Tag Archives: life

Politics, Violence & Blame: is Trump responsible for the violence?

Donald Trump.pngI was recently listening to the radio (yep, I’m that old) and heard about the violence outbreak at the canceled Trump rally in Chicago.  I also then saw news headlines and commentators saying Donald Trump was responsible for the violence.

This got me thinking.  A dangerous thing to do in the midst of our current political climate.  But still, it got me thinking.  And in my thinking I began to wonder to what degree is Trump responsible, or not responsible, for the violence associated with his campaign and at the rallies.

As a teacher I remember some students who had stolen money from a kid who was selling candy bars. “It wasn’t my fault!” they said. “He left the money out where I could see it.”  Huh?

As a leader, I am responsible for my actions.  And my words are a part of my actions.  I am able to use my words to build people up. Encourage others and challenge them to live out the Gospel.  Love, the kind of love Jesus calls us to, compels me to use my words and my actions in a way that creates helpful urgency and still lowers anxiety.

In an election year, all the candidates have a choice to make about how they will use their words.  And Donald Trump has been a master, all along, of using language to his advantage. He is a master at communication. His sentences are simple. They provoke strong emotions. He speaks from an assumption of agreement. And he almost always stays on message.

However, and you knew this was coming, right?  However, one of the roles of differentiated leader is the ability to remain less anxious in the midst of anxiety.  And as a less anxious leader, the system you are part of becomes less anxious through your less anxious presence.  

Through his masterful use of language, Trump has created a compelling case for urgency.  He has also, through his masterful use of language, added to the anxiety that is already present in our culture today.

In fact, I believe Trump has been irresponsible with his language.

But that doesn’t answer the question.  Even as just a candidate at this point, Donal Trump has a responsibility to use language well – in a way that builds, challenges, exhorts and encourages.  But does irresponsibly adding to anxiety make him culpable for the violence?

Unless there is a gun to my head, nobody makes me do anything.  Not even the devil.  I choose to speed when I go over the speed limit.  I choose to gossip when I share juicy news.  I choose to be selfish when I am not generous.  Nobody makes me.

In other words, nobody makes me act violently.  Or, do they…?

When a system (think family, congregation, city or nation) is already highly anxious, and a leader intentionally sabotages that system by intentionally increasing emotional anxiety, that leader is culpable.  There has to be a level of responsibility assigned.

And yet, nobody makes anybody act violently.  Each violent act perpetrated by an individual capable of personal agency, is personally responsible for his/her own actions. When those actions are not rooted in Love – love for God and love for others – in a way in which we will and act for the good of others – those actions are then self seeking and are initiated in order to assert our will over others.

Violence.

So, is Trump responsible for the violence?  Yes.  And no.  Donald Trump is responsible for how he has led in this election year, for the way he has conducted himself and for how he has added to the anxiety in our already highly anxious country.

But.  So are we.  We each make choices.  We each live our lives.  And today we live in an election year where we are making deep lines in the sand.  We are defining ourselves as either for Trump or against Trump. And when we do so, we also add to the anxiety.

I wonder… What if we choose to define ourselves differently?  What if, like the angel who appeared to Joshua, we were neither for nor against Trump.  What if we defined ourselves by something bigger, more important than politics or personalities.

What if we chose to define ourselves by love.  What if we defined ourselves by the Gospel this election year.  What if we defined ourselves as being for the “other” in our midst.

In the Fall we will cast our votes and we will elect a new president.  But more than voting, we have an opportunity to rise above the fray of campaigns and live lives of love.  We don’t need to let the anxiety of the candidates determine our behavior.

We can love. 


Sometimes Being Stuck Is Good

stuck in mudMany years ago.  Many.  Six of us took a guys trip to the national forest in Colorado camping.  It was a father-son trip.  Two dads a little older than me each brought their sons and I brought my dad.  We drove to Colorado in an old van that didn’t have all its seats.

