I have more advantage, allowance, authority, benefit, concession, entitlement, exemption, freedom, immunity,license, opportunity, prerogative and right than you do…and why repentance is a daily need for me.

I write a lot about self awareness, understanding the wake that we leave, discerning how we are experienced by others so that we may more healthily engage with the world around us. Why? So that we can be enlivened by  who we are in Christ. This brings freedom from the world in which we live and equips us to not only continue on this course of understanding but breathe life into others. Jesus is the life. Jesus is this freedom. But, I must admit, that there are things that I am still unaware of. Let me share how….

Many of you who read my blog know me. Be it from college, working together or the town I grew up. But there are still many who have no idea anything about me except for the profile pic on WordPress, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. A blurb here and there, but that’s it. No more. Let me give a brief description. I’m white. Born of German and English decent, white is the color of my skin. I come from a small, very small “village.” Our town has only one stop light, and in the town proper, only 3,000 people. I grew up on a farm, about four miles from that stop light. Our closest neighbors were about a half mile away…all white. I’m an American. Born and raised, one family line came over from Europe just after the Mayflower. The other line came in hopes of a better life away from what Germany was becoming in the 1920’s. I’m also male. And not just any male, a 6’6″ (198cm) male. So I tend to tower over most people, especially in the past two countries I’ve called home, let alone my passport country. To some of you, that may seem normal and hardly noteworthy. But to others, that may cause a bit of anxiety or perhaps, a small amount of fear. Believe me, I’m a little used to it. When I was growing up, if I got too close to some babies, they would begin to cry at the large tower looming over them. But that was babies, not adults. And that was simply about my height, not about anything else. Some of you may have that fear or anxiety for entirely different reasons than just my height.

As I’ve grown in both age and understanding of self, I’ve come to realize that perhaps there is something different about me. Not that my situation is unique by any means. There are several, hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of people very similar to me and my situation. But, there is something about me that I can’t see and have only come to realize in recent years.

You see all those descriptors bring up fear, turmoil, anxiety to various people for various reasons when I walk into different situations. Why? Because I possess a certain privilege that most people in this world don’t have. I have a voice, that millions around the world don’t have because it is oppressed to some degree or another.

Let me take my incredible spouse for example. I take up a massive amount of emotional space in our relationship. So much so, that she has to “shout” in order to be heard. Does she literally have to shout? No, but she does need to become more vocal and more blunt at times. I get self focused and therefore others have to become “louder” in order for me to take notice. When I get emotionally involved, I get animated. Animated for a person who is 5’5″ is one thing. But when you’re 6″6″ tall, animation gets big…and ugly.  When I start to talk with my hands, which happens often, because I’m so large, it can look as though I am super animated, but I’m not. Relatively speaking that is. Because of my height I tend to overlook others, literally. My quiet is shouting to those around me, and that can cause people to “cower” in the corner.    I’m a man, so therefore I am the bread winner. I am the one who has the job while it is assumed her job is keeping the kids and home at bay, right? How far form the truth is that?

When I looked up “privilege” in a thesaurus, these where the strongest synonyms: advantage, allowance, authority, benefit, concession, entitlement, exemption, freedom, immunity, license, opportunity, prerogative and right. Those words, in this context, are powerful and strong…….. and oppressive.

The country in which I currently live is not used to seeing people of a different skin color, so I am stared at quite a bit. Which is uncomfortable. However, because of this color, I am allowed to enter buildings, guarded neighborhoods, off limit spaces no questions asked because it is assumed that because I’m white, I must be important…more valuable than others who are from this country. Because of my passport, there are many countries around the world that I may travel to freely, without a visa or background check simply because of where I am from. When other foreigners inquire of me of what it takes to visit America I can’t help them because we do have strict visa requirements…especially for 3rd world countries.

I see this, now, on a daily basis, where as before growing up, it never occurred to me. Not once did I ever question why certain things just happened for me, until recent years. David E. Fitch posted recently “The 1st thing a white person should say (or confess) concerning white privilege is “uh, I don’t see it” and then ask “Can you help me?

