Politics of Fear Part 1

wolfpackI realize that as much as I don’t like bantering online over controversial or political matters, I still have done it a few times in the blogs I’ve posted. In each that I’ve written I’ve probably prompted more questions than answers, and if you know me, that’s intentional. As Eugene Ionesco, the French playwright said, “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”

Neuroscience has shown us that our brains function a certain way when we are creative and inquisitive, and another way when we are angry and afraid. When we are angry or afraid our brains go into a primal, survival mode in which the rear stem portion takes primary control. That’s why when you’re being chased by a pack of wolves (I hate when that happens), you don’t worry if you’re wearing the right outfit for the occasion, or stop to smell the pretty flowers. You just RUN!

In late 2016, 1500 people from Chapman University were asked to list their top 10 fears. Number 1 was corruption in government at 60.6% and number 2 was terrorist attack at 41%. People were more afraid of these two things than of their loved ones becoming sick or dying (38.1%), or of not having enough money for the future (39.9%). Coincidently, this survey was taken during the height of the political elections when those two topics were among the most talked about in the media.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that we are being fed a steady stream of fear and anger from news feeds, talk radio, and TV news. The reason is because fear and anger sell and motivate. If I can make you afraid (or angry), odds are that I will get you to respond in one way or another and tune in for more tomorrow. We are told to be afraid of everything from refugees to presidents, from the food we eat to the medicines we take. Now, before you start thinking about how we should be afraid of one or all of these wolvesmell-the-flowerss I just mentioned, remember this: the only way to know when fear (or anger) is manipulating us and narrowing our thought process, is to stop running, breathe, and take the time to reason through the information (smell the flowers). How do we do that?

 The good skeptic

Question it before you believe it. Adopt a bit of a skeptical attitude especially from the sources you typically trust and go to first. What is the bias of the source (everyone is biased) and is that bias leading more than informing? Look for confirmation as well as disconfirmation from other sources. I’ve heard that to get an accurate assessment of something, you should research at the very minimum 5 separate and differing sources. This is how you are able to see things from varied positions and filter out what is meant to send you into panic mode. Remember the Ebola epidemic that never came? And who older than a teenager can forget Y2K? What happens with most people is they watch CNN and Buzzfeed or Fox news and Infowars (God forbid). They pull their information from the same biased sources to validate what they already believe. If you want to be well learned about a subject, it takes time and you need to show interest in understanding the opposing view.

Fake Check

It’s also obviously important to check to make sure you are not responding to fake news. Two of the top ones in 2016 were, “Trump Offering Free One-Way Tickets to Africa & Mexico for Those Who Wanna Leave America” and “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge of Allegiance in Schools.” You can easily check if what you are reading is true by verifying them with Snopes, Urbanlegends or other fact checking sites. It’s astounding and sad how much fake news is posted and reposted, but it just proves the point that when we are provoked by anger or fear, we run with the false information before we smell out what’s true.

There are so many legitimate things to be angry about and there are plenty of people that have valid reasons to be afraid, but if we are really going to change the important things in our world, then we must be willing to take the time to see clearly where the problems are and strategize the best way to move forward.

I intend to write a second part to this and talk about the elections, abortion, and the refugee crisis, which I hope will lead to more questions.

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Politics and Throwing Away Your Vote

selma-politic-blog I think it’s time to ask some obvious questions like; how did the two least liked candidates get nominated to the most powerful position in the world? I believe the answer will point to corruption, control (money) and collusion. We should then ask; why do the voters of this country think there are only these two choices? I believe the answer will again point further into that corruption, control and collusion.

When revolutionary change begins, it seems hopeless and even foolish at the start. Minority blacks against an Alabama state governor, Christians against Rome, Gandhi against the British Empire, 3rd party candidates against the media established two parties?

History has shown that when a system is broken and will no longer listens to the voice of the populace, that people will begin to find a way to reclaim their voice. We need to find our voice again and not settle for the two being given to us. Now more clearly than ever, I think it’s time.

