Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Home: A Child's Perspective

There's a song by the Talking Heads called "This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)" that begins, "Home is where I want to be . . ." For some reason that opening line from a song popped in my head when I saw this photo of a Syrian refugee girl holding up a drawing she made of the house she longs to return to. Her drawing looks like every child's drawing of home. What this image showed me is the commonality of all children in the world who simply want to grow up in a home and have a normal life.  This is why I don't believe in demonizing any people or thinking of them as "other" than myself. It breaks my heart that there are over 5 million Syrian refugee children according to World
Vision. Over 20,000 children have been killed in Syria. As a Papa to two boys, this breaks my father's heart and I know it breaks the heart of our heavenly Father who sides with the dispossessed, the refugee, and those who are suffering injustice and violence. 

I look at photos of these children and think, "What if that were my child? My son? My daughter?"

How would I feel when I couldn't protect them? When I couldn't comfort them with, "Everything is going to be all right . . ."

I cannot look at these photos (and there are far worse from all of the genocide that is taking place) and not be moved with compassion, to pray, but not just pray, but to act. They desperately need food, clothing, shelter, health assistance, clean water, and hygiene items. How can I turn away from such children? From the people of Syria? From mothers and fathers? From families like my own?

Am I more like the priest and the Levite who moved to the other side of the road and pretended not to see the man suffering in the ditch? Or am I more like the Good Samaritan?

Syrians are our neighbors. Christ has commanded us to love and take care of them not to demonize them as "terrorists" just so we can absolve ourselves from having to act on their behalf. 

They are crying out. Will we listen and heed their cries?  Will we be moved beyond mere sympathy to action?  Christ did and, as his hands and feet now, so should we. 

Look at the faces of the children in these photos. They are living, breathing children like our own. they could be our sons and daughters, our granddaughters and grandsons, our nieces and nephews, our brothers and sisters. They have names and dreams of a better life. 

We must reach out to our elected officials and demand that they act on behalf of the Syrian people. We must be a voice for those who cannot have a voice right now. 

We must continue to pray for them and to pray for the peace of Syria.

We can also act by giving to organizations who help the refugees, such as World Vision (https://www.worldvision.org). There are many things we can do, but we cannot pretend that we do not know. We cannot allow ourselves to ignore the hurting of a people. As Elie Wiesel once wrote, "The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference." As Christians, are we an indifferent people? Or are we filled with the love, compassion and mercy that was exemplified in the Savior we claim to follow?

I am praying that the girl holding her drawing of a home up will get to be in one again, that she will know the love and happiness of her family, of their being safe and together without fear of attack. I pray that we can embrace her, her family, and her people as being a part of our own. 

And, like Gandhi, I pray this prayer:

Please join me in prayer and remember that Sunday, June 26th is National Refugee Sunday, To find out more about this day, please go to:

Monday, June 27, 2016

Poetry & Prayer: Rilke's Book Of Hours

If only there were stillness, full, complete.
If all the random and approximate
were muted, with neighbor's laughter, for your sake,
and if the clamor that my senses make
did not confound the vigil I would keep -

Then in a thousandfold thought I could think
you out, even to your utmost brink,
and (while a smile endures) possess you, giving
you away, as though I were but giving thanks,
to all the living.

Rainer Maria Rilke was a Bohemian-Austrian poet who wrote the Book of Hours, the title of which comes from the Breviary (in many Western Christian denominations this contains the liturgical texts for the prayers that make up the hours of each day), because he found the words to these poems to be like prayers. He wrote them as a dialogue between himself and God. 

Part of the inspiration for these poems came from his trip to Russia, which he called his spiritual "fatherland" and where he was moved by the spirituality he encountered there in the Orthodox Church.  The Book of Hours are comprised of three complete cycles (Of The Monastic Life, Of Pilgrimage, and Of Poverty and Death) of poems which explore his search for God and the nature of prayer. The poems wrestle with belief and doubt in a profound way much like that of the Christian contemplatives. At times full of tenderness and, at others, darkness. Deeply personal. Deeply beautiful. Book of Hours show the poet's rich inner life.

A poem from Book of Hours in Rilke's handwriting

Book of Hours established Rilke as a religious poet, which would culminate in his writing the Duino Elegies between 1855 to 1934.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

In his Letters to a Young Poet, he writes to his young correspondent about the young man's struggles with belief in God. The young man fears he has lost God to which Rilke replies, "Do you suppose that someone who really has him can lose him like a little stone?" He further writes:

Why don't you think of him as the one who is coming, who has been approaching from all
eternity, the one who will someday arrive, the ultimate fruit of a tree whose lease we are?

Rilke's poems have had a huge impact on me ever since I discovered them while working in a bookstore during my college years. I'm not sure what made me take that copy of The Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Stephen Mitchell) down from the shelf. When I opened that copy, the first poem I came across was from the Book of Hours. It was the line, "If you are the dreamer, then I am what you dream" that first resonated with me. Of course, I purchased it immediately and savored each and every poem.

I remember giving a copy of it to a girl I was dating at the time. We had known each other from when we worked at Carowinds, but, at the time, were both dating someone else. Then we happened to run into each other, a couple of years later, at Repo Records where I was buying a copy of Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark. We started talking about music and by the end of the conversation decided to go out. A few months had passed before I gave her Rilke's poems as a present. She unwrapped the book and a tear ran down her cheek. "No one has ever given me poetry before," she admitted, moved by this romantic gesture. "What made you think of giving me this?"