So, I have learned to learn. I have learned that I do not have all the answers, that I don’t know or understand why it will be harder for my daughter in this world than for my two sons. I’ve learned that I need to try, as hard as I can, to understand what life were like if I was shorter, if I was darker, if I was from a country whose currency is so valueless it’s not even traded in the world market. I have learned to learn what I am, so that I can show who I am better. I need to learn what it’s like to be the “other,” so that I may better understand myself in Christ. So that I may understand the areas I don’t understand and repent for what my life has blinded me to. Did God make me a large, white American as a mistake? NO! But it doesn’t mean that because of this I don’t have anything to repent for. I do, and learning that every day, is what God is asking of me…of all of us.

And this is where my heart sinks as I watch the lack of dialogue about what is going on from NFL players refusing to stand for a national anthems to people being banned for wearing too much clothing on the beach, to wars being raged that are hardly talked about on international media.

And again my heart sinks.

Brene Brown writes, “I’ve learned enough about privilege to know that we’re at our most dangerous when we think we’ve learned everything we need to know about it. That’s when you stop paying attention to injustice.

There are so many loud voices out there today that are shouting things back and forth, that we as the Church don’t need to shout. As the Church, we don’t need to be the loudest voice in the world today….no, we need to be the constant voice of today. We need to be the constant voice of love, compassion, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self control, hope, faithfulness, joy and peace even when chaos is running amuck. My prayer is that we will stop shouting, and starting speaking truth. That we will become the Constant Voice that spoke the world into existence. That we will live the Word that became flesh. That we will breathe life into those around us as life was breathed into some dust and earth so many years ago. And that we will be the voice of peace. Let us be the bearers of peace, dear Jesus. Amen.

be blessed today

 

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Are You Allowing Your Heart To Speak?

The radio just isn’t something I listen to. I mean the actual radio, as in tuning into a certain channel for the morning show, or Oldies, Jazz, Top 40, etc. Partly because here it’s too hard to try to understand in my limited Mongolian. Even in Russia, where we lived for 11 years and were both fluent in Russian, it was a strain. Just not enjoyable. I do purchase a ton of music though. My song list of 3,067 songs (I know, not many compared to most) is pretty eclectic to say the least.  There are songs I simply enjoy as they bring back memories, or simply transport me to another place. There are other songs that are simply there as an intro, a prelude, to another song I enjoy. Some are for running, cycling and working out, and others are for relaxing and sleeping. It just depends.

And then there are the songs. Not just the songs but the songs. They move me to tears, especially as of late, but perhaps not why you may think. One song is a classical song. No words, no lyrics, no voice. Simply just instruments that for whatever reason, usher in something that is a “peace that passes all my earthly understanding” and gives me a sense of hope. I listen to it over and over again, and if a symphony or orchestra is playing it too quickly, I just won’t listen unless it is played in the correct tempo. Perhaps I’m a little too picky 🙂

The other song, sometimes played right after the one I mentioned above, is a loud electric indie song that I play over and over fairly loudly. It has lyrics, but the lyrics are not what draw me to tears. Though I sing them, yelling them at times, it’s not the words that I’m drawn to. It’s the emotion-it’s the intensity. The emotion of the song is what brings out the sometimes guttural cries from my heart. It’s the emotion and intensity of the music that brings me to tears the past two years because it’s as if my heart is crying out with just as much intensity.

Why? Why cry? Why is my heart shouting out with such intensity, such passion?

Grief.

Two years ago, we were gong through a fog, a time of confusion, a journey through the forest with no clear picture of where the path was. God was leading us away from Russia, we knew that. But what we didn’t know was where God was leading us to. It was before we knew God was leading us to Mongolia. But since we knew God was leading us away, it was a time of grieving what we were losing. I, of course, didn’t really have a full grasp on what I was feeling. I went to our intimate church body one night, and during the time we were singing songs to God, my heart began to cry out in these deep, moans and yelling. Tears were streaming down my face, yet I couldn’t explain where this was coming from or why. Even though I am an emotional guy, it still didn’t make sense.