In Colorado we rented a Jeep Wrangler to play with in the wilderness.  We were set. 1 big expedition style tent, cots, bags, food, fishing poles, the jeep and more food.  The weather was amazing, the sky so clear at night.  I had a pile of books I read sitting in the mountains.  It was an amazing trip.

On the trip we took the jeep everywhere.  There were six of us and the jeep held 4.  We didn’t care, we doubled up and put all of us in the jeep.  

One evening we went out on some 2 track trails through the forested mountainside.  Several times we had to gun it to get through some deep, slushy mud.  It was muddy and it was fun!

Cruising down a hill and a quick turn to the left brought us to a stop, however.  Before us was a good 40 – 50 yards of deep, wet, fun looking mud!

John is driving and my dad is in the front seat next to him.  “Do we go?” John asks looking at me with a grin on his face.  His son Daniel is on my lap and Mike, sitting next to me, has his son on his, “I’m not sure we can make it” he says.  My dad is quiet.

“Yes, let’s do it!” I exclaim.  My dad turns and looks at me, “I thought I raised you smarter than that,” he says with a smile.  “I’m just like you, dad!  Let’s go!”

We make it half way.  Not even close before we spin to a stop.  Mud is up to the floor boards and the wheels have nothing to grip.

Climbing out we are all over our knees in mud.  It’s glorious.  Driven by our anxiety, immediately a flurry of talking erupts about how we are going to get unstuck – Nobody is excited about walking miles back through the wilderness to a real road to find help.  Prospects of getting unstuck on our own looks slim.

Pushing forward and backward and forward and backward. Back and forth and back and forth with mud flying everywhere. No progress except to be covered in mud!  “Let’s stop trying,” I say.  “When else can we just enjoy being stuck in the mud in the middle of something so beautiful, look around us!”

And it was beautiful.  Gorgeous.  But we were so hopelessly focused on getting unstuck we couldn’t see it.  The beauty in the mud.

We caught our breath.  We breathed.  We laughed at our mess.

Whenever we get stuck – spiritually, in life, in doubt, in messes – we tend to work really hard to get unstuck.  Being stuck can be scary.  Its uncertain how things might turn out.  We have doubts and our doubts scare us.

Does God care?  What if I don’t survive?  I don’t think even God can fix this.  I don’t think God even loves me enough to care!

Our stuckness and doubts can be really uncomfortable and we want to get out as soon as we can.  We want to feel safe, be secure and know everything is always going to be ok.

But sometimes our doubts – our places of stuckness – are exactly where God wants us to be.  More often than not, those are the most beautiful places.  And the mud isn’t dirty, it glorious. Messy and glorious go together. 

Putting the jeep in 1st gear, we slowly drove ourselves out of the mud.  We were unstuck but the adventure was over.

It isn’t until we stop striving against our circumstances that Jesus shows up and lifts us out.  The same Jesus who cried out, “My God! My God! Why have your forsaken me!” is the one who loves you enough.

Do you have doubts?  That’s ok – so do I.  Are you stuck?  Me too.  Let’s be stuck together.


A Gift of Shalom

Craig and I sharing an Astro's game together - they lost...

Craig and I sharing an Astro’s game together – they lost…

It was just a little past noon when I pulled up in front of their home. Graciously, Craig and Trisha were going to allow me to mooch off of them for no less than NINE days. Nine days of sitting in the dinning area at meal times. Nine days of sprawling out on the living room sofa. Nine days shuffling the order of cars in the driveway, showers, coffee, meals, conversation and life. Nine days of letting someone you don’t really know that well, and have never lived with before, move in and live with you.

But they did much more than LET. And while I was technically a guest in their home, I was never really a guest. It was more than that. It was richer, and deeper. It was shared fellowship that blessed me greatly.
I was going to be in Texas for nearly two weeks. Away from family soon after dropping my oldest off at Hope College. Most of that time would be spent getting training in some marriage therapy before participating in a Faithwalking Retreat with other pastors from the RCA and CRC. Rather than spend those first nine days in a hotel, I did what I do – I invited myself over to the to someone’s house! In this case, the home of Craig and Trisha Taylor.