"Because there was a line in his poem 'The Vast Night' that made me think of you." I replied.

Curious, she asked, "And what was that line?"

"Your smile entered my heart," I quoted the last line of the poem. While our relationship did not last, my love for Rilke's poems did and has continued to this day. Even now, I still like to recite lines from that first poem I read:

My soul, dressed in silence rises up
and stands alone before you: can't you see?
Don't you know that my prayer is growing ripe 
upon your vision, as upon a tree?

Both Book of Hours and Duino Elegies (both of which show his insatiable longing for the Divine) are among my favorite works of poetry. Both Rilke and I are introverts and, perhaps it's because of this that I connect to the inwardness of his works. I highly recommend both of these collections to anyone interested in the infinite and transcendental beauty of his words.

Robin Williams reading Rilke's most famous poem "The Panther" in the movie Awakenings

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mother Hens, Wedding Anniversaries, & Vulnerability

It has been twenty-two years since Danelle and I said, "I do" at the altar. Looking at this photo of a very young us, I can't help but think about those rough first two years that could have easily ended our marriage. It took a lot of adjustment, acceptance and growing up on both of our parts (but especially mine). Certainly we come into marriage with unrealistic expectations. We are attracted to our spouse because they remind us of something about our own parents, while at the same time we want them to correct the mistakes that our parents made. So those first years are tough to navigate the "you" and "me" into "we," particularly when you are a solitary person like myself. Two becoming one flesh can be a lot bumpier than an airplane in turbulence. Marriage takes a lot of caring and compromise. Balancing these two things is critical in any season of a marriage.

While ruminating on these last twenty-two years, it may seem a strange that the verse that came to mind is found in Luke 13:34. This is the verse in which Jesus laments, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." Many may read this and go, "What?!!? How does this relate to marriage? Are you saying your marriage is like Jerusalem turning away from God and killing their prophets?!!? Huh???"

What struck me about that particular verse, though I don't think it will ever be one used in wedding ceremonies, is how Jesus likens himself to a "hen" who longs to "gather her chicks under her wings." There will be those who still scratch their heads and wonder what on earth I'm getting at here. It may not be apparent on the surface, but what I gleaned as I sat with this verse for awhile was the tenderness in it.  Christ is comparing himself to a mother hen who would lay down her life to protect her chicks from the wolf. It is an image of great strength and vulnerability. In fact, the strength of that image is in the vulnerableness of it. How many of us are willing to be that vulnerable with another person?

To love someone, truly love someone, means you are opening yourself up to being hurt. It will come in any relationship. But when that pain comes, the danger is when we try to keep ourselves from just such hurts. I know that I had to unlearn not to self-protect myself and immediately build up a wall to do so whenever Danelle and I got into arguments or disagreements. My natural instinct was, "Well, I've been hurt. Don't want to go through that again so I will just wall myself in so no one can get to me." This is dangerous in a marriage or any relationship. It leaves one guarded and keeps others at a distance.

To be in a relationship means to let down one's guard, to be vulnerable so that the beloved can see

It is coming to the altar to offer up oneself, to say, "This is really me. These are my wounds, my hurts, my fears, my joys, my passions, my regrets, my failures, my successes, my dreams . . ." It is offering all of that to another for them to accept or reject what is most precious about yourself. You are taking down the mask that we all put up and, even if for a moment, letting another see who you are as you are. This is terrifying. This is the kind of vulnerability that Jesus is presenting in the image of a mother hen with her chicks. It is putting the other person and their needs first. It is guarding them, their hurts and wounds, before your own.

How many of us are willing to sacrifice ourselves for the one we claim to love the most?

Many of us are more like George Costanza in Seinfeld who selfishly protects himself first at the sign of the slightest bit of danger.

Yet Jesus told us to "deny" ourselves.  We tend to either ignore or dismiss that part of the Bible. Self-denial is not popular or "sexy" in our culture. Yet it opens the true image of what real love truly is. Christ is the personification of love. Yet it is not a weak and maudlin love. It is not the sappy love of TV shows or romance novels or romantic comedies. That kind of love passes with feelings and emotions. It is a fair weather love. The kind of love that keeps a marriage together is the kind that Jesus portrays in this mother hen.

Vulnerability is an opening up to another. It is a trusting that goes beyond mere surface. It is saying, "This may hurt me, but I love you enough to share this with you . . ."  It is the opening of a wall one's built around oneself, even if just a crack. It is to say as Paul did to the church in Corinth, "Our heart is wide open." Shouldn't we be saying that to our spouse daily?

Public speaker, researcher, and best-selling author Brené Brown has become very successful talking and writing about vulnerability. Her TED Talks on the subject became one of the most popular and most viewed of all of them. In it she said, "Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they are never weakness." This is exactly what Jesus is presenting to us in that image of the hen. We would have expected the image of a roaring lion with fangs bared and claws ready to tear open anyone who would attack us, but that's not the picture Jesus presents of himself.

We misunderstand strength as Jesus portrays it. It is not our world's idea of strength. This is strength that reveals itself in the vulnerability of the cross. Many of us shrink back from this. We fear being hurt, being vulnerable and will do whatever it takes to keep ourselves from returning to places and people who have hurt us (whether that be relationships, friendships, or even churches). All of us, at times in our lives, have faced rejection and we weren't quick to jump right back in there for more. Just ask anyone who has come out of a relationship.

