Eyes Blinded

It was pretty easy to ignore. I mean, why not, right? I could simply just not pay attention. I could simply just not read, watch, listen….But then, what would be the point? I lived overseas, and really, could have completely turned a blind eye to the happenings in my passport country (the country I was born in). And, with everything that has happened in the last 12 years, some say that would have been wise. But would it?

I didn’t want to forget about my family and friends who were still there. I didn’t want to forget that that was the country that I was from. And, I didn’t want to get rid of that part of my identity. It was part of who I was and am today. Just like being a son, husband and father. It’s a part of my story. So, I made my homepage a news feed that collected stories from all over the world, making the world headlines the top of the page, the States-my passport country- second and then onto other headlines, science, sports, entertainment, etc. It continues to be my homepage. I stay on top of not only the news internationally, but cultural changes and shifts here in the States. Even though we have moved back, I desire to stay abreast as to what’s going on.

My desire is for my world to get bigger, as I mentioned in the last post.  It’s no secret that racism is alive and growing here in the States. Since Charlottesville, I have read social media posts as they flurried about, watched reactions, listened to interviews, etc. Though there were several of the people I interacted with that were willing to take what has been  happening head on and engage with it, there have been as many people that wanted to stop reading, hearing and watching about all the “bad news” and “negativity” that was going on.

Yet when negative and bad and hard are the reality, what do we do? We could turn a blind eye toward it, never talk about it, stopping our conversations with the weather and never engage passed that. We could. We could say “it isn’t that bad” or “it’s just the media going crazy” and pretend like it is no big deal. And, our world and perspective of Christ can remain small. But why?

Admitting that it is hard, that what is happening is chaotic, that the racial tension and divide is bad, is not allowing that reality to govern us or even have power over us. It is admitting that there is massive brokenness in this world, dark sin, incredible hurt, and pain. Lots of pain. We are allowing ourselves to not only see, but to also feel. We are allowing the realities of the brokenness of this world effect us. And yes, in many cases it won’t feel good, nice, pleasant or even comfortable. Pain isn’t comfortable. And yet, neither is love. With love comes pain. Letting our guard down, opening our eyes and seeing, isn’t just about seeing all the pain, it’s also allowing others to feel for us, love us,  Jesus to love us. It’s allowing  Jesus to care for our deepest wounds, and for us to show love by caring for someone else’s deepest wounds as well.

There are mammoth wounds and hurt in this world, and we cannot become part of the solution unless we are willing to face those realities.  We cannot entertain others love without also entertaining their pain. Henri Nouwen once wrote that our hearts need to have the room to show hospitality to others. That our hearts should be living rooms, welcoming other people with their stories of joy and loss, happiness and woundedness. This is, after all, what Jesus has done and continues to do for us. He didn’t ignore me, and I am so very thankful. Perhaps when we open our blinded eyes to the world and allow ourselves to see the pain, only then can we truly love. Perhaps when we see and address the anguish God sees with race against race or rich against poor, can we then show the love Jesus had for us as well. Perhaps the first step, is removing the blinders.

be blessed today

 

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Heads Buried

When I was a youth pastor, I cast the vision and mission of the youth ministry as “Developing students into mature disciples who are passionately pursuing their world for Christ.” I thought it was pretty savvy for a twenty something youth pastor who thought he knew it all. I think I saw then, in that Millennial group, that they were a force to be reckoned with and desired to see them be world changers. And they are.

“Their world” was defined as their school, group of friends, family, community, etc. It was theirs. If at some point their world was broadened on a mission trip to another state or another country, then the mission still stood. It’s just that their world grew on those trips. Or, if it was diving into their broken homes, families and relationships and realizing that there was a hope outside of that dysfunction, then their world grew. It was about growing their world and empowering them with the courage to change it for the better.

Skip ahead a few years, a few cities, countries and continents, and here I am in Oregon. My commute is 45 minutes to Portland every morning. At my exit, there are homeless communities on either side of the exit ramp. They have tents, tarps, carts and what not to survive. They hold up signs as I wait for the light to turn left and head towards my street. Once there, the amount of homeless, pushers, dealers, prostitutes and what not continue, up and down the street where I work. I often find a few homeless sleeping under the awning of my building. I am more aware now of what goes on in the shadows, in the sunlight and in the back alleys of this world than I was 15 years ago. And so are my children.

And yet, though I can see those things, there are others who I have spoken with, others who live in Portland, have traveled those roads and streets, and yet have never seen those tents. They’ve never seen the tarps, carts, barefooted prostitutes walking with her pimp and dealer down the street to get a coke at McDonald’s. They have never seen those people and situations, though they’ve lived in Portland most of their lives. And I ask, “How? How can others not see?” And, before I put myself on too high a pedestal, Jesus puts me in my place and clearly asks me,  “How is it you can’t see more?

I write a lot about awareness, self awareness, awareness of God around us, awareness of others, and just being aware. The reason is because when we allow ourselves to become more aware of the hurt and pain in our own souls, the hurt and pain and suffering of others around us, aware that we are different than others and others have different perspectives than we do, aware of our own actions and their affects both positive and negative….this is when we grow. This is when our worlds become bigger. This is when we can begin to see Jesus in others and the need for Jesus in our world. Our worlds become…bigger, richer, fuller, more painful, more beautiful and larger than our imaginations. With that comes great reward. With that comes great responsibility. But it all starts with humility in allowing our eyes to see what is right in front of us. Allowing, in humility, to let our guard down, tear down our walls to see what is on the other side. The answer may be more death and decay. It may be. And, simultaneously,  the answer will always be more Jesus.

more to come

be blessed today

The Hard

It’s been hot here. It was forecast to hit 110 Fahrenheit a few weeks ago (not normal), but smoke from wildfires across the state as well as up into Canada, helped keep the sun’s heat down to a mere 108. We escaped to the coast. Down to the southern corner in a little cove of, well, serenity. We went camping. Iris and I where avid backpackers in college, but that wasn’t possible in Russia. And in Mongolia, we did a fair bit of camping in yurts. All of our backpacking gear we left here, and we have been slowly upgrading it to newer items. We’ve also been exploring this whole world of car camping. It’s been a lot of fun, and hopefully, I’ll get to take the kids backpacking soon, maybe next Spring.