I know Trisha well through Ridder Church Renewal (an RCA/CRC initiative) and had met Craig once. As soon as I stepped into the house, I was not only given a key and full access to the kitchen, where I taught them how to make double crust stuffed pizza, but I was also given the gift of shalom.

It was shalom in the sense that while I was away from my family, I was given much more than “guest privileges.” At no time did I sense I was tolerated, but was made to feel that my presence in their home mattered.

What was on my heart, mattered to them. And as they would share, it was done in such a way that what was on their hearts mattered to me. I had access to who they were and they had access to who I am. When Craig and I were told we were on our own for dinner, we spent hours sitting at the table sharing long after the pulled-pork sandwiches, and although my backside was sore from sitting, the experience of shalom kept us glued to where we were. Shalom.

Throughout the following days we would laugh, watch sports, talk music and movies, go to the coast and eat out; but there was always more. There was a shared sense of meaning and the work of God in our lives.
The gift of hospitality is much more than a bed or some food. The gift of hospitality creates space where lives intersect, can be accessed by others and shared in such a way that shalom develops.

Depending on the version you read, the Bible calls this “entertaining” one another (Hebrews 13). But our culture today has hijacked that to mean something trivial – having a “good time.” Not that having a good time is bad, I’m all about that! But to be hospitable, entertaining one another, is so much more. In Romans 12:10 we are told to be devoted to one another, prefer one another; and, when the occasion arises, entertain one another.

I wonder what it would look like if the CHURCH were more entertaining. Not with light, music, programs and parking lot greeters; but in the deeper sense of the word. What if the church was about the business of creating the safe places necessary for others to experience the Shalom of God?

I wonder what our world would look like…


Who Goes First?

stop signAt 7:50pm 4 cars came to the intersection at roughly the same time.  I was second. The first driver was to my left and made a left hand turn.  As he cleared the intersection, I began to cross the intersection. I was second.  My daughter and I had just left the gym after working out, we were tired, thirsty and in desperate need of showers.  We were heading home when the lady from my right pulled out in front of me to cross the intersection.

At that moment you would have been hard pressed to find any love at the corner of Ravine and Nichols in the Kalamazoo area!  My windows were up and the air conditioning on so I don’t know what it was she was yelling out her window.  But as I uttered inside the confines of our 2001 Subaru Forester (180,000+), “Not your turn,” I could tell by the look on her face that she was maybe more angry than I was.

But, it was MY TURN! 

Have you ever noticed how often we think about it being “my turn?”

It’s my turn for a promotion at work. It’s my turn to go first. It’s my turn to be successful. It’s my turn to get the biggest piece. It’s my turn to use the car. It’s my turn to get… You get the picture right?

Ironically, just yesterday morning I had a conversation with some amazing people looking at how to live a more mission/other minded life and what it looks like to create more loving spaces in the mundane places of our lives.  It’s hard to live a life of love when we are focused on MY TURN.  In the book of Philippians, Paul reminds those of us who have been deeply impacted by Christ’s love to be more concerned with OTHERS than ourselves.  Here are the words he uses in chapter 2:3-4:

Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.

In spite of all the rhetoric about love wins, our culture is making it increasingly more difficult to live a life that is other focused and rooted in love. In fact, today Tim Cook and Apple will tell me that the new iPhone 6 I got two months ago is now obsolete, that my iPad is too small and that AppleTV is a real necessity!  Technology isn’t bad. That’s not what I am saying.  Our culture, however, continues to disciple us into thinking and behaving more and more individually and in self-centered ways.

But I am responsible for how I live and love – not culture.  I can make choices about who I want to be and the way I want people to experience me.  And last night there was a stranger who didn’t experience love while crossing an intersection.  Last night, without thinking, I also discipled my daughter teaching her to be as self-centered and unloving as I was.

I don’t have to be selfish.  I don’t have to be self-centered.  Because of Christ’s work in me I can choose to be different.  I can be transformed by the renewing of my mind. I have this amazing partner, the Holy Spirit, who helps me learn to lead myself.