Yet real strength and true courage is allowing oneself to be vulnerable to another. To quote Brené Brown again, "Courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart."

How many of us really do this?

Even with our spouse?

It was definitely something I have had to learn and continue to learn to do with Danelle. Yet each time I have done that, have exposed my deepest self, and she has held that inside her (protected what I revealed as a mother hen does her chicks), it only strengthened our relationship and made our love that much more richer. It has made our relationship more authentic and reciprocal. It means we are not walking around with our defenses up and on our guard, but sharing our selves without fear or shame.

But for the one who is given this gift of having their spouse share in such a manner then they must do so with grace, attentiveness (full attention), humility, and a desire to enter into that vulnerable space with the one they love. They must be open in that moment as well. It is to be a guardian to their vulnerability. It is protecting that openness by coming alongside and embracing them. It is loving them as yourself.

Sure, being vulnerable is scary but in overcoming that fear and allowing others to see glimpses of our true selves then we are being more Christ-like than when we hide in shame and secrets.

If I could go back in time and give my younger self some advice, I would tell him, "Be open. Be vulnerable. Be sacrificial. Be a mother hen with her chicks."

Hopefully, through the Holy Spirit, I am becoming more and more like Christ, like that mother hen, with each year of my marriage.

Yet for each of the twenty-two years that God has blessed me with so far, I would like to tell Danelle how grateful I am for her love, her godliness, her tender heart, her wisdom, her friendship and her patience. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without you in it. You are an amazing woman, an awesome mother and a godly wife. You are a help-mate who balances my day-dreamer's nature with your realism and practicality. You also get my cultural references and sense of humor. Thank you for the life we have made together and continue to make together.

I love you more than you will ever know.

Happy anniversary!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Reading For 2016

As anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time knows, I love to read. I was a born reader. Being shy and introverted, for years I loved books more than I did people and found that the characters and worlds inside of books were more real to me than the ones around me. The new Harry Potter book has not come out yet (not that I'm counting down or anything until July 31st . . . ) so what is my summer reading list comprised of while I bide my time?

Here are some of the books I hope to tackle this summer:

Number one on my list is Jonathan Martin's How to Survive a Shipwreck. For our trip to Nashville to support Benjamin as he competes in nationals for software design at T.S.A. (Technology Students Association), I have this book packed and ready to go. I have loved Jonathan Martin's blog (http://www.jonathanmartinwords.com) and sermons. A former Charlotte native, he founded Renovatus Church, though he's now at Sanctuary Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  The official site for the book can be found at http://www.zondervan.com/how-to-survive-a-shipwreck. Here is the trailer:

I am currently reading Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, The Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N. T. Wright. Yeah, I know, just a little "light" reading for the summer. Okay, okay, I get it, I don't tend to read a lot of popular fiction or what would be considered reading for mere entertainment, but, like Planet Fitness, this blog is a "judgment free zone." While this book is some seriously heavy theology, it is making me rethink what I thought I knew about the kingdom of heaven and resurrection. One of the quotes that I love from what I have read so far is this one:

What you do in the present - by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself - will last into God's future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until he day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom.

Wright expounds on our hope in a new creation but how Christ's resurrection was not just God's plan to snatch us from this world to the next, but that we are to bring about "on earth as it is in heaven." Not necessarily a "beach" read, but an erudite one that is filled with wisdom, grace and hope.

Timothy Keller is one of my favorite pastors whose sermons I listen to through iTunes on my iPod. He is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. His is another blog that I follow regularly (http://www.timothykeller.com/). Many have described Keller as a "C.S. Lewis for the 21st Century." In this book, he looks at one of my favorite parables (misnamed The Parable of the Prodigal Son) and opens it up in a new way, that helps readers to see this overly familiar parable with new eyes and fresh insight. His church works with over 40 faith-based ministries in New York City to meet the social and spiritual needs of that city. 

Eyes to See edited by Bret Lott is a collection of short stories by a variety of great authors who also happen to be Christians. Everyone from G.K. Chesterton to Dostoevsky and Tolstoy to Flannery O'Connor are in here. All of these artists understand what the late Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman meant when he said, "It is my opinion that art lost its creative urge the moment it was separated from worship."

One of the writer's who has had the biggest impact on my faith is Flannery O'Connor. Like her, I have grown up in the "Christ-haunted South." So I was thrilled when I found this biography by Brad Gooch at Goodwill.  From her short stories to her one novel to her collection of letters and prayers, I have been influenced by her clarity, humor and grace. "Your beliefs," she wrote, "will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing." Still, I thank her for helping me to see.

Okay, okay. "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy." I get it, I get it. After all, I did see Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Yes, yes, there are some "fun" books on my list. The series I'm most excited about starting (as I have loved reading series books ever since I started reading) are the Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente. From Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia to Tolkien's Middle Earth to Diana Wynne Jones' Chrestomanci to Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea to, of course, Rowling's Harry Potter books, I have devoured fantasy series books. I love them. Breathe them in like air. Eat them like sweets. And long for more. I get lost in these worlds and love every minute of it. I have heard and read nothing but rave reviews about this fairy tale series so I am looking forward to entering what I hope to be another magical series that will join my favorites. Valente's official website can be found at http://www.catherynnemvalente.com/ See, I do like fun books, too.

