How do we move forward?

You know when you have a giant argument over a small thing? Through the course of the shouting, you realize that there are many layers to the hard feelings that you share with the other person.

I have been thinking about the tragedy of Michael Brown’s death and the protests in Ferguson Missouri. I was thinking to myself: I think it’s high time we figure out what really happened. But the longer these protests drag on, it will distract us from a clear, objective investigation, probably from federal officials.

But then I realized that, like many arguments that I have had with other people, there probably is a whole host of events that have led to this struggle. A history of oppression, bigotry, racism, and division.

How do we move forward? How do we break this cycle? For Ferguson Missouri, I really don’t know the answer. Nationally? I don’t have any answers either. What I do know is that I have the answers in my own life . I can choose to break down barriers. I can choose to love people the way God does. That may not make a big difference on a national scale but I think it still does make a difference, and that’s enough.

Advertisements

What Does Pro Life Really Mean?

When my wife worked for a Christian-based pregnancy center, which helped pregnant women with various needs during pregnancy in hopes to sway them away from choosing abortion, she grew frustrated at the rhetoric of donors.  While she had a deep desire to especially care for these (mostly young) mothers after having a child, people with the dollars mostly just wanted to ‘save the babies.’  Pro-Life means just that; and it must extend through…well…life.

Chris Christie agrees, but he’s harping on the prison system.

This argument is why I’m against capital punishment.  My views were put to the test recently by a friend on Facebook.

facebookscreenshot

 

In the Bible, way back in the first book, Genesis, Cain kills his brother Able –the first murder.  When God confronts him, asking him where his brother is, Cain replys: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  In the reply Cain tells on himself.  The implication of the text is yes, we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.  Way later, Jesus challenges to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  He even tells us to love our enemies for God’s sake.  We are in one another’s care.

From the Christian perspective, there is a distinction between what we do and who we are.  We love people outside of what they do or have done because all life is precious to God.  It doesn’t mean that we forgo ethics and morals, or ignore what is done wrong.  But in the universal sense, a human life is a precious thing.

Does this take away the complexities of hot-button issues like capital punishment, abortion, gay rights?  Of course not.  But maybe an expanded definition of ‘Pro-Life’ might help.

What Role Should Government Play in Helping People?

Admittedly, my politics change a lot.  As a Christian, it should be simple enough to follow the example of Jesus, but applying the Jesus stuff to modern life isn’t exactly cut-and-dry.  Then there’s the meta-narrative of God’s love.  How do you show love?  How do you help?  Sure…we can tackle this in apolitical ways, but politics do affect these things.  I used to join the bandwagon of those that simply spoke out against poverty and oppression, but a closer look at the relationship between politics and poverty leaves me with a ton of questions.

What role exactly should the government play in helping people in need of it?

In a recent discussion with someone who works at a government-funded facility for severely mentally handicapped people, I realized that the question over the role of government isn’t as easy as the political pundits suggest.  For those that can help themselves to a certain degree, we must provide opportunity.  For those who cannot help themselves, we must accept responsibility for their welfare.  Problem is, what is an acceptable level of self-sufficiency?  What does that look like?  Where do the scales tip from compassion to enabling?

These questions go beyond political science.  When someone comes to receive help at our church, I close my eyes and sign the grocery voucher, hoping that I’m not being taken advantage of –this after recording information and having a conversation.  Truth is, I’m never really sure if I’m helping or hurting.  The role of government question is a tricky one because helping people is tricky.

But one thing is clear: I’m not about to take a hiatus from helping people just to figure it all out.

My Poverty Immersion Experience (5): It’s Just People, Man. It’s Just People.

Catch the series here:  posts one, two, three, and four.

One of the leaders on the poverty immersion weekend, and employee of one of the local homeless ministries, said it often: “It’s just people man.  It’s just people.”

On the final night of our weekend, we spent the late hours of the night not addressing poverty “out there,” but vulnerably reached down into our souls to find the poverty within us.  We’re just people, man.

When I returned from life as a teacher and missionary in Haiti, among many poor, I was struck with a great paradox.  In Haiti, in the midst of great poverty and tragedy, people were genuinely happy.  I returned as a youth pastor, tending to young people who had so much if not everything, who were genuinely unhappy.  Cutting.  Depression.  Bipolar disorder.  There was a poverty in their wealth, and it permeated in the air.  We’re just people, man.

People in poverty don’t have many things that people not in poverty have.  But the opposite is also true.  We’re all rich and poor in different ways.  We’re all.just.people.

God sees us in such ways.