 

Awaken

cool-alarm-clock-wallpaper-2There are so many things that we can be afraid of: cancer, losing a job, or even politics but I think the thing we really should fear is apathy.

Mark Twain said that men die at 27 and we bury them at 72. The will to live a full life of distinction is a wearisome road. It is marked with difficulties, self- doubt and betrayal, but the alternative is falling asleep in a bed of indifference.

I believe that there are alarm clock moments in life meant to wake us up and shine a light bright enough for us to see when we are living in a shadow of who we would really like to be. Not taking action in these moments, is like pressing the snooze button on life, before we know it, 9 years have passed. It is only when we answer life’s wake- up call that we begin to grow in ways we didn’t think we could, learn from things we didn’t think we should, and see what we never dreamed we would.

My friend and poet, Brian Oliva, wrote, “falling is always the first step in flying; ask anything that has wings.” Every awakening starts as a realization that something needs to change. The way you’re living, or the way you’re thinking, but change is uncomfortable and sometimes even brutal. Change will cost you your security, some tranquility and will most likely leave a lasting scar. The problem is there really is no turning back. Once you see what is true, you can’t un-see it, once words ring clear in your soul, you can’t un-hear them or ignore the affect they have deep within you.

Sometimes our traditions, family or friends will want us to stay where we are, to reminisce of the life we once lived, of the way we used to think, and the person we used to be. They will say that you’ve gone too far, that you’ve abandoned your faith, that you have lost your way, but their voices will only be a whisper to the true voice you have found.

May you hear the moments that life calls out to you and awaken you from insignificance. May you choose to fumble your way through the new frontier of who you want to be instead of falling back into the bed of complacency. And may you bear witness to life by being fully alive.

Coffee, Politics & Slacktivism

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Recently the Oxford dictionaries added the word, ‘Slacktivism’, which means; “Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement.” Think about how many things you see, read or hear that fit into this definition. It is so prevalent that it has officially been given its own word. Everything from politics, unity against violence, to red coffee cups is supported or protested with a ‘click’.

Someone, somewhere, was apparently upset that Starbucks didn’t put Merry Christmas on their coffee cups this year (I didn’t know they ever did). I have no idea who was originally upset over this and I am guessing that most of you don’t know either unless curiosity pushed you to look into it further. I never read, heard, or saw a single post by anyone who actually believed that the lack of writing on a coffee cup was some kind of assault to his or her faith in Jesus. I did, however, see a grip of people commenting and posting things about why it was foolish for people (who no one knows) to be so upset about these said coffee cups. Some posts were serious, some humorous, but in the end I believe they were all pretty useless. After everything is said and done, the best thing that this produced was solidarity over something that was actually nothing.

I’m not against writing to make people aware of things that need to change. The problem is when we think that a simple ‘like’ or repost is all that we need to do to actually make that change. My experience in life has been that actual change is difficult and feels a lot more like swimming upstream than sitting and watching online videos.

It also seems that most of what’s done on social media is simply preaching to the choir, without much dialogue or serious interaction at all. We say, “black lives matter” or, “all lives matter”, shake our heads (or fists) but do little else to prove that any lives really matter to us at all. We have become activists without strength, critics without care, poets without courage.

We treat the “other” political party as if they are fools and criminals and would rather use fear and ridicule to shore up our base than actually try and understand an opposing person’s concerns. In my opinion, there are fools and criminals on both sides of the aisle, but there are also caring, and generous people on both sides as well. Regardless, nothing that is being pushed on social media in any way should ever stop me from being a loving, giving, caring human being in whatever ways I tangibly can.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”

May we actually do the things that help make peace and show ourselves to be God’s children.