Lastly, I hope to read Ruth Reichl's memoir Tender at the Bone. No one writes about food the way Reichl does and has done for The New York Times. I love how she writes that "food could be a way of making sense of the world." This is filled with great writing, a love of food and people, and how much we are affected by the meals we shared at our family tables. Her official site can be found at http://ruthreichl.com

And, of course, this book. But does Ms. Rowling really need me to promote it for her? I know it's a play. I know that it's based on a story she wrote but that she didn't write the play, but, still, I'll read it because it's Harry Potter and I can't afford to fly to London to see the play. 

That's my unconventional list, thus far, of summer reads. I hope to read all of them, but, if not, they'll join my fall reads.

This was my list, what's yours? 

Please comment and let me know. I'm also looking for one more book to add to my ever-growing "To-Read" list.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Finding Dory: An Adoptive Parent's Perspective

Since today was Father's Day, my kids asked me how I wanted to celebrate it. Being the manly man that I am, my answer was immediately, "Finding Dory!" As someone who loves great stories, I am always up for going to see whatever Pixar releases and I am seldom disappointed (Okay, I'm looking at you Cars 2 right now!).  Last Father's Day, I chose Inside Out (see my review here Inside Out In The Adoptive Child) and this year it's Finding Dory. Neither film disappointed me.

What is interesting is how both have connected with me on a whole deeper level because of Cava. Being a parent changes you as a person. Being an adoptive parent changes you even more because it asks even more of you. It also makes you see things differently and this film was no different. 

While I'm not going into a lot of the story of this film, I will only say that the main plot line deals with Dory's desire to find her parents. 

As an adoptive parent, this is a storyline that hits close to home. Not because we are at that point right now, but there will be a day that this will happen. There will come a time when Cava will approach us and begin to ask us questions about his biological parents. This is normal and we will treat his questions and his desire to know as such. But it's also not easy. 

All adoptive children grow up with a sense of loss that they will carry their whole lives. There will always be questions and pains that the rest of us cannot understand completely. How hard will it be for Cava as an adult to fill our a health history questionnaire at a doctor's office and not have the answers to his past?  Will it sadden or anger him when it comes?  

At what age will he begin to ask questions? Right now, I don't know. He is still in the stage where he wants to forget his past and his history. It's all still too fresh and too painful. But one day he will and we want to embrace his desire to know. Who knows what will inspire his curiosity to want to know. We will not be frightened by this or fear that this is in any way a rejection of us. We want to make his desire to know more about his biological parents and his past a part of our own identity, as his adoptive family. 

Such searching can be a confusing time, filled with mixed emotions, and unsurety.

As Cava's parents, we want to make this as safe and protected process as we possibly can. To let him know that we love him no matter what, that we are his parents no matter what, and that his history is part of our history. We will help him in any way that we can and reassure and love him as much as we can. We will let him know that we are always there for him.

Like Dory, the adoptive child suffers from trauma and loss. So much of their memories are repressed and when they come out, it can be frightening and overwhelming to them. As adoptive parents, its our role to provide stability, peace, reassurance, patience, love and to let them know that their identity is one of great worth and preciousness. 

We deeply love Cava and will help him to navigate his past, his present and his future with him no matter what's to come. He is our son. In fact, when I showed him Finding Nemo for the first time, I told him, "You were our Nemo. Our family went all the way to the other side of the world to find you and bring you home." But as we see in Finding Dory, we must also be there to guide him in finding the home he never had in Ukraine. To try to answer the questions that we can get answered, so that hopefully, he will have something to not only write down on the medical history, but so that some of the unanswered questions he carries with him will be answered. 

How many of those questions will be backed by fear? A fear of further rejection and loss? 

I can't answer that. 

I can't say what answers a bio search will bring, I only know that his Mom and I will be there for him through all of it. 

And to remind him that a family isn't always the one you were born into. 

Please feel free to share this blog.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Birth Of A Birdwatcher

It's no surprise to anyone who's read this blog that Cava loves birds. Once I asked him where his favorite place was (I'll admit, I expected him to say Disney World) and he answered, "Carolina Raptor Center."  He has wanted binoculars for some time, but every time he has gotten any money, he immediately wants to spend it. But I'm proud of him because he finally saved up enough so that we could get him a nice pair of binoculars (after explaining to him why it's better to spend more money and better quality binoculars than cheap ones that would break and he wouldn't really be able to see birds well). When the package arrived, Cava was elated and I promised him we could go on the nature walk of the Schiele to see what birds we could spot.

It was so much fun just watching him watch birds. He would get so excited, then he would shush us so as not to scare away any bird we came across. The first one we spotted was a Carolina Chickadee. Cava, who had read a kid's biography of John James Audubon, informed us that Audubon had named this bird when he was in South Carolina. I was impressed that he read and remembered that.

Along with the Carolina Chickadee, he saw a Blackbird, so of course we had to sing The Beatles' song of the same name, until we were shushed again for not being serious birdwatchers. Then he was beside himself when Benjamin pointed out two Red-tailed Hawks. "WOW!" Cava exclaimed quietly, which is a rarity for him. It was also amazing at how all of us just walked at a leisurely pace along the nature trail. Our whole family was caught up in trying to spot another bird,whether it was a Cardinal or a Blue Jay. What was great was that we were doing it as a family, spending time together without technology, out in nature. 