Processing this with Iris and my spiritual director, both people whom have experienced/experience deep grief, they both believe that’s what that expression was….a grieving heart. My grieving heart. It was grieving the goodbyes, the “what will no longer be” moments and things that we were leaving. My heart had been in mourning, and was trying to make it’s voice heard. It needed to grieve, it needed to be heard and not suppressed. In order for my heart to grieve, it had to speak up, yell, shout….groan deep from within so that I could finally notice it was even there, and then I could allow it to grieve.

Because of this, I’m learning to allow my heart to grieve more often. There have been some changes that I have been walking through recently (future posts, I’m promise) that are bringing about loses in my life that I am grieving. Life is a series of starts and endings, constants and losses. In my mind, when we left Russia, the loss was over, everything else is too small to grieve. And I’m here to tell you that this is a lie. It’s not true. All losses are losses. And all losses need to be grieved. Going from needing to be swaddled up to being able to walk; being at home most of the day with our parents to heading off to school; even from siting on our parents lap while they read us a book to us going off by ourselves to read on our own-these are all things we became accustomed to that turn into losses. And it’s ok, it’s just a part of life. Some of us are better at engaging with the losses than others. Suppression of the losses, however, is never good. That causes us to miss something, to lose something. And that “something”? That, that is celebration.

In his book, The Needs of the Heart, Chip Dodd writes, “…If we can grieve well, we will live euphorically. Euphoria means to bear life well. If we can love in the midst of knowing that we can lose this person or this passion, what a treasured experience the daily life with the beloved is. Every day we choose them, knowing that our time on the earth is limited, no matter what. Every day we can find gratitude to be with them. And then when they are gone, we know that we were fully present while life was happening. The only way to be present with the beloved is to be able to live in the midst of grief and celebration. Not only do we need to grieve, we also need to the opportunity to grieve.

But grieving isn’t just about losing someone. It could be losing that job, or moving to another town. You’re losing things that you’ve known, grew comfortable in, things that you enjoyed. Not that you won’t find things similar again, you probably will, but you wont have those things that you had before.

Michael Phelps, the world’s greatest and most decorated Olympian athlete proved how capable he was in his final Olympic appearance this past August in Rio. In an interview I watched of him he said “I knew this was the last one…the last time getting in the pool, the last time putting on a suit, the last time getting into the cool down pool.” He said “that’s why I was more emotional in these games than in London [four years prior].” Here, he was able to engage in the losses, the “lasts,” the “never more will be’s.” I  have incredible respect for him because of the gold medals, but I have even more respect for him because he is willing to go to the hard places that many don’t go-engaging in the grief. Because of this, he was able to celebrate his victories, accomplishments, prizes and he was able to show gratitude for all that he learned in the process. That is celebration as God intended.

I believe one reason why this election year has been so divisive between followers of Jesus is because many of us don’t know how to engage with grief. We all know that this country has changed from what it was when we were younger. It doesn’t matter whether this is your first election or your 18th (making you at least 90 years old), things have changed. We also know that things will be different after this November, and we are having a hard time grieving our losses. Losses aren’t bad, per se, if we engage in them. When we engage them,  we grow by learning a lot about ourselves, each other and God. But we must engage our grief.

Engaging in our grief is what allows us to celebrate. It allows us to become more gracious people, more thankful people, more honest people and more vulnerable people. Not just towards each other, but towards ourselves and towards Christ.

As I engage with grief of losses more these coming days, will you join me in engaging with yours as well? Perhaps in a month or so, I’ll be able to write about those things I have been able to celebrate. It would be wonderful if you could also write about your celebrations also. I’ll be asking for those things at some point on here, but for now, let’s walk the hard road of engaging our grief and letting our hearts speak out, maybe for the first time. Let’s take that first step together……

be blessed today…..and in those hard days to come

 

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Are You Living a Life of Urgency or Importance?

