an issue that I was having trouble engaging with before.  It helped make it personal.  Finally, did I realize that some people would click on the article simply because of the title?  Sure.  While it was not the reason I used the term, why would I change it just because it might motivate people to read what I wrote?

“Finally someone who gets it.”

Now that we have covered that, let me tell you what the overwhelming majority of you said: “Thank you for being so honest.” “Finally someone who gets it.” “Thank you for articulating what I have been saying.” “I sit here reading this through tears…”  While you might be tempted to think that these were responses from African American readers, they were not.  White folks, by the hundreds, have been responding like this.  My new friend Jackson Young put it this way:

“I need to realize that even though the slogan is “Black Lives Matter”, they don’t mean that other lives don’t.  As I sit here in tears I realize they mean, racism exists, inequality exists, and that their lives matter, that they are a part of humanity just the same.  It’s sad when you think about it…us white folks don’t have to have movements because we are not reminded daily to a level of ridiculousness the color of our skin.”

He went on to say:

“So today moving forward I will no longer remind everyone all lives matter, I also will not profess people of color matter more, but I will say people of color matter too and they need to know that.  We are the only ones that can show them that, so help me, next time you see someone of color remind them with a simple gesture  ‘you matter too.’Let’s start there, once our brothers and sisters know we have their back, they will feel like they matter. It’s sad when any color of humanity has to say ‘hey don’t forget about me.'” 

 

I have no words to add to that.

I have received just as many responses from African Americans.  I believe these three best sum up the majority:

  “I deeply regret that my father and grandparents are no longer alive to read this.  Your words are beyond their hopes and dreams.”

“This is how we heal and move beyond our pain.  It takes each of us looking at ourselves, being honest and deciding that we want to be better individuals.”

“As a black woman it was refreshing to the point of tears to read your words…I have always looked forward to the day when we all could openly dialog about race and its impact on our nation.”

Based on these responses and many others it seems pretty clear that most African Americans are not looking for an “excuse for missed opportunities” or to “blame white people for everything.”  Men and women of color were moved to tears simply because some white guy from New Jersey acknowledged what they deal with every day.  They are simply looking to be heard.

I think I can sum up this “bird’s eye view” in a couple of points (clearly brevity is not my strong suit).  First, most white people think racism is disgusting.  They don’t want to be associated with it in any way and any suggestion that they are is deeply offensive.  They feel like they have been unfairly judged by society as “having it easy” and supporting racial inequality because it benefits them.  Neither of which are true of the majority.  They just want that reality acknowledged and then they are willing to talk.

Second, most African Americans don’t believe that they are owed any special privileges. They feel that they have been unfairly judged by society as wanting “special treatment,” which they find just as offensive as discrimination.  Their primary frustration with “white America” (if they have one) is simply the refusal to admit that racial inequality exists.  They just want that reality acknowledged and then they are willing to talk.

This is the point…

This is the point: if we can just get over ourselves long enough to acknowledge the other side’s reality, we could actually DO SOMETHING about this whole mess.  Please hear me, we are ready to have the conversation.  Find someone in your life who has a different experience than you, and ask them what it’s like for them. That’s the easy part. Then listen.  Don’t argue, don’t justify, don’t defend, just listen.  I think you will be surprised how willing they are to hear you after that.