If I Could Travel Into The Past

time n handIf I could travel into the past to a point of time in my life, I would go back to the moment when my family was about to begin, when my wife was going to give birth to the first two of our four children. I would pull myself aside before entering the delivery room, point to my wife as she lay on the table, look myself in the eyes, and say, “That woman is going to need you now more than ever, for the rest of your life. In fact she is going to need more than you will ever be able to give so you better fall on your knees each day and cry out to God for wisdom, strength, and the ability to point her to the God who is big enough to handle all she will go through. Don’t do it with your words, but with your love, life, and actions. She is going to go to hell and back for this family and you have to be there when she needs someone to help pull her up out of the pit. Trust me when I say she will do the same for you, many times over.”

I would continue to tell myself, “the children you will have aren’t yours, but you are theirs. It’s your privilege to help them find their voice so that they can move on and live their own lives. But when life beats them down, they must always be able to turn around and see that you are still looking out for them. They will show you how to live without you even knowing it. And as you help them find their voice, you will uncover your own.

Also, don’t be so uptight. Have a drink once in a while and show your friends and family that you can relax and enjoy life without losing your integrity. Remember to smile, laugh, and love as well as discipline, grieve, and weep. Walk this tightrope of life as if it is the most natural thing in the world to do, because we are all bipolar in some way, or at one time or another. Don’t pretend you’re ok, you and I both know you’re not. And for crying out loud, don’t take yourself so seriously.”

I would then fall on my knees and pray silently for myself. I wouldn’t pray out loud, because I know myself, and I know that seeing someone do what I should, will always speak louder than someone telling me what I should do. I would pray for all the future events that will wound, scar, and cripple me. I wouldn’t pray for them not to happen, but that when they did happen, I would grow from them, and help others grow from them as well. I would also pray that every selfish, self-centered deed in my life would turn around and bite me in the ass, wake me from the slumber of my indifference, and push me forward.

I would then stand up and give myself a huge hug and say, “You’re going to need a lot of these, so don’t ever turn away the love that others want to give. You are not as strong as you think you are, but you are more powerful than you can imagine.” I would end saying, “Joshua 3:5 is going to be an important verse for you some day, so read it in wonder, believe what it says, and let it shape you for the amazing things tomorrow holds.”

Oh yeah, “Invest in Microsoft till 1995 or so and then in Apple after that.”

Then I think I would go get something to eat.

For Those Not Chosen

IMG_7091A couple of weeks ago I went to Mexico with a group from Genesis where, together, we spent the day with the children from Buena Viva Orphanage. We were the first group to spend the day with the kids the entire summer, so they were excited and even more so as we took them to a local pool to swim, play, and eat.

I don’t speak Spanish well, but I still had a blast in the pool with the kids and was even able to teach a few of the boys how to swim. It was great to see them swimming later that day with no floating tubes and with no fear. Better still was the hug I received when it came time to say our goodbyes. It emotionally moved me as I remembered teaching my own kids how to swim. It felt good to be able to do this for these boys who had no dad.

It can break your heart talking with some of the children and hearing their stories, but I think it would be more heartbreaking if no one heard them. One of the teenage girls shared how she has lived for years at the orphanage with her three younger sisters. When asked if she knew who and where her parents were, she said that she did. Her mother lived in another city with two other siblings, and her father in yet another city, also with two more siblings.

Imagine being a child and living with that situation? Knowing that each of your parents chose a life with your siblings, but didn’t choose you! What thoughts would go through mind? Would you think you did something wrong? That you were too much trouble? Or maybe they just didn’t love you? Imagine the trust issues these girls will have to overcome in their lives. We often minimize or forget the influence people play in how we relate to one another, or even how we relate to God. It’s very likely that these girls will have similar questions regarding God that they did with their parents. Whether they’re good enough, loved enough or chosen. As a father, just thinking about this breaks my heart.

It seems obvious we can’t fully understand God. He is, by nature, simply too vast but I believe we can get a glimpse of His character by what we see and hear from Jesus. After all, being human is something we intrinsically have in common. That’s one of the reasons Jesus spoke in stories and parables, to bring understanding to things that would normally be beyond our grasp.