I got a lot of things done yesterday and by the time I had finished cleaning up after dinner, I was tired. Really tired. So, today, I’m taking a bit of a slower morning by sipping on some coffee we roasted the end of last week, and looking out on the snow capped mountain just a mile to the South. Yes, snow, we got a dusting or so last week and it has stuck around. I’m thankful for the view from our 15th floor apartment. True, there are buildings being constructed which will hinder our view a bit, but it’s still nice. Especially when it gets closer and closer to winter and the sunlight is minimal to the South. But, I digress….

I was sitting here sipping on this wonderful Ethiopian coffee reflecting on urgent things and important things. I was challenged recently (in a book) to really examine what is urgent and what is important every day. There are a million things (ok, admittedly an exaggeration ) that seem to be urgent these days. The fact that we are uber connected with 4g, wifi, phones, computers and everything else, it’s hard to escape from the “urgent.” Don’t get me wrong, there are urgent things, emergencies they’re called, where we have emergency numbers like 911 in my home country. Yes, there is a reason for them. But it seems that things that we were “forced” to wait on, to think on, to sleep on, back when I was younger, have been thrust into the “urgent” category today. Thinking back to biblical times, it may take months to receive a message. Or perhaps during the 40’s, it would be a phone call that was delayed or perhaps a telegram. But today, today urgent things take place multiple times a day, and come through a variety of different means. Oh the “urgent.”

I don’t know why, this urgency. Perhaps it makes us feel important. Or, we may feel needed. Maybe we feel that if we are in the know, we have more power or control. Who knows. But it seems to me that “urgent” may not equal “important.”

For example, our oldest son (G-dawg) is in sixth grade, middle school, and has started playing volleyball. He’s super excited about playing a sport and loves that he gets to play other schools. He played soccer for a short season when he was five and a little when he was seven, but for the most part, he’s never really played on a sports team. Last week I was in and out of meetings trying to nail down a spot for a branch of our cafe and roasterie. We had been meeting with a land owner and going back in forth on negotiations for three weeks. There was another meeting that was called that would have conflicted with my son’s game. The meeting was urgent. It had been three weeks after all, and we wanted to finally get something signed and move forward. But, I would have missed G’s game (outwardly he’s embarrassed when mom and dad are there because we cheer fiercely, inwardly…he loves it ;). So, I had a choice. Take the urgent thing…or engage with the important thing. I made the choice to postpone the conversation until another time. And, I’m glad I did, it was a great game and they ended up winning. And a day later, the contract was signed and we could move forward.

I would love to say (because I’m a prideful person) that I make the choice for the important things more times than not, but I don’t. It’s more accurate for me to say that I allow the urgent to dictate my life. Then, I blame the times with family missed on being a victim of the urgent. When instead I could chose the important and be thankful for what I have in those moments, leaving the not-really-urgent “urgent” things for a more opportune time.

That was a small example, I know. But there are times when we need to chose what is important, not what is urgent. Urgency and urgent things will never end as long as there are people who live on this earth, and especially, if technology continues to progress like it has. Urgent things will also fade and become less urgent, just like our technology does. What was hip, cool and top of the line today, will soon be forgotten when the next model comes out in four months. So it is with urgent things-they will get sorted out and soon, they won’t be urgent anymore. This idea is along the same lines of worrying and what Jesus mentions in Luke 12. He says “By worrying, who can add a single hour to your life?” Which, is a really good question. I know how many hours it can take away when I scour the internet searching for that “urgent” thing, or take that “urgent” call….and it’s a lot. Those are hours I cannot get back, no matter how hard I try.