Granted, we’re all uniquely and wonderfully made.  But God doesn’t see a CEO here, and an unhoused person there.  In truth both could be just as brilliant and resourceful –I learned that too.  God sees people.  Hurting people, joyful people.  People that love and people that hate.  People that pray and people that don’t; and people that don’t let on that they pray.  And God, full of compassion, loves each of us.  God doesn’t love our jobs or our status or our wealth.  God just loves us.  May I see what God sees in people; and may I love like God loves.

 

My Poverty Immersion Experience (4): Just Plain Bored.

Click the links if you’d like to read the first, second, and third posts of this series.

One thing that I did not anticipate to experience was boredom.  On the Friday of our weekend we sent the students, armed only with a one dollar bill, on a scavenger hunt to find directions, a place to stay, food, etc. on the streets of downtown Toledo.  Team members shadowed close behind.  At first, things were quite exciting.  They wandered to the downtown library, asking for directions along the way, to receive further instructions via an email that had been sent to them.

Next was to find food and the nearest soup kitchen seemed reasonable, so off we went.  After the meal was over, everyone looked at each other and following conversation took place:

“What time is it?”

“12:30.”

“Oh…what time are we getting picked up?”

“3:30.”

“Oh…what do we do now?”

This is where I thought the real adventure would begin.  But it was cold…really cold.  There was nowhere really to go but the warm library again.  So the kids pulled their dollars together and bought a deck of cards from the corner store, marched back to the library, and then loitered.  In any normal circumstance, these kids would have been kicked out…and I wish they had.  Turns out the library director knew of our program and let some things slide.  Such a shame.

But…

By even the second day you begin to know who in the crowd is likely homeless.  I wasn’t profiling…I just recognized people.  People at the shelter and at the soup kitchen, all wearing the same clothes of course.  They were scattered throughout the giant library just sitting, just plain bored.  Our loitering around was the poverty experience.  But why?  Can’t they be doing something?  Anything?  There were lots of explanations, some spoken and some not.  Mental illness.  Depressed.  Option-less.  Cold.  There were lots of people in that community structure: the deep-pockets at the lawyers association conference upstairs, the homeless, the high school students getting a lesson in life, and the 34 year-old pastor getting the same lesson.  Some of us had somewhere to go…a purpose…and some of us didn’t.

You can’t force someone out of poverty, I learned that day, but you can at least provide a place to go.  Maybe fighting poverty isn’t really about fighting poverty.  Maybe fighting poverty is providing opportunity and then showing the way to go.

My Poverty Immersion Experience (2): Base Camp

If you’d like more, check out the previous entry in this series.

In the first afternoon of this experience, I was struck with a dilemma.

We were in a free store, welcome to ‘shop’ for the clothes that we would wear for the week.  Four pants, four shirts, and four warm-weather pieces.  Wanting to have a little fun, I scoured the racks for the most outlandish T’s and the ugliest sweaters.  The free store is a ministry of a large homeless shelter, for both men and women.  Residents of the shelter could shop during normal business hours during the week, but the store was open to the community on Saturday mornings.

As I hauled my wool treasures in a clear garbage bag back to our vehicle, I asked a natural question: “So when do we need to bring these clothes back?”  “We don’t” was the answer.  I immediately regretted going the ugly sweater route.  It turned out that in the back of the store were mountains and mountains of clothes.  Taking some of the clothes was actually helping the flow of inventory.  This also meant that while they tried to put the kibosh on some of the “takers” purely on principal and civility, it wasn’t really a big deal if one person was trying to cheat the system…at least in terms of the free store and its merchandise.

You could argue that offering so many things for free kills personal drive and initiative.  The goal, after all, would be for someone to be self sufficient.  That’s not what we experience in so many receiver services funded by the government.  Free stuff can easily lead to dependency.  So is this free store helping or hurting?

Well let’s say that someone were working themselves out of their own poverty.  A huge opportunity has come up: a job interview.  But in preparing for the interview this person realizes they have no deodorant or lack the proper clothes and shoes.  Or let’s say that a single mom in poverty must set aside time to apply for jobs because she first must scour the city to find a way to feed her children.

People need a base camp if we ever want them to climb the mountain.

Now we can argue what that entails: food, shelter, clothing, etc.  And mind you the base camp shouldn’t be such a resort that people forget about the ultimate goal of climbing the mountain, but I don’t know where the line between dependency and initiative exists.  Hell, I don’t even know if there is such a universal line for everyone.  But here’s what I want to say: shame on us if someone is prevented from climbing out of poverty by the society we’ve created.  We got to try to figure this out.