It was peaceful. Only the sound of birdsong in the trees, cicadas, and the gentle sound of the bubbling stream. My surroundings made me think of John Muir writing, "As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and wind sing . . . I'll get as near the heart of the world as I can." 

Taking a break from spotting birds and collecting feathers, we went into the Catawba Village. It was fun for the boys to see how people used to live when they settled this area. The small houses seem better suited to Cava . . .

. . . than for Benjamin . . .

I hated to leave, as it was nice to spend time together. Everybody got along and there was no arguing or complaining. We simply enjoyed being in each other's company. And it has only furthered Cava's love of birds and his desire to learn even more about them. Yes, a serious birder has been born.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

On Leaving Facebook

Recently I decided to leave Facebook. My wife and I had a shared account, so I simply took my name off of it. Once I did, there have been those who've asked me, "Why? What happened?"

My answer was and is, "I've grown tired of the hostility that I see there."

During this political season, I have seen some of the most hateful, hurtful posts and reposts from both sides of the party system. And I find that even more distressing when those who are doing so are Christians or claim to be.

I found myself asking,"What happened to humility?  What happened to civility?"

People post comments that I cannot imagine they would ever say to a person's face.

Remember when Facebook was the place where people posted pictures of their families? That's like asking, "Do you remember when they played music videos on MTV?"

Now it all seems to be advertisements, or people selling things, or posts and reposts of articles, memes, an abundance of cat videos, quizzes people took (of which I was guilty of doing myself), and anger. Lots and lots of anger. Anger at the government. Anger at different political parties. Anger at different ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations or identities . . . and on and on and on . . .

It was literally affecting my mood to just go on Facebook. I didn't like that, instead of being able to check on friends who live in other states and see what was new in their lives, I was being inundated with posts that saddened and upset me because they were filled with such vitriol. I would see comments that people had posted (usually under an article they'd shared) that were nothing but pure, genuine hate. Hatred towards refugees, the President, Hispanics, the LGBT community . . . No matter where I stood on an issue, I could not grasp the anger behind people's responses.

Too often I found myself wondering:

Why do we spend most of our time responding instead of relating to others?

Why do we claim to love a book like To Kill A Mockingbird and not heed its message of putting yourself in someone else's skin, walking around in it, so that you can see things from their perspective?

"Well, I'm free to give my opinion, aren't I??? It's a free country still, isn't it???" seems to be the go-to response in our society. But how often are these opinions backed by nothing more than prejudices, biases, and a lack of real connection to others outside of your socio-economic or religious base, race, or political party?

We also tend to run to our "freedoms" and our "rights," even at the cost of the greater good or at the expense of loving our neighbor as ourself. It can all be very me-centric. We too often only look for agreement on what we believe and if we don't like something, well then, we're just going to blast it, guns blazing, in a full-throttle venomous attack.

What happened to love and respect?

It appears they've been replaced by animosity and disdain.

There is no discussion. It's not a dialogue but a diatribe. A drawing a line in the sand. Like that old Eveready battery commercial, we stand there as Robert Conrad used to do, in tough man posture and say, "I dare you to knock this off! I dare you!" (Boy, did I just age myself with that reference).

So often on social media now there is no wanting to hear another's point-of-view.

It is all attack if I don't agree with what you're saying. Hostility has replaced civility in the area of public discourse. Even among Christians.

Where is Philippians 2:3-4?

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Why isn't there more of that on social media instead of all the hostility?

Instead, social media thrives on "rivalry" and "conceit." So much of social media is based on promoting a false sense of ourselves to begin with.

So much of this fits and furies online, I believe, comes from fear. We live in a very fear-based culture. Our media perpetuates fear because fear is a great motivator, I mean just look how political candidates use it to stir up their base. Yet the Apostle Paul clearly wrote to Timothy, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (1st Timothy 2:7). Yet that's not what I read when I look at Facebook. I too often see the opposite.

I found myself getting caught up in the anger behind the rhetoric. I was certainly not filled with humility or compassion, but with irritation that led to frustration that led to indignation. Notice there was not one fruit of the spirit in that list. The enmity I saw online was going internally and taking root in me. Because of this, I have decided to leave Facebook. (I know there are many who will be saddened by the lack of constant references to books and reading, as well as to Gilmore Girls, or my continually sharing links to the latest entry on this blog).

If I have been guilty to others of the reasons I'm leaving Facebook then I apologize and repent right here and now.

Certainly when I write, I pray that it is never in anger or indignation. I pray that my words come from a place of love and compassion, grace and mercy. I'm sure I have failed and there may be those who see this post as one of those failures. I hope not, as it is not my desire to offend (although we also live in a culture that is constantly offended), but my intent has always been to share my struggles of faith, give an honest account of our family life, including the ups and downs that came with adoption, but to ultimately point in all things to a loving God as shown through His son Jesus.

I wrestle with continuing the blog, but I know that if I do continue I won't be posting anymore links after this one on Facebook. If you want to follow, there is a button to join this site. Or you can follow by e-mail or Twitter.