Who will you be today? Will you choose with me to love someone you otherwise might not want to?


My Prayers Grew With Him

michael

October 31, 1996 (Halloween), two days after his birth, I drove him and his mother home from the hospital.  During that drive I prayed.  And I prayed what I thought to be the most profound prayer ever prayed by a new father.  I prayed, God, don’t let me get in an accident and kill him on our way home!  I don’t know how many times I prayed that prayer during the 15 minute drive from the hospital to our home, but it is a short prayer and I am sure I prayed it hundreds of times before pulling into the driveway while the neighborhood was filling with costumed children out trick or treating.

Married for almost 8 years, I barely knew how to be a husband (still…?) much less a dad, and the profundity of my prayer life continued.  When he would be awake at night my prayer was, Lord, help him fall asleep already! I can’t keep my eyes open any longer! Then, after he fell asleep and I would be gently – oh so gently – placing him into his crib my prayers would deepen further into, Ok God, I putting him down now, keep him sleeping…

And, when his eyes would sometimes open after I laid him down I would have two very different, almost conflicting 3:00am thoughts/prayers that went something like this, God, I love this kid! God, do you hate me?!?!

As exhausting as those first years were, especially as sister and brother came along, they didn’t last long. And as Michael grew and developed, so did I.  I grew up as a dad.  Well, somewhat anyway.  What I do know is this, my prayers grew.  My prayers grew with him.

I prayed for his first day of school.  I prayed for tests.  I prayed for him when he got injured.  I prayed for forgiveness when I blew it.  I prayed he would forgive me when I blew it.  I prayed for his friends.  I prayed as the years went by.

My prayers grew from a starting place of praying for the immediacy of having his needs met (food, sleep, safety, love & shelter) in order that I might have some short term peace, to a place of learning to pray more deeply, for things of more significance and for the longview of his life.

My prayers grew in substance.  Today Michael is an amazing young man enrolled as a freshman in college and my prayers for him are much different.  I do pray for the immediate things still – that he would study hard, learn well, make incredible friends, be exposed to all sorts of great challenges that shape him, etc… But more than that, I pray for longterm fruit of the spirit in his life, for him to give himself to something significant, life giving and helps better the world God so loves.  I pray for lasting joy that overcomes in hardship and trial.  I pray that he would live in, and be a sharer, of the Shalom of God.

My prayers, they grew with him.


Learning Leadership From Horses…?

Craig & Demo2Demo was one of the seven horses we would take out on our ride that day. None of the horses, mind you, were your standard “trail ride” horses that just follow nose to tail while your butt gets sore for an hour. A mustang caught from the wild in Utah, Demo was different. Head strong, independent and a leader in the herd, Demo used to be called Demolition Man – you can figure out why. And I was about to ride him!

But before I could ride him, Craig (our host at Shiloh Ranch – a ministry to ministry families) needed to bring him in. But Demo wasn’t about to let a lead rope be put around his neck and head. He wasn’t about to submit to Craig. Craig wasn’t the leader, wasn’t in charge – Demo was. It took some time for Craig to get Demo separated from the rest of the horses into the smaller corral.

And there I saw a lesson for how God leads us.

Craig would get Demo moving in one direction around the corral by applying pressure. He did this by pointing, using his voice and waving the rope. He never hit Demo, didn’t abuse Demo and never became aggressive with Demo. After he would make several loops in one direction, applying pressure Craig would steer him in the opposite direction. Craig would do this with Demo several times and then he would suddenly stop and lower the rope, his arm and his face so he wasn’t looking at Demo at all.

He waited.

And when Demo didn’t respond, the whole exercise took place again. Sometimes the rhythm was different. The amount of time spent in one direction over another would change. And when it wasn’t expected, Craig would stop – and wait – until Demo moved.

Toward Craig.

Not immediately taking control by slipping the lead rope around the horses neck and head, Craig did something that made me curious. He wrapped his arms around Demo’s neck, nuzzled his cheek against the horse and gently loved on the beautiful mustang. Only then did Craig slip Demo’s lead rope on.