Can I Make a Political Point? But You May Not Like It…

Frustrated with the government shut down?  Tired of inept politicians?  Me too.  And they call themselves representatives!

Here’s what I’m noticing with the political scene in America.  We decide that we like a senator or president, a news sources or a political party…and then we support that person or group till death do us part.  Anyone would admire the commitment, but it also puts the free-thinker in a bad position.

We then become dependent upon that trusted source to be informed.  There’s no way we can truly know what happens in Libya, or what an entire bill includes.  And of course every politician or news agency is being honest and objective.

It would be one thing if we’re constantly arguing over political philosophies, but it doesn’t stop there.  These political philosophies lead us to certain trusted sources of information.  These sources feed us, not just on matters that have to do with political philosophy, but on everything else too.  Soon we take their word on everything and anything, forgetting that we can think through some things for ourselves; and forgetting that not ALL our beliefs match up with ALL of theirs.  Let me give a couple real life examples within the Christian scope (please forgive the generalizations).

A conservative Christian is conservative politically, naturally.  African Americans, though many Christian, tend to be liberal (or at least voted for Obama), which creates a mistrust.  And so this conservative Christian reduces the seriousness of racism, claiming that it’s people making much ado about nothing; or looking for ways to defend someone like George Zimmerman without really knowing the situation.  This example could be made from the other side of the spectrum as well, but let me use another example.

A liberal or progressive Christian is progressive politically, naturally.  Some large corporations, who many have the reputation of being behind the conservative agenda, engage in unethical or even illegal activity to make more cash…creating a mistrust.  Then for this progressive, any rich person is suspect, and any large company must be engaged in some unethical activity.

My point is that we too easily allow ourselves to be led in our thinking and even manipulated.  We too easily pick a side and demonize the other.  We too easily lose all compassion for people that we happen to disagree with; and too easily fail to be open to focus on what can be agreed upon.

So while I’m just as frustrated as you that the government has shut down due to an inability to agree; Americans need to look in the mirror.  Right now, I actually believe the politicians ARE truly representing the people.

 

What Can We Learn from a Government Shutdown?

Government shut doooooooowwwwwn.

Did I do a ton of research on this topic?  You bet I didn’t.  Why?  Don’t need to.  Let me pin the tail on the…uh-hem…

Government needs to act.

Government doesn’t agree on how to act.

Like a good robot, Government shuts down, ala Terminator.

This is a tough thing, because people’s lives will be affected by this, at least life at they knew it.  The thing that many people relied on suddenly became unreliable.  And here’s my point.  I’m not saying that social service agencies can’t help people, because they do.  I don’t want people to suddenly stop being helped, I just want people to stop relying so heavily on a house built on the sand.  Reliance upon the Government can reach religious levels, and that is wrong.

And I’m not just talking about the recipient.  Able-bodied, secret agents of care are asleep at the wheel, especially the kind that believe in a mandate from God to help.  If there is any time to be reminded of this, it’s now.

How Should We Give? I Must Admit, My Politics Are Changing

I’m currently reading Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help by Robert Lupton, and it’s messing with my politics.  The book is not political, mind you, but it strictly appeals to my utilitarian nature.

Does Church charity work?

The answer is complex.  A food pantry does feed, a shelter does house, and a fundraiser does give.  But Lupton asks the simple question that so many of us are not asking.  Does it work for the people it’s supposed to work for?

There are concerns.

Lupton says that giving freely compromises human dignity, dis-empowers recipients, and kills self-will and initiative.  I just cannot deny this.  I’ve seen first hand how people in Haiti have learned to spend all creative energy into begging short-term missionaries (Lupton calls “Christian tourists”).  I’ve seen the first-rated solution to a problem be to wait for the next mission group and ask the eager do-gooders to solve it for them.  A culture of dependency is there.

This book has also exposed my selfish need to help others for my own sake.  I do so much for others, for me.

It’s messing with my politics because I’ve long since believed that we need to give blindly because that’s simply what we’re supposed to do.  But what if I…and we…really cared if it was all working?

What Can Prayer Do…Really?

Praying for peace in a situation like Syria seems so distant.  So removed.

Besides, it’s more of a political thing, right?

What could a few people huddled together for prayer do for an international political crisis?

These situations oftentimes get relegated to the generic, mention-it calls to pray.  I will give plenty of voice to my “world crisis,” but rarely remember to pour out a beckon for God’s hand of intervention such foreign affairs.

It’s weird…there are so many things to pray for, both global and personal, that we result to catch-all prayers to save us all time.

Lord, forgive me.  Forgive us.

What’s something you can target today in prayer?