There is a place in scripture where Jesus said, “If your child asked for fish, will you give them a snake instead?” He concludes, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11). In this illustration, Jesus is helping us to understand more about the character of God, in what we already naturally understand of ourselves. This is why the story of these young girls at the orphanage is so heartbreaking, because even though we are flawed and broken, we still grasp how awful it is for them to have to live in this shadow of life.

I pray that in spite of their situations and yours, whatever they may be, that they and we will understand as human beings the heart behind Jesus’s words: that if a sparrow falls to the ground our father in heaven sees, and that you are more valuable than many sparrows, that the very hair on your head is numbered and that if anyone comes to him, he will never cast them out.

We will be going back to Buena Viva in October, and it is our hope to let all these children know this very thing.

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The Road to Haiti

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In 2012, our Genesis community raised just over $7,000. to build a latrine for St. Andres School in Haiti. It was great to see us work together and accomplish this task and the knowledge that this would help stop the spread of disease and actually save lives in that area was both meaningful and touching.

That Was Then, This is Now

1798791_464708820321836_412390815_nAsking about what we could do next to help at the school in Haiti, we were told that they needed a cafeteria/kitchen, which would enable the school to not only adequately prepare meals for over 100 children daily throughout the week, but that it would also allow the school to rent out their facility and bring in additional revenue which would help sustain the school and cost of operation. When I asked how much this would cost, I was told that it would be $20,000.

When I first heard the amount my thought was, maybe we could find another group to split this cost with us. I figured, ‘Hey, this would still be more than we contributed last year, so at least it’s progress.’

Not long after my thought of compromise, I was struck with the colorless safety of my faith, not to mention the uninspiring example as a leader. Every week I am challenging our community and myself to live our lives in the reality of God and how He is working, that God wants to do much more than we realize and that faith and risk often walk hand and hand. Yet here was an opportunity to be part of something bigger than us, and I was I going to play it safe?

We Can Do More Together

So, we took the challenge to raise the $20k in just a few short months. I spoke to everyone and shared how even though we are a relatively small community, if each of us consistently gave towards this, together we could accomplish this. Truthfully after about two months in, I wasn’t sure we were going to make it, but the response was wonderful as people took part not only in giving, but were creative in ways to raise money so that others could give also.

One moment that deeply touched and changed something inside me took place while I was speaking at a pastors’ conference in Vizcaino, Mexico in central Baja. Here was a group of farmers and fishermen who were also pastors; people who worked hard just to make a living and then worked hard to share their faith in Christ and help others. During my last talk, I spoke about what we at Genesis had taken on to do in Haiti and I wanted to encourage this group of men and women with what I was learning through all this which was, we can do more together than we can alone. Don’t try to do the work alone. When I was done speaking, one of the elderly pastors came up to me, handed me 200 pesos and simply said, “Haiti”. I was overwhelmed, knew I must take it, thanked him, excused myself, cried and had quite a moment. Something wonderful was happening in me through all of this. Big problems seemed smaller, God seemed bigger and people were filled with such amazing potential.

We Did it!

On Thursday, February 13th, I handed Jeannot a check to start construction on the building. I have always appreciated and respected Jeannot for the amazing work he does on a daily basis in Haiti, but getting to spend additional time with him on this trip I was also able to see more and more his love for the people and for Christ. He even invited me to speak at his church in Mirebalais. It was scary, a lot of fun, and a tremendous honor.

Who would have thought that 5 months ago our little Genesis community could raise $20,000. for a building in Haiti? But we did. Who would have thought that a beautiful, poor fisherman in central Baja would be part of that work? But he is. Who would have thought that a step of generous faith would lead us to deeper relationships and a richer trust in God? But it did.

I have learned that generosity is a condition of the heart, not of material substance and that we need to be generous in our faith as well as with our possessions. I’ve also been reminded more of what it means to be a leader, pastor or shepherd (I was recently blasted for not using traditional titles, so there’s a bunch for you, go ahead and pick your fave). I’ve learned that I can’t take people where I am unwilling to go and that sometimes I can’t go alone but I need, we need, to go.

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