I hope that anyone who reads this will understand.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Practice Resurrection

Today my scripture reading was in John 11 and the story of Lazarus. It starts off with the line, "Now a man names Lazarus was sick." Nothing out of the ordinary as we all get sick in our lives, but his sisters, Mary and Martha, send word to Jesus that, "Lord, the one you love is sick."  It is repeated more than once that Jesus loves this family, loves Lazarus, which is why it is puzzling to read that, instead of rushing to the bedside of his sick friend, Jesus intentionally decideds to tarry; in fact, the Bible says that he stayed two days before going back to Judea and the town of Bethany.  This puzzled Mary and Matha. Why wouldn't Jesus leave immediately to go to his friend? 

When Jesus and his disciples are less than two miles from Jerusalem, they are met by Martha who was upset with Christ. Mary is so upset with him that she doesn't even come to meet him but remains at home. She is full of sorrow and anger. But Martha confronts Jesus with, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." How many of us, in the midst of our tragedies, ask, "Jesus, where are you?" We may wonder this when someone we love has been murdered or when they die from cancer or when a marriage fails. So often, when we are in the midst of the darkness of our pain, we cannot see or hear anything past that suffering. We cannot see of hear the God who is with us in the midst of it. Many of us, like Martha, question Jesus, while others, like Mary, are so upset we don't even want to do just that. 

There is blame in Martha's words, but even in her anger she realizes the reality of Christ and ends with, "But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask." Jesus tells her, "Your brother will rise again." In her limited but trusting understanding, Martha answers, "I know he will rise again on the resurrection of the last day." She only grasps part of the spiritual reality of the situation, but Jesus tells her point-blank, "I am the resurrection and the life." Bold and powerful words.

When I read them, I wonder how those around Jesus reacted. Were there those who gasped? Were there those who doubted? Were there those who thought him blasphemous? How would I have responded? Would I have been like Martha and said, "I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God"? 

After her confrontation with Jesus, Martha goes back to get Mary. She tells her sister, "The teacher is here and is asking for you." Upon hearing those words, Mary quickly gets up and went out Jesus. Those in the house who were comforting Mary followed her.  Unlike Martha, when Mary sees Christ, she falls at his feet and, in great sorrow and pain, rebuked him with, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," I can imagine the words coming out in sobs until she finally breaks down weeping. Jesus is so moved by her sorrow that he weeps.

Mary and Martha both had expected Jesus to come instantly and perform the miraculous. They had seen him heal others and had heard about healings he had performed, so they had the expectation tha he would do the same for their brother. When Christ didn't come right away and their brother died, both women must have wondered, "Why?"

Why did Christ not come right away?  Why would he let our brother die? We thought he loved our brother and us. Yet he did not do what we had asked of him to do.

How many of us, in our pain and our hurting, wonder the same things? Why did Jesus let our loved one die? Why didn't he heal them? Why did he not hear my prayers? Why did he stay away from us during our time of need?

Yet Jesus is there, in the midst of our tragedies, and as he did that day in Bethany, he weeps with us. Though he understands the realities of death, he weeps because we weep. He feels the sorrow and the pain and the hurting just as we do because he loves us. This is a weeping that is more than the mere shedding of tears, but a gut-wrenching weeping. This is a shared sorrow. This is the kind of weeping one does in consoling a loved one, someone who is beloved, someone who is as close as family.

Yet he understands that death is not the end. It is never the end. When he was coming to Bethany, he told the disciples that Lazarus had "fallen asleep" and that he was going to "wake him up." Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers, said that because Christ died for us, we can no longer call death thanatos (finality, death) but instead must say hyptos kai koimesis (sleep). As he wrote in his work The Cemetery and the Cross, "What is death at most? It is a journey for a season; a sleep longer than usual!" We should no more fear death than we fear sleep at night.

Jesus knew that all of life requires death and resurrection. Our own bodies experience this constantly. Cells in our bodies are constantly dying and new ones are regenerated. Within 7 to 10 years, almos every atom and molecule of our bodies have been replaced by new ones. Being and non-being and rebirth. It is a part of the natural process created by God. Birth, death, and rebirth. We see it every year in the seasons with plants.

art by Ashley Kirk

Yet when we are there, in the moment, of someone's death, we often are so broken and full of loss, that we are in that moment of darkness. There doesn't appear to be light. This is especially true when there are tragedies like the mass shooting in Orlando. It is a time of grief and questioning. Many are asking, "Why Lord? Where were you?" It happens whenever such tragedies occur around the world. Like Martha and Mary, we ask, "Why weren't you here? How could you let this happen?"

And Jesus weeps with us. He sees our tears and sheds his own. The Creator of this world gathers those tears. He keeps them because we are precious to Him. Because He does see and He does hear and He, too, feels the hurt of His children.

That's why Jesus tells us, "I am the resurrection and the life." Dead in our trespasses, Christ saved us and, in him, we find rebirth and are made new creatures. Because of this act of mercy, grace, and love, we then must do, as the poet Wendell Berry, wrote and, "Practice resurrection."

What does that mean?

First we must ask, "What is resurrection?"

Theologian N.T. Wright states that resurrection isn't just "Jesus is raised, therefore there is life after death." He writes, "Resurrection is to announce the fact that the world is a different place, and that we have to live in the different-ness." We saw this after the resurrection of Lazarus. We see it after his own resurrection. It means there is life after death even in this own life.