In those ten minutes I saw in Craig and Demo how God has time and time again been at work in my life.

Directing Demo in the corral was consistently done with deep respect for Demo: looking at him the right way, keep a proper distance, using his voice gently and firmly and never frightening or demeaning the horse. And then, when Craig would stop and lower his head, it was an invitation for Demo to draw near. And, when he was ready, he did.

God will often, with amazing love and respect, direct our lives by his Voice, with his hand or with circumstances. But God never forces himself upon us. And, when it is time, God invites us, again, to draw close to him – toward intimacy and purpose.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Mt 11:28-30

I wonder how God is inviting you to draw near to him today? And for what purpose?

Demo’s purpose that day was to give me a ride through some of the most beautiful countryside. And we had fun!


Really?!?

Justine decided several of the children should ride the bus with us

Justine decided several of the children should ride the bus with us

Really! It was always said as a statement, never as a question.  There would always be a certain musical playfulness to her sarcasm as she spoke with a British influenced Ugandan English.

It didn’t take long and this young lady of 23 was feeling very comfortable with the dozen “mzungus” under her care.   Laughter, joy, depth, passion and love filled the conversations and time we spent together.  And, at the end of our stay, some “leaking” as well.  You know what leaking is, right?  It’s when water leaks out of your eyes…  🙂  We would all learn a lot from Justine; and Justine would also learn a lot from us:  

About Love.

When the 12 of us showed up at the Katuba Care Point, it was clear Justine was the person in charge.  It was also immediately clear that she loved the children at the care point – a lot.  And very quickly, it seemed, Justine developed a great love for the 12 of us – and I think that caught her by surprise.

Abandoned by her father so early in life she never knew him, Justine told herself a story that he had died and that’s why he wasn’t around.  When she was only 11 Justine’s mom died leaving her and her sister to beg neighbors for food.

But God’s love wouldn’t leave Justine and her sister on the streets and they became sponsored through Compassion International where Justine was clothed, fed, cared for and discipled into a relationship with Jesus.  It was a hard life with lots of pain and heartache.

But Jesus was faithful to his words in John 6:39 that he will “lose none” that the Father would give him!

DSC_0500

Justine & Michelle… Btw, Justine likes fried ants, but Michelle can’t get them down 🙂

Justine, would eventually graduate from college with a degree in social work, get connected to a ministry called Reach One Touch One Ministries through which she was called into Children’s Hope Chest and the Katuba Care Point.  (Ok, so that was a couple of decades of life summarized in a few paragraphs!)

With some pretty deep wounds and a low level of trust for others – especially men – Justine began the difficult work of establishing a discipling care point in the village of Katuba for 118 children being sponsored by people she didn’t know.  And she fell in love with the children.  Raising up volunteers from the village, recruiting a cook, working with teachers and care takers, creating a discipling process and managing all the day to day details – Justine has sacrificially created a vital ministry in partnership with the Holy Spirit.

And mzungus from Haven Church.

I learned what sacrificial love looks like by watching Justine and hearing her story.  I saw how she cared for each child.  I also saw how each of the children knew, with confidence, that even if nobody else did, Justine loved them.  It also became clear early on, that Justine loved the 12 of us.  Just as deeply as she loved the kids.  And I think that happened by day 2!

Even though the people who were supposed to love and care for Justine left her early on, while we were in Uganda with her, Justine discovered it might be okay to love and trust a group of people who would also have to leave.  She experienced the deep joy that comes in risking it all in relationships.

The night before we left, Justine had a letter for us she knew she couldn’t read, so she gave it to Nanette to read (one of us). Nanette “leaks” with a good tv commercial, so she passed it, and her reading glasses, to me to struggle through.  In her letter Justine shared her heart with us, what she saw in, and learned from, each one of us.

Because God is redeeming the broken places in Justine’s life, she is one of the brightest, smartest, funniest and gifted leaders I know.

In the book of Philemon, Paul talks about being a spiritual father to Onesimus.  Because of God’s grace, I get to be a spiritual father to Justine.