This is part of changing our daily narrative, what I wrote about last week. Just like the Ethiopian coffee I’m drinking, one degree in temperature can make a massive difference in the flavor of the coffee, so can making small changes in our daily narrative. They can have huge impacts in the larger story of our lives and legacy. So raise your glass-here’s to us to start making small changes!

What about you, have you seen small changes making massive impacts? Share your story, it helps us all grow!

be blessed today

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Can You Change Your Daily Narrative?

I just went to the market. I got vegetables, eggs, yogurt, milk, butter, ham and fruit. Oh, and canned tomatoes. Nothing big. Traffic was horrible, but not unusual for this time of day. It was the afternoon and I was coming home from work, after all. I had to pay the guard at the parking lot to park there. I came home, parked the car and unloaded the groceries along with grabbing my messenger bag which had my computer and a few mock ups of a new cafe space we’re moving into. The kids have extracurricular activities today so they will be home later than usual, and as soon as they are, it will be a fury of homework, lunch making for tomorrow, changing out of school clothes and then eventually playing outside. After that, dinner, showers and then off to bed. Yes, this is literally what I just did.

That little narrative probably sounds fairly similar to most of you. Change up a few of the details, but I’m confident most of you can relate to this fairly orchestrated rhythmed day. If I give you more detail, it may sound a little strange. Let’s see…..It was an open air market; some of the food I purchased may come from some shady countries that could be illegal to purchase from in my passport country (the fact that I just said passport country); traffic is bad because the police don’t really understand how to direct traffic; I paid the guard 500 tugrik (that’s the currency here and is worth about $0.22); I parked the car in the underground parking lot of our 16 story apartment building that we live in; I had to carry the groceries from one end of the five building complex’s parking lot to the other, through the underground network of hallways to our elevator; the kids ride in a seven passenger soviet era bus across the city to their international school made up of only 15% non-Mongolians. Does it sound a little odd and off to you?

It probably does. But if you look at the larger picture with the finer detailed pulled out, i”m sure it’s similar to what we go through every single day. It may be in a different city or country than you, but there is a rhythm we each have to our lives. As with anything, that rhythm is really nice…but it can also become mundane, boring, bland, colorless, mute, dull, humdrum and banal. We tend to look around from time to time and think “is this it? I guess so, I’ll just keep trotting along” and we miss the opportunity to thrive. Sure living this way is good, there are times we need to persevere and be persistent even though it may seem boring. And yes, there are times in our lives where there won’t be the excitement of starting something new. Instead there will be maintaining what we have. And, that’s ok. It’s part of life. There are seasons in our lives. We have times that ebb and times that flow.

But just because we are persisting and maintaining doesn’t mean it has to be a mindless task or brainless job. Some of the most intelligent and well read people I have ever met had “ordinary” jobs. They were elementary school teachers, farmers, construction workers, factory line employees, tv repair people, delivery drivers, secretaries, home makers, and others similar to these. The difference is what they did with each day. From what I have seen and can understand, they didn’t allow their rhythmic life to become mundane. They found new ways to be creative, to allow their creativity to come into each and every new day. Well, perhaps not every new day, but a majority of them.

It’s not all unicorns and rainbows in my life either. I get into my ruts and blandness of towing the line. But, thankfully, I have people, books and Jesus to remind me to bring creativity, my creativity, into each day. Jeremiah writes in Lamentations that Gods mercies are new every morning, just like each sunrise and sunset. I am thankfully reminded from time to time that just because I need to maintain whatever task I’m doing, or persist through whatever difficulty I’m going through, it doesn’t mean that it has to be boring. If it’s anything that I’ve learned these past few years is that our God is anything but boring and mundane. We are given the chance, each day, to write our story, change our story, or build upon our story. Perhaps today you can join me in choosing to be creative, choosing to bring your own creativity into the mix of the day and see what washes out. What do you think?

I’d love to hear, and think it would be an encouragement to us all walking this journey, to share on here what creativity you brought to your days this coming week. It spurs us on to living this life more to the fullest!

be blessed today

 

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