To practice resurrection means that in the midst of others sorrows, in the midst of their grief and their hurting, we must be there to offer them comfort, to offer them love, to offer them compassion and to show them the tenderness of a Savior who weeps with them. In the midst of darkness, we must be light. In the midst of acts of hatred, we must be love.  In the midst of hurting, bring healing. Through us, they might begin to see Christ. We must hug and embrace and love those who most desperately need it right now. We must hold their hands and listen to them. Listen to them in their pain. We must hear them. And, most of all, we must love them. We must show them that God is one who "heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds." (Psalm 147:3). Why? Because it is in just these moments of tragedy that we most need to "Practice resurrection."

Praying for the families, loved ones and friends of each of the victims by name. Each one was someone made in the image of God.

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old
Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old
Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old
Kimberly Morris, 37 years old
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old
Amanda Alvear, 25 years old
Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old
Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old
Cory James Connell, 21 years old
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old
Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24 years old
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old
Frank Hernandez, 27 years old
Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Thursday, June 9, 2016

On Watching Roots With Benjamin

I was born twenty-three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in a hospital that was only eight minutes away from the 16th Street Baptist Church where timed dynamite, put there by white supremacists, killed four young African-American girls right before a service in which the sermon was titled "A Love That Forgives."   This was the world that I was born into.

I remember first learning about slavery in elementary school. It horrified me and I raced home off the school bus (I was bussed across town as part of Charlotte's integration program) to ask my mother, "Did our family ever own slaves?" I remember thinking, "Please say no. Please say no." My heart sank when she replied that our family had. Perhaps because of seeing my crestfallen expression she added, "But we were good slave owners." Even as a young boy this did not sit well with me and I could not in my conscience reconcile the idea of someone owning another person as a slave as being "good." The more I learned about slavery, the more I was convinced that my mother, unable to face the truth of our family's history, viewed our ancestors through a sentimental lens; after all, who wants to think badly of the people they came from.  This same sanitized and romanticized idea of the "genteel" South and of slavery also comes when one encounters films like Gone With The Wind.

Knowing that my ancestors owned slaves, I grew up wondering: If I had lived then, would I have done anything differently? Would I have stood up against slavery? Would I have spoken up? Against my family? My neighbors? My church? 

Would I have been like the Quakers of North Carolina or Moncure Conway or the antislavery Wesleyan Methodist Community in Montgomery, North Carolina? 

Or would I have been like Thomas Jefferson? 

Our country's third President once considered freeing his slaves, understanding that it was morally wrong to own them, but decided against doing so because it would cost him his wealthy lifestyle. Jefferson was a man who loved nice things and died in debt acquiring them. Would I, like Jefferson, have chosen my comforts over my convictions? Many did, as the wealth of our nation was built on the backs of its slaves.

One man who didn't was William Wilberforce, who fought tirelessly in England to end the slave trade. Driven by his Christian faith, he worked for twenty years to get the Slave Trade Act of 1807 passed. 

I would like to believe that I would have done what was morally right, but I cannot definitively say that. It's easy to think one would make the right and difficult choice when one doesn't have to do it and face the costs of such a stance. I wondered the same thing about the Civil Rights Movement and would I have been willing to accept the costs of standing for what's right?  

In 1977 Alex Haley's bestselling novel was turned into a miniseries on ABC. I was only 9 at the time it came out so I did not get to see this monumental programming when it first aired. Although I didn't get to watch Roots, I certainly heard about it since Alex Haley and this series was covered all over the media.

His book and the miniseries struck a nerve in those who read and watched it. This powerful story of family made others begin to think about ancestry and their own heritage. As Haley himself said, "In every conceivable manner, the family is our link to our past, bridge to our future."

It would only be years later that I would get the chance to see this monumental miniseries. It made a huge impact on me, so much so, that when I found out that the History Channel had remade Roots, I knew that I wanted to share this experience with my older son, Benjamin. The first episode aired on Memorial Day.

After we had finished watching the first of four episodes, we found ourselves wiping away tears and sitting there silently for awhile. While it was not easy to watch what was happening onscreen, it was important that we did not turn away. Benjamin struggled with why I wanted him to watch something so horrific but I told him that all of life is not beautiful or easy to look at, but it is a part of life all the same. We cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering of others or to our own country's past.

Watching Roots together has led to discussions on the subject of our painful history. We thought about what it must have been like to have worked all day in the fields (either cotton or tobacco) only to return to the shack you called "home" to find that part of your family had been sold off while you were gone. To find that your mother or sister was gone. You had no idea where or if you would ever see them again. Or what it must be like to have your name stripped from you. Your name is your identity, who you are, and to find yourself unable to even retain even that very sense of self given to you by your parents. (This was driven home by the scene where Kunta Kinte is whipped over and over again until he will say the name "Toby," given to him by the mistress of the plantation.  

What must it be like to know that your life was not your own and that, in the blink of an eye, everything could be taken away from you? That you could find yourself whipped or lynched or, if you were a woman, raped. 

Whenever I see documentaries or movies about slavery, racism, the Holocaust, or genocides, I find myself asking: How can someone so disconnect themselves from another person that they can inflict such suffering on them? How can they distance themselves to the point where they see someone else as an "other"?

Nobel Prize Winner, Elie Wiesel, who lost most of his family in the Holocaust, once wrote, "We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish and with some measure of triumph."