I digress.

This little cove of serenity I was talking about… The tide went in and out over 8 and  half feet at some points. We found “hidden” coves where we had to use a rope to climb down to the momentarily exposed beaches (perhaps a kayak or two are needed in the future). One morning, early, when the fog hadn’t fully left the inlet, and the kids and Iris were asleep, I took my coffee and went for a walk to the beach. The water was out a good 100 meters or so as it was the point of lowest tide. I explored. I explored tree trunks that had been there for years, slowly succumbing to the sea. I saw mollusks, crabs and other creatures that were exposed for such a brief time.

And then  I saw veins of hard rock that ran straight up the cliffs and the whole width of the bay. These veins of hard rock were anywhere from a few inches to 2-3 feet high, creating ridges, like you would see in driftwood. The softer, porous rock had eroded away much sooner, and mollusks had attached themselves to these hardened veins. It was…incredible. I so enjoy the early morning thoughts and reflections that come…just like Jesus was standing next to me, drinking a cup of coffee and just waiting there, patiently with me.

This bay was scarred. Scarred and marked from centuries, maybe millennia, of continual thrashing by the waves. The pic above is my oldest walking in one of those scars.And yet, those scars are one of the most beautiful things about that cove. In some of these pocks and holes made by erosion, are where the hermit crabs hid, the anemones, starfish and sea urchins had attached themselves. It’s where the cove really came to life to be honest.

This season that Iris and I have been walking through, we have posed the question “why does it always have to be the hard things?” I’m not sure if you have ever felt that way, but it seems as though we are constantly doing the hard. I know that’s not true. One thing I’ve learned is that when I start using extreme terms (like always, never, every time, constantly, etc.), that is a sign I’m not seeing things objectively. I am caught in a rut and can’t see out to see the bigger picture of it all.

And, another thing I have learned, is that in the hard, that is when we are formed and molded the most. That’s where I learn, that’s where I give pause, reflect, lean into community, lean into Christ….pray…the most. Yes, those things also happen in times of great rejoicing and in times of great calm. But, they most often happen when I’m being tossed and turned by the waves and situations of life. It sucks. I won’t sugar coat it. And for those of you who have gone through it, I think you would agree. And each time, it takes me a while, to finally come to a point of allowing it to happen and allowing God to show me why, as opposed to me trying to figure it out like it was some trigonometry math problem.

I’m not sure where you are in that process, but perhaps this brings you hope. Perhaps it lets you know that you are not alone and you’re not the only person to walk this road. Or, maybe it brought a bit of perspective. Either way, one take away for me…..the beauty is in the scars.

be blessed today

When We Stop To Listen…

I enjoy hearing stories. They may not have the happy ending where everything is tied up in a nice little bow. They may be painful, hard, even uncomfortable to listen to sometimes. But stories, people’s stories, are fascinating to me. And everybody has one. It doesn’t matter how dull or boring you think your life has been, you still have a story. A narrative that runs from your family history, your earliest memories all through the course of time until this moment we’re in.

One of the most interesting parts of this, is that often times as I am listening to someone’s story, it’s as if I become more and more engaged. I learn things about them that allow me to make connections. Cognitive connections of thought in regards to why they live in a certain place, have a certain kind of job, even why they have a certain color of hair. But there are also emotional and human connections where I can identify with parts of their story-similar situations, similar feelings, similar memories-that make them more, well, human.

We’ve all been there. It’s the reason why we like to watch comedies (what’s funny is we can identify with the comedian in a certain way) and/or dramas (same reason). And when we make that connection, we feel valued, heard, acknowledged, respected, not alone. Maybe even loved.

Last week a friend from college was passing through Portland. I was able to contact her and make a plan to get lunch. It’s been, oh, I don’t know, 16 years or so, but thought it would be great to catch up since we’ve been overseas for so long. We met, got lunch and we walked around the college campus she used to work at. We talked about culture, politics, Jesus, Portland, faith and memories of college so long ago. It was good, really good. And, amazingly, I learned something. Her job, at a different campus, deals with sex crimes, seeking  where there is wrong doing and passionately pursuing respect and reconciliation. I listened. I learned. I learned about issues and fears that I don’t have being a white American male. I learned about issues we push for but in the end end up hurting so many people. I learned about how we think we are being Jesus to those around us, but end up doing more harm than good. And I learned about her story as well. There were things I never knew about her 16 years ago, but now, I see why some of these things are such great passions of hers. And, I learned a little more about myself in how I act, relate and engage with different demographics of people.

The guys I work with who are in recovery, giving up a life they knew and taking on fairly humbling jobs to get their life in order, teach me things everyday. So do the mentally disabled, current drug addicts and homeless people that walk into my store everyday. There are those around us on a daily basis who may not even know Jesus, but have so much to teach us if we are willing to learn. When we stop, acknowledge who they are, and hear their story, it’s amazing how much we can learn about life, ourselves…and yes, how much we can learn about Jesus from someone who doesn’t even believe in Him.  I pray we all learn more about Jesus and ourselves this day.

…more to come…

be blessed today

 

take posture of learner, I learned something, humility, etc