Recently, First-Lady Michelle Obama gave a commencement address to City College of New York in which she mentioned that she "wakes up every day in a house built by slaves." This remark is astounding to think that the very people who helped build the White House could not conceive that one day an African-American man would be elected President of the very country that was oppressing them. It overwhelmed me to think of this, but I was discouraged and disheartened by the hateful comments that many posted underneath the story that were full of vitriol at the First Lady for even stating the truth. There were those who wished them still slaves so they could whip them and one who even mentioned the President and First Lady being in his "cross hairs." It saddens me to think that we are still mired in the sins of race that have plagued this country from its beginnings. The blood of our sins have soaked this land and there are too many who wish to ignore the pain and suffering and "move on." How can we move on from that which we have never been willing to face? This was something that I have discussed and will continue to talk about with Benjamin and, when he's older, Cava. 

And I pray that I and my family do not let our hearts grow so hardened and cold to the violence and hatred that still inflicts our county. I want us to be like "Fiddler" (played movingly by Academy Award Winner Forest Whitaker) who rejects the idea of  "every man for himself." Especially as Christians. We cannot pretend to not see the suffering of those in the world around us and not do something. 

Between 1526 to 1827, 10.7 million slaves arrived in the Americas. Between 1821 to 1830 over 80,000 Africans a year were shipped off in slave ships. Today there are over 46 million slaves worldwide. This was a subject that Roots also allowed us to continue to talk about with Benjamin. We have been supportive of organizations like International Justice Missions that work to end slavery and human trafficking in the world today. My wife and I have explained to Benjamin why we won't be buying chocolate or coffee from any company that continues to use slave labor. We have talked to him about sexual trafficking and why this is one reason that the excuse of looking at porn doesn't hurt anybody is a lie because many of the girls involved in pornography are victims of sexual trafficking, as well as the young girls (many younger than 10) who are forced into prostitution around the world. Or about the slave trade in mining for gold in countries like Kenya or Ghana.

None of these subjects are pleasant or easy to discuss but that does not mean they shouldn't be.

My boys see the racism in our country, particularly in this nasty political climate. I want them to understand they have a moral obligation to reject any platform that promotes hatred, racism, bigotry, fear of other ethnicities, discrimination, misogyny, and a sense that "we" are better than "them." America can never be "great" if it takes a contemptuous stance towards anyone. One cannot make the appeals of darkness and expect light. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear." We cannot keep carrying around that burden. We must let go of our individualistic concerns and find more concern in the well-being of others.

Scriptures again and again command us to take care of the poor, the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the refugee, the sojourner, and the outcast. As the prophet Isaiah warned, "Woe to those who enact evil statutes. And to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the need of justice. And rob the poor of My people of their rights, so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment . . .? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth?" (10:1-3).

God calls himself a "stronghold for the oppressed." As his followers, are we?

Certainly the Church must also face its failures to act on behalf of those oppressed. Even in its more recent history, the religious Moral Majority was started not in an effort to fight abortion but to fight integration at Bob Jones University. How does that show the love of God to the world?

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, thinks for Christians to combat racism they cannot think only in terms of conversion. Keller believes that racism is perpetuated by "systemic evil" and the lack of "corporate responsibility." He contends that racism exists because "the system that allows it to exist is actively or passively supported to varying degrees" by those in society and that the system must change in order for people to change. "White people don't have a concept of corporate responsibility and this prevents them from dealing with systematic racism. Christians need to see systemic evil, take responsibility, and come alongside those who recognize systemic evil to articulate their concerns." He cited Daniel 9 because it demonstrated "corporate responsibility for an entire culture because it shows how the prophet Daniel repents of the sins of his ancestors and sins that he didn't individually commit." This means we cannot pass the buck or dismiss the past as being not our fault. Keller reminds us, "If a person has grasped the meaning of God's grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn't live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God's grace, but in his heart He is far from him."

the system must change in order for the people to change. But one of the challenges, he presented, is that "white people" don't have a concept of "corporate responsibility" which prevents them from dealing with "corporate evil" or "systemic racism
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-tim-keller-discuss-why-churches-still-struggle-with-racism-72364/#ub1ZpDZBfLyOHFU1.99

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-tim-keller-discuss-why-churches-still-struggle-with-racism-72364/#IG3xSB4A46KwPhpG.9
racism is perpetuated by "systemic evil" and the lack of "corporate responsibility." Racism persists, he contended, because the system that allows it to exist is actively or passively supported to varying degrees by different participants.
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-tim-keller-discuss-why-churches-still-struggle-with-racism-72364/#ub1ZpDZBfLyOHFU1.99

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-tim-keller-discuss-why-churches-still-struggle-with-racism-72364/#IG3xSB4A46KwPhpG.
Watching Roots has allowed our family to ask ourselves these questions, to take a good look at our own selfish and hateful hearts, and to pray that God would change us and provide opportunities to help those who need it the most. We pray that we are motivated by the love of Christ: a love that is not seeking to protect and serve self, but to protect and serve others. May we pray that we can find ways to be part of the racial healing of our community.  Those wounds are deep, but His love is deeper and can heal all wounds. As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently said, "We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization." I pray that we do, that we respond to acts of hatred not with more hatred, but with mercy, compassion and the love of Christ because only then will this world begin to change.

Here's a link to go to the History Channel's official website for Roots:
You can also watch full episodes there.

To read the full article on Tim Keller and John Piper discussing why churches still struggle with racism go to: http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-tim-keller-discuss-why-churches-still-struggle-with-racism-72364/

To see the discussion with Tim Keller and John Piper go to:

To hear Tim Keller speaking on race go to: