Monday, April 30, 2012

The Lord's Prayer - Part 5

We return this week to our reflection on The Lord's Prayer, with the assistance of N.T. Wright and his book The Lord and His Prayer.

If you missed the previous weeks, follow the links below to catch up on the conversation:

Our Father in heaven
Your kingdom come
Give us this day
Forgive us our trespasses

Today we come to the phrase: Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. (following the NIV 2011).

Wright tells us that the word most often translated as “temptation” carries the meaning of “testing” or “tribulation.” To view this phrase as simply as request that God would keep us from the minor temptations that make up human life would, in Wright's estimation, be to trivialize the matter. Rather, Jesus' words proclaim the cry to avoid the trial of evil that will oppose Jesus and all who follow Him as they realize the Kingdom in this world. Yet Jesus knew that this encounter was unavoidable for him and for his followers, so he teaches us to ask the Father to protect us, to deliver us from this evil.

Therefore, says Wright, “we have to come to grips with the fact that Jesus gave this prayer to his disciples, but that when he prayed it himself the answer was 'No'. He put it together with an earlier part of the Lord's Prayer ('Thy will be done').When he held the two side by side, he found that God's will involved him in a unique vocation. He would be the one who was led to the Testing, who was not delivered from Evil.” 

As his followers we, thankfully, do not have to endure the Testing as he did, because he passed through it for us. But this does not mean that Jesus' brothers and sisters, God's children, will not have to face the reality of evil in this world. “And we can pray that prayer,” says Wright, “with confidence precisely because Jesus has met that power and has defeated it once for all.”

“What, then,” asks Wright, “is evil, and how are we delivered from it?” He points to three fundamental errors in how we choose to understand evil. We can pretend that it doesn't exist at all, believing that sometimes people do bad things, but if we all try a bit harder it will all work out. Perhaps all we need is better education, or social support, or whatever you prefer. The second error would be to wallow in evil, to see it everywhere and in every situation. This approach sees a demon behind every bush. Evil is so powerful and pervasive that all we can do is try to retreat and build a safe, exclusive community with high walls to keep evil at bay. Finally, the third erroneous response turns to self-righteousness. This response acknowledges evil but sees us, the righteous ones, as the ones who can do battle with and overcome it.

If we were to omit this phrase from the Prayer, we would be guilty of the first error. If we made it the only significant part of the prayer, we would be guilty of the second. And if we see ourselves as the solution to the problem, the answer to the prayer, we would be guilty of the third. 

Jesus didn't embrace any of these responses. He himself overcame evil as the true righteous one. But he didn't do say in spectacular battle, with guns blazing and and slick media campaign. “His way is to recognize the reality and power of evil, and to confront it with the reality and power of the kingdom-announcement. The result is Gethsemane and Calvary.” 

Evil continues as a reality in our world. We must recognize and confront it, but not in our own strength or our own self-righteousness. “To pray 'deliver us from evil', or 'from the evil one', is to inhale the victory of the cross, and thereby to hold the line for another moment, another hour, another day, against the forces of destruction within ourselves and the world.” When we repeat this phrase we cry out to the Almighty God who has defeated evil through the resurrection of Jesus, asking God to strengthen, protect and preserve us in the on-going battle with this defeated evil. The war may be won but the battles continue and we need the strength of the conquering Savior to sustain us as we confront evil in its numerous forms. We cannot pretend it doesn't exist. We cannot give up in hopeless defeatism. Nor can we overcome it through our own efforts. But we can join our voices in asking God to preserve us and her own creation from the forces that continue to seek its destruction, that work against redemption and liberation of God's people.

When I understand this phrase in this way, I find it much more significant and powerful than simply asking God to keep me from the temptation of daily sin. Yes, it means that as well, but it means so much more than that. Jesus invites us to join him in the battle to bring his Kingdom to fulfillment.

How does this approach to these words help you in confronting evil in your world?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

He Loves Us

We sang this, one of my favorite songs, during our worship gathering this morning.

I love the imagery in this song. My favorite lines are:

If grace is an ocean we're all sinking.


I don't have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves us...

Great thoughts to ponder on this Sunday.

I also like this earlier version of the song, which contains the line:

Heaven greets earth like a sloppy wet kiss...

The David Crowder Band recorded this line with different words: 

Heaven greets earth like an unforeseen kiss...

It sounds a lot "cleaner" and less messy, but for some reason I really prefer the original wording.

How about you?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Strong is Beautiful

I am not normally an advocate of strength. I think our society misconstrues strength as a measure of worth or success, especially when it comes to men. The ideal man is physically strong. He revels in his own strength and seeks to demonstrate it over and against that of others. He proves his manliness by being stronger than others. In addition, although the modern man is allowed a limited amount of emotional display, he shows his emotional strength by not revealing his emotions. Being viewed as emotional is generally not acceptable in male circles. It will get you labeled as effeminate, which is about the worst insult a man can receive.

At the same time, women are supposed to be modest and demure. We are often uncomfortable with displays of strength in women. Somehow it strikes us as unfeminine. Perhaps this is one reason that women's sports struggle for acceptance: the idea of athletically-strong women seems to violate the feminine mystique.

For this reason I like the ad campaign of the WTA (Women's Tennis Association): Strong is beautiful. Of course the campaign aims to promote the activities of the WTA first and foremost and we will grant them this right. But I appreciate that they have chosen to accentuate that strength and beauty need not be mutually exclusive qualities in a woman. The pictures and videos produced for this series emphasize the combination of grace and and athleticism that these female athletes possess. I like the statement made by Caroline Wozniacki, one of the world's top tennis players:

“It takes so many elements to reach the top of such a competitive sport as tennis – strength of character, discipline and willpower. All of these things define who we are as people and as athletes. For me the new campaign captures the inner strength of players in a beautiful way.”

By contrast, I would not find a similar campaign on behalf of male athletes nearly so appealing. In fact  I think it would be unnecessary. We don't need to be told that “strong is handsome” because we already believe it. I think a comparable campaign for men would have to emphasize precisely the opposite. Society needs to hear the message for men that “humble is handsome” or something like that. But meekness doesn't really sell well for men in our society, does it?

Jesus' Kingdom is counter-cultural. In Matthew 5 he tells us that the meek are the ones who are blessed. But even within the church we more often celebrate strength in men and meekness in women. Are only women meant to be meek? Are only men able to show strength? Or should we not all display meekness, while also embracing the strengths that God has given us? Too often I have seen and heard the church celebrating only those women who project an appropriately feminine image of meekness and submission. We ask them to mute their beauty and stifle their strength because, we argue, this is more appropriate and spiritual for women. But is it? Does God's Kingdom have room for strong women? Does it have room for a woman to embrace the beauty God has given her – in whatever area that may be? I don't want us to fetishize beauty as our world has, but I think we send the wrong message as well by making beauty and strength into something shameful.

Conversely, I would like to see the Church celebrate true humility and meekness in men. I'd like to think that a man wouldn't have to be traditionally “manly” in order to find his place in the church. Each of us is unique and I believe that we should celebrate and promote that uniqueness in our churches. Rather than prescribing behaviour for men and women based on culturally-defined gender roles, let's give each person the freedom and opportunity to embrace and become the person that God made her or him to be. For some that may look a lot like the traditional image, but for others it may mean being a strong woman or a quiet man. The goal isn't to be what someone else thinks we should be, but to become the person God created us to be. Let's create an environment where that can happen in our churches, which includes admitting that for women, strong can be beautiful.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Enjoying Women's Sports

A few weeks ago I shared the not-so-shocking revelation that the Unguy enjoys watching sports. Now I must make another confession: I actually enjoy watching women's sports. In fact, I often prefer women's sports to men's. I am an avid fan of women's soccer and faithfully follow the US Women's National Team. I also really enjoy women's professional tennis, much more so than men's tennis, which I hardly watch at all.

When I talk with others about my interest in women's sports, I generally receive one (or both) of two responses. Many people cannot imagine that women's sports can be very interesting or that women could play well. Therefore they are either unaware of the existence of women's sports or they have no interest in them. Alternatively, some people find it very strange for a man to have interest in an activity pursued by women. Let me consider both of these responses more closely.

The first response demonstrates an inherent and unacceptable bias regarding women's athletic ability. It assumes that women are physically less talented, strong or proficient than men and therefore in any sport in which both men and women compete, the women's branch must naturally be less interesting to watch. This bias affects the whole world of women's sports. Because of it, fewer people watch women's sports events. Because few people watch, it is harder to attract sponsors and advertisers, so fewer women's events are broadcast, thereby keeping awareness of women's sports low. Because awareness remains low, people do not see what women are capable of, so they retain their bias. It's a self-propagating cycle. In addition, many young women may remain unaware of the potential they have as female athletes. As seeks to demonstrate in multiple areas, young women cannot be what they cannot see. If they do not see professional women athletes, they may be less inclined to pursue athletics themselves. Thankfully many young women overcome this, at least at the entry and junior levels of sports, but lacking viable professional venues for their activities, only the most devoted will continue to engage in athletics as they get older.

As an example, consider that there is currently no active women's professional football (soccer) league in the United States, although we have the world's number one ranked women's football team. If you haven't seen them play, you really should. Although this team ranks number one, many of their matches still receive no television coverage. Often they are not available even as free streaming broadcasts on the internet. By comparison, men's football, even in the US, gets regular broadcast time on cable and broadcast television and on the internet, most often for a fee. A petition at was launched to redress this imbalance, but it remains to be seen whether it will have any effect. As another example, tournaments of the WTA (Women's Tennis Association, the body governing women's professional tennis) are often not broadcast except on a pay-per-view website, while men's events are more often featured on cable and broadcast sports channels. The Grand Slam tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) are exceptions to this, but they are the premier events and are combined men's and women's tournaments.

The second response frustrates me because it demonstrates a lingering gender bias in society. Why should it be strange for a man to enjoy women's athletics, when few if any people find it strange for women to support men's athletics? Why should it be considered abnormal or weird for me to wear a jersey with the name and number of Alex Morgan or Hope Solo (two of the top players on the US Women's NationalSoccer team), while a woman could wear a jersey with Tim Tebow's name and number without anyone thinking twice about it? I find that many people assume that nothing related to women could (or should!) be appealing to men. But I disagree. There is nothing wrong or inappropriate about men being interested in many – even most – things that are traditionally of interest to women. I think the bias against women having interest in traditionally “male” activities has significantly declined, but the bias in the other direction remains quite strong.

I think that men and women should feel free to pursue their interests without regard to traditional gender divisions. Although I am a supporter of mixed-gender teams, I am not arguing that we should eliminate the distinction between men's and women's sports. I am arguing that men should not be made to feel that they are abnormal for supporting women's sports, or other hobbies and interests traditionally considered feminine. I consider this to be part of being an unguy and I will continue my own campaign by actively watching and supporting women's athletics.

Do you consider it unusual or abnormal for men to have interest in women's activities?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Power of Introverts

I laughed when I heard Susan Cain say:

“In my family, reading was the primary group activity.”

She could easily be describing my family as well. Drop by to visit our house and you will most likely find each member of the family reading a book, (printed or electronic) or doing something on their computer. We are all quite content to sit together in the living room, each wrapped up in her or his own world. Don't let this fool you though. As is said, “Still waters run deep.”

We are a family of introverts. Sometimes we think that our son might be an extrovert, but when I consider Cain's description of the difference between introverts and extroverts, I would conclude that he is also an introvert, though less strongly so than his mother and sister. For those who like the descriptions afforded by the Myers-Briggs types, my wife is a strong ISTJ and I am an INFJ, although I have also tested as ENFJ. My daughter is most likely INTP. Our son still has us rather mystified as to his personality. I think his life journey so far has worked to subvert his natural personality.

I am not a strong introvert. As I said, I have also tested as an extrovert and always come fairly close to the middle on tests of introversion and extroversion. I could accurately be described as an ambivert. As an introvert, I tend to be at my most creative and productive when I can have solitude and few disruptions. But I also do need social interaction to help maintain a healthy balance. When I do not have social interaction for too long, I get a little stir crazy. My wife doesn't have this problem. She can spend days and days with limited social interaction and be happy as a clam at high tide.

My challenge these days comes from my current work situation. All of my work happens in virtual environments from my home office. Which means I spend most of my day by myself in front of my computer. As an introvert this should be ideal. As an ambivert it leaves me craving social interaction. I love my family and have the privilege of sharing the home office with my wife most of the time. But I need outside interaction as well and am still looking for ways to have it. I may even come across to some as an extrovert, because after so much time alone and with my limited social contact I can be outgoing even to the clerk at the grocery store! I am also learning how to allow virtual relationships to meet some of that social need.

I appreciate very much Cain's comments about the need to change our educational and work environments to better meet the needs of introverts. I think not primarily of myself, but of my daughter, who is like her mother in her introversion. Putting her in a group-think and group-work environment stretches her in some ways that are useful, but also stifles her creativity and energy. She will not feel her most alive and switched on in a large group, especially one dominated by extroverts.

Over the years I have struggled to accept myself and my family as we are. At times I feel like we are somehow abnormal, that we should be more like other families whom I perceive to be more athletic, or social, or active, or you name it. I have made halting efforts to try to compel my family to be different, but I am coming to accept that our preferences and inclinations for entertainment and refreshment reflect who we are and do not need to change to fit some model or image of what a “healthy” family looks like. Each family is unique in the combination of personalities. My family doesn't have to engage in youth sports, or family hiking, or anything else, in order to be okay. We are quite happy to treat reading as a group activity. It may not be the model preferred in our culture, but it's who we are. And it's okay to be a group of introverts.

What are your thoughts in response to Cain's presentation?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Breaking Down Barriers

In the book of Galatians we read:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Echoing this powerful statement, Kathy Escobar in her book Down We Go quotes her friend Ken Loyd as saying:

“There's no us and them; there's only us.”

Kathy and her friend emphasize that the Kingdom of God doesn't divide between people. This Kingdom doesn't have a privileged elite and the less-privileged masses. It doesn't respect differences between races, ethnicities, economic levels or genders. Nonetheless, she argues, we perpetuate such divisions in our culture and, unfortunately, in our churches.

“We make friends and build relationships with people who have similar backgrounds, educations, passions and theologies. Individuals and groups with resources and power very rarely mix with people without them, and we see this perpetuated in class systems, racial divides, and the deep chasms between groups we see in many neighborhoods.”

We create and maintain these divisions because they give us a sense of security, comfort and identity. Obviously it is much easier to relate to people who are like me than to people who are unlike me. Also, by focusing on those who are most like me, I can avoid being confronted by unpleasant realities or unwelcome ideas, things that disrupt my settled world. I can label the outsider and by so doing quickly dismiss her or him. Dianna Anderson recently wrote this insightful piece on othering, the process by which we label those who are different than us so that we don't have to encounter and deal with them as individuals and real people. As she says:

“We Other the people we disagree with – when we make them, in our minds, into something so unlike ourselves that we strip them of their humanity and dignity.”

In order to avoid othering, to destroy the walls and divisions we build to separate ourselves from others, Kathy suggests that we must first get in touch with our own spiritual poverty. “The barriers exist because we're afraid to acknowledge our pain,” she states. By building barriers and excluding others we believe we can protect ourselves. We can put ourselves in a superior position as the ones who have it together, who can offer help, assistance or advice to others, to those poor unfortunate “others” who haven't got what the people in our group have. If only they would be like us, then they'd be okay (and society would be a better place.)

Embracing our spiritual poverty, Kathy tells us, opens us to real relationships.

“When we give up self-protection we allow ourselves to feel and care. We begin to weep with others and weep for ourselves. We become acutely aware of the human struggle not only in others' lives but also our own. We let go of quick fixes and simple solutions and embrace the long, hard journey of relationship with other people where we cry together, celebrate together, and feel each other's pain.”

Breaking down the barriers requires us also to give up our positions of privilege and control. If we include those whom we have excluded and treat them as equals with full human dignity, we must listen to their input, value their contributions and allow them to speak into our lives as well. I want to come back to this in a future post and look at a paradigm shift Kathy proposes in how we build relationships across boundaries that have often divided people.

Although I embrace fully this vision of a community in which us versus them has become just us, I must admit that it also makes me incredibly uncomfortable. For example, an organization to which I belong is currently undergoing a significant restructuring. As part of this process the leaders of the organization proposed to eliminate the category of “member.” I, along with many others, responded quite negatively to this proposal. We didn't want to open the doors to just anyone who might want to become affiliated with our organization. We didn't want to risk losing control. As an organization we are still wrestling with this proposal, its implications and how we might become more inclusive without losing our organizational distinctives. As I think of what Kathy has written, I'm re-evaluating my perspective on this question. I'm asking myself why I feel it is so important to maintain a boundary between members and non-members. At the same time I'm asking myself whether Kathy's vision is realistic in this fallen world. I like the idea as a concept, but when I start thinking of what it might look like in practice I become much less bold. As Kathy suggests, I am afraid to make myself vulnerable and to surrender my sense of security and control.

I'm trying to take steps in this direction. I'm trying to listen to voices that I previously would have ignored or even mocked. I'm trying to not other those I disagree with, although I see how easily and often I do it. I'm looking for opportunities to connect with those who can offer me new horizons and perspectives and, just maybe, play a role in transforming me. I'm tentatively stepping outside of my safe and comfortable Christian bubble and encountering the world at large. It's exciting but scary at the same time.

How have you created or perpetuated divisions in your community, society and in the Church? What steps have you taken or can you take to remove those barriers? How does the prospect of this make you feel?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Lord's Prayer - Part 4

After a hiatus due to traveling that kept me away from the book I am discussing, we return today to N.T. Wright's The Lord and His Prayer and the particular phrase:

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

I used to reach this phrase in the prayer and run through a mental examination of my life in the day – or whatever time had elapsed – since the last time I confessed my sins. The words of 1 John 1:8-10 weighed as a heavy burden in the back of my mind. At times I would agonize over the possibility that I might leave something unconfessed and therefore find myself excluded from grace. This would lead to an exhausting examination of every detail, wondering whether a particular act or thought constituted sin.

At other times I would pass lightly through these words, confessing my sin in broad, general terms without feeling the need to do a thorough examination of my conscience. Now I doubt that Jesus had either of these responses in mind when he gave us this example.

N.T. Wright, not surprisingly, connects these words with the events of Israel's past, reminding us that Israel's oppression and exile were always related to their sins. Therefore, proclamation of forgiveness from sin was to announce freedom and this is precisely what Jesus brought through his life, death and, ultimately, through his victory on the cross. Forgiveness of sins meant not only something spiritual and existential, but something real and tangible. It meant walking, or seeing, or even rising from the dead.
It meant sharing bread and wine – partying – with those whom “spiritual” people consider outcasts.

"Healings, parties, stories and symbols all said: the forgiveness of sins is happening, right under your noses. This is the new Exodus, the real Return from Exile, the prophetic fulfilment, the great liberation. This is the disgraceful Advent of our astonishing God."

As those who have received and who daily or regularly receive once again this forgiveness from God, who now participate in the freedom of life in Jesus, we are rightfully called to reflect that same forgiveness to others. We cannot expect forgiveness for ourselves while withholding it from others. Not to extend forgiveness to others would mean, as Wright says, that we haven't really grasped what is going on.

"The only reason for being Kingdom-people, for being Jesus' people, was that the forgiveness of sins was happening; so if you didn't live forgiveness, you were denying the very basis of your own existence."

Forgiveness is a key part of the life of a Jesus-follower. It is central not only to the personal, individual life of faith, but crucial to the very life and message of God's people, the Church. Without receiving the forgiveness of God ourselves AND extending that forgiveness to one another and to the world, we cut ourselves off from the very grace by which we claim to live. Our practice of forgiveness should draw people to this astonishing God who practices forgiveness freely and abundantly.

"The church is to embody before the world the disgraceful, glorious, shocking and joyful message of the arrival of the King. When the world sees what the Church is doing, it ought to ask questions to which the proper answer would be a story about a father running down the road to embrace his disreputable son."

Now, ever-so-slowly, I am changing my understanding and practice of this phrase. Yes, I still need to examine my heart for the personal trespasses of any given day: the anger toward another, the overeating at lunch, the bad attitude toward my boss. But I also strive to allow God's Spirit to show me where I have failed to be an ambassador of his Kingdom on a larger scale, such as how I have perpetuated a lifestyle of privilege and indulgence that harms his world and my fellow humans, or how I have failed to love those who I find unlovable. At the same time I ask God to help me forgive, to truly set free, those who have wounded and hurt me, those who by their actions or inactions have placed me in a position of bondage through my own anger, hurt or other woundedness.

I'm still figuring out what this looks like in practice. I have found this chapter in Wright's book the most difficult to work out in practical terms. But two thoughts he shares in closing make a good starting point.

"It is our birthright, as the followers of Jesus, to breathe in true divine forgiveness day by day..."

"As we learn what it is like to be forgiven, we begin to discover that it is possible, and indeed joyful, to forgive others."

How have you experienced the connection between forgiveness and freedom?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Responding to Micky

As I read Micky De Witt's guest post from Friday and continue to reflect on it I feel sadness and sorrow. I grieve that a woman like Micky should feel shame simply because she is a woman. I mourn that the world has sold her a lie concerning her identity and her worth.

And I feel angry. Outrage rises within me when I realize that it is not only the world that has sold her this lie, but the Church has peddled it as well. The people of God, the very people who should be affirming her worth and dignity, have far too often been the very ones limiting these, even denying them. How many women like Micky has the Church – have we – injured, wounded and excluded by policies and practices of exclusion? How is it that we have chosen to deny and denigrate the worth and value of our sisters, who are made fully in God's image? We men have clung to our position of privilege and power and in the process have hurt so many people, creating barriers and hindrances that keep them from discovering and embracing their true identities and potentialities in Jesus.

Micky, I apologize. I apologize that as a man I have benefited and participated in a system that has told you that you are worth less as a woman; that you should be ashamed of yourself, your beauty and your gifts and talents because you are not a man. I have reaped the benefits of being a man both in the world as a whole and particularly within the Church long enough, and it is time for change. I ask your forgiveness. And I ask that you as a woman and as a sister in Jesus, would allow me to walk alongside you in this journey of faith, learning from you and together with you, listening to you and conversing with you, affirming the dignity and worth that you have as a child of almighty God.

I am so glad you are overcoming shame. I rejoice that you are embracing your identity in Jesus. And I give thanks that I have the privilege of knowing you—and other beautiful women like you—who enrich my life and this world and who radiate the beauty of our creator God. This world would be a terribly dull, colorless, empty place without the richness that women like you bring to it.

I am encouraged by the growing awakening that I am becoming aware of, the awakening within God's people that affirms the value and dignity of each person and welcomes her or his contribution to the Kingdom of God, without regard to gender or education or ethnicity or any of the things that we currently allow to divide us. Don't give up the fight Micky. We're in this together and we're not alone.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Getting Beyond Shame - A Guest Post

Today we have the privilege of hearing from a new friend of mine: Micky De Witt. I want to learn to listen more to the stories of others, to begin to see the world through eyes that are different from mine. I asked Micky to share her experience and struggle with shame, something that many of us struggle with. Micky and I both welcome your comments in response to what she shares, and you can follow her blog at:  Thanks so much for sharing with us Micky!

The topic of shame is new to me, but the feeling of shame is something that has been with me for as long as I can remember. I just didn’t know the feeling had a name.

It happens every time I leave the house wearing a dress. It happens every time I am spoken to by a man other than my husband or father. It happens when I attempt to speak at church. It happens when I write and post about a controversial topic on my blog. It’s this feeling that asks the question, “Who do you think you are?” It reminds me that I am just a woman, uneducated, and that my mere existence can cause grown men to stumble. It tells me that wearing pretty clothes is prideful. It whispers to me that my gender has already settled the score. I will always come in second. It hushes any desire to lead because I haven’t read enough books. I lack experience, and who would want to follow me anyway?

That is shame.

Realizing this took some time. I used to just think of it as humility, submission, and simply who I was. It wasn’t until I was allowed to cross over those lines that I realized that shame was what was holding me back. Self-doubt and fear were long-time friends of mine and I still hang out with them from time to time. Sometimes, learning to say goodbye can be a process.

Coming to this realization is still very new. When you have walked one way for so long, it takes time to examine the new road and even longer to walk comfortably. I am in transition. For me personally, the beliefs I held that contributed to my shame were also the beliefs of others around me. This complicates things. It’s not my job to change people, and the last time I checked, people (including myself) don’t respond well to forceful opinions.

So what is a girl to do? I am learning to tread gently. I lean on those who encourage and walk forward with me. I write about different issues on my blog in hopes to start a conversation. And more than anything, I try to find my identity in Jesus. He is not the King of Shame, but the conqueror of it. He tells us to walk boldly, speak truthfully, and to love with abandon.

The last part is tricky. To abandon means to leave those thoughts behind… And not just the thoughts about myself but also the thoughts I have towards others. My battle with shame should not motivate me to elevate myself, but it should help me see myself and others as equals. It can be so tempting to pull out my megaphone and yell to the world that being a woman doesn’t make me any less… but you know what? It doesn’t make me any greater either. Not having a college degree doesn’t make me stupid, but I also see my need for those who are wiser.

I’d like to say that I don’t battle with shame anymore, but as I said earlier, this is very new still. I struggle with it daily. I have a hard time with making eye contact. I have a hard time with initiating conversation. The list of struggles could go on. But it helps to have a community of people around who encourage me through my weakness. Without people, I am sure that Shame would win each and every time.

So I walk. I take each step in fear and trembling and some days I make strides while on other days I run backwards. It’s a process. It’s a fight. It requires sweat and tears, but it worth it. Because through the process, I get to see more of who I was made to be. As each layer falls to the floor, more and more of the New Creation is revealed. I wouldn’t give up the fight for anything.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Making the Invisible Visible

“The Kingdom of God can easily seem like a dream,” writes Kathy Escobar in her book Down We Go. It doesn't take much observation to concede how true that statement is. The Kingdom of God calls for peace, love, justice, mercy, compassion and a number of other attributes that run counter to the dominant trends in human society. Yet, we cannot give up on the Kingdom as a hopeless ideal. We need to remain “hopeful dreamers” as Kathy describes herself.

When we work with God to bring the Kingdom here on earth we discover that “dreams are much prettier when they are just dreams.” When we really start on the downward life, Kathy assures us that we will confront this difficult reality. “Diversity usually sounds best in theory,” she states. It would be far easier to keep talking about the Kingdom and upholding its lofty ideals while remaining safe, comfortable and secure in our everyday lives. I'm naturally inclined to that. I don't want to have to actually “do” anything that would make my life messy and uncomfortable.

What's more, if I want to enter into real relationship with others in this downward life, Kathy reminds me that I must embrace humility and a theology of brokenness. What does this look like?

“A theology of brokenness embraces our spiritual poverty, questions, doubts, and desire for love, hope and redemption, and reminds us that the stink and the beauty are wrapped into one. We can't just focus on the group of people who will confirm that our ministry is a success. Instead, we must include people who will challenge our definitions of success and stretch our imaginations about what the Kingdom of God looks like. It turns things upside-down. It includes people we wouldn't. This is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

This is not easy stuff. It means I have to admit my own brokenness and stop trying to uphold the image that I've got it all together. It means admitting that I don't have all the answers because, as Kathy puts it, “An 'I've got it all figured out' attitude leaves no room for God or others.” But admitting these things means making myself vulnerable and I hesitate to do that, even in Christian community, for fear that I will be judged or deemed less spiritual by those around me. Going to church or most any Christian community more often than not becomes an exercise in hiding and denying that brokenness, because admitting it is too risky. The truth is too ugly and painful and it is easier to hide it than to acknowledge it and begin to find freedom. Kathy says: “Maybe wholeness begins with accepting our brokenness.” I am increasingly inclined to agree with her.

When we embrace our brokenness, Kathy tells us, we can begin to see the world with new eyes. We can begin to see those whom we didn't see before. We stop giving priority to those who seem to have it all together, to those who are talented or esteemed in the eyes of others. We see past appearances. We begin, as she says, to make what is invisible visible. We affirm the worth of each and every person, regardless of how much he or she exhibits the qualities that this world values.

“I believe wholeheartedly that Christ-followers could change the world, a city and their communities if we humbly and actively participated in making the invisible, visible—if we were part of calling out the dignity, beauty and worth of every human being regardless of race, age, gender, socioeconomics, religion, brokenness, weird-life-circumstances and social status.”

That's a vision I can embrace. So I am asking myself how we can become authentic people, particularly in our Christian communities? How can we not only allow for vulnerability, but actual invite and affirm it, not in an effort to “fix” one another, but in order to accept our mutual brokenness and release its power to control us through shame and fear? How can I affirm the dignity of each and every person I interact with and how can I actively seek out those who have been invisible to me? I am wrestling with these questions a lot these days. For myself the first step is to stop pretending, to own my failures and my brokenness and to let go of an attitude that claims I have the answers. I'm trying to live a more authentic life, but it's scary because it's not so neat, orderly, secure and controlled.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

An Echo from Bonhoeffer

I have long admired Dietrich Bonhoeffer, so much so that my wife and I named our son in his honor. I'm currently reading a recent biography of his life—no, not the one by Eric Metaxas, although I have read that one as well and have definite thoughts about it, but the one written by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen. In today's reading I came across a citation from a letter Bonhoeffer wrote to his oldest brother Karl Friedrich in 1935 in which he says:

“I think I am right in saying that I would only achieve true inner clarity and honesty by really starting to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously. Here alone lies the force that can blow all this hocus-pocus [he was referring to Naziism] sky-high – like fireworks, leaving only a few burnt-out shells behind...Things do exist that are worth standing up for without compromise. To me it seems that peace and social justice are such things, as is Christ himself.

In these words I hear Bonhoeffer saying in 1935 much the same thing that Kathy Escobar and others are saying in 2012. I hear a call to live from the teaching and example of Jesus, particularly as given in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. I am encouraged by the reminder that Bonhoeffer too recognized that for some things – or against some things – we must take a firm stand. I don't think that Kathy Escobar or any one else needs her words confirmed by the words of someone like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but at the same time I find strength in being reminded that this message resonates throughout the history of God's people. Most of the time, as it was in Bonhoeffer's day, it is the minority voice speaking against the dominant trends of power and the status quo. Unfortunately, now as in his time these voices often dominate the conversation even within the Church. But that should not keep us from speaking out, from standing without compromise for those things – or people – that truly matter. For Bonhoeffer this stand eventually cost him his life. I must confess that I hope such a stand will not be so costly for me, but it will have a cost. Am I willing to pay the price?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Down We Go: Embracing Downward Mobility

When I began to read Kathy Escobar's book Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus my heart immediately resonated with her message. In fact, I would say it is not her message at all but the message of the Gospel, the call to join Jesus in identifying with the outcast, the marginalized, the powerless and voiceless. It is the call to authentic relationship, to honest and open vulnerability, to giving away power instead of accumulating and clinging to it. I have heard this Gospel message before, but over the years it has easily been lost or buried in the voices around me that proclaim a different Gospel, one that calls us to an upward path. Kathy describes it this way:

“For years, I had been taught that, with enough prayer, scripture and Christian fellowship, I wouldn't struggle. This ascent theology definitely catalyzed my secular longings to 'rise above' and 'make it to that place where I wouldn't have to struggle anymore'. However, I discovered I couldn't reconcile this idea with the realities of my own story and the stories of so many others.”

For an alternative Kathy looked to the Beatitudes as a pattern for the Jesus life. This pattern, she saw, calls us to welcome pain, to honor doubt, to give away power and privilege, to practice equality and remove boundaries rather than raising them, to demonstrate love, mercy, compassion and justice rather than judgment, condemnation, and to live authentic lives rather than trying to present an image that we've got it all together, that life with Jesus is, as the old sacchariny-sweet song said: “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.” That's a nice sentiment, but it's not the reality many—maybe most—people live.

The Beatitudes mess with your life, Kathy says. They don't make sense in our world and in our contemporary culture.

“Success, war, vengeance, power and strength are the guiding principles of our day. Humility, gentleness, desperation, spiritual poverty, advocating for justice and being persecuted for standing on the side of the oppressed are sure to make us inconvenienced, challenged and humbled.”

Unfortunately much of the contemporary Church, especially the conservative evangelical American church, has effectively embraced the story of power and success—even in churches that do not advocate a prosperity Gospel. While we often seek to minister “to” the poor, we generally live apart and above them, reaching down to them from our positions of power and privilege. (More on that later as we examine other chapters in the book.) We have excluded people more than we have included, directly or indirectly communicating to people that they cannot really be “in” until they change and become like us. And in some cases, such as with women, we've basically said they can never really be equal because, well, because they don't fit our image of what it means to be a Christian. They really aren't qualified to lead and their stories don't have a place in our churches.

I'm realizing more and more how wrong we are in this. We've emphasized power and control, comfort and security. As a white male from a middle class background I have benefited from and by choice or by passive non-choice have perpetuated this system. I've been wrong to do so and now repent of my choices and failures to act and am seeking to change my course to the downwardly-mobile Jesus life that Kathy has called to my attention. But the change is not easy and it's not an overnight one. Like Kathy I would say “Embedded in my DNA is a desire for clean, neat, tidy, and 'successful'.” Like her I am kicking, screaming and resisting this downward momentum, largely because I'm scared. I'm scared to follow a path that tells me that the things the world (and often the church) say are valuable have no value in the Kingdom of God. I'm scared to encounter the poverty of others, to enter the place of the outcast, the marginalized, the powerless and voiceless. I don't want to surrender my position of power and privilege.

Nonetheless this downwardly-mobile life calls me. It calls me because it leads me to become the person I want to be. I resonate with Kathy's description:

“I want to be a person of humility, willing to give up my safety and comfort for the sake of others. I want to be a person who risks, engaging in the dangerous work of living the Bible instead of only learning about it. I want to be a person of hope, sacrificing my current circumstances to participate in building a better future. I want to be a person of courage, boldly practicing love.”

Kathy herself is much further along on this journey than I am and she acknowledges that still for her it is not always easy. She admits that the view from below is not always beautiful. “Yes,” she says, “sometimes it definitely stinks down here. But I've learned to really love the smell.” I hope that I will learn to as well.

How about you? How do you respond to the invitation to live a downwardly-mobile Jesus life?

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Bible as a Manual

You know you are in Germany when you can buy beer from the same vending machine as Coca-cola—and the beer is less expensive. You know you are in Germany when that same vending machine is located at a Christian retreat center.

I'm in Germany this week attending a seminar on leadership. We're learning lots of good stuff, which I may come back to in coming days. But this morning one man made a comment that caught my attention and which I want to reflect on briefly. He said something to the effect that everything we need to know about leadership we can find in the Bible. He said that all other books on leadership may help bring out some of these principles, but that the Bible contains all that we need to know about being leaders. Not that long ago I would have either agreed to this statement or passed it over without thinking about it, but today it set off questions in my head. This man essentially was making the same basic claim I have heard in other contexts, that the Bible is basically the only manual we need for living. It's our guidebook to [fill in the blank], in this case, leadership.

I agree that from the various stories in the Bible we can draw conclusions about leadership, both good and bad. And I definitely believe that Jesus offers us the best example of leadership, and I'm doing a lot of reflecting these days on what that looks like, with the help of Kathy Escobar's book Down We Go, as I wrote the other day. (Yes, we'll be coming back to that when I have more time to properly reflect on her writings.)

But is it accurate to see the Bible as THE manual on leadership? Was the Bible written as an instruction manual for any specific topic? I do not think so. This is not to say that it doesn't have anything to say on various topics, but I think we err when we try to read it as a (or THE) manual for living. I simply don't think it was written for that purpose. So I react negatively to any suggestion that all we need to know about a topic can be found in this collection of books known as the Bible.

I've been closely following and engaging with the discussion Rachel Held Evans has been having on her blog for several weeks now concerning the Bible. If you haven't read any of it, it's worth the time and you can start from this entry. I'm moving to a new approach to understanding this book called the Bible. I no longer find my older, simplistic view adequate to the realities of the text or the world in which we live. I haven't reached a point where I can clearly articulate how I approach it, though I resonate strongly with Rachel's questions and answers.

Have you heard people refer to the Bible as a manual for living, or some particular topic? How do you feel about this view of Scripture?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Upward or Downward?

I spent most of Easter Sunday either on an airplane or waiting for flights at airports—primarily in Houston. While not an ideal way to spend Easter, it did allow a lot of time for reading. The day before I left I received a couple new books in the mail and I am thoroughly enjoying them on this trip. The first is a relatively new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Ferdinand Schlingensiepen. I have a deep and abiding interest in Bonhoeffer's life and writings, so am looking forward to this latest biography and may write some about this in the future (particularly comparing it to the more well-known but inferior biography by Eric Metaxas.)

However, I am captivated even more at present by the other book I received: Down We Go, by Kathy Escobar. I find that I often deeply resonate with things that Kathy writes on her blog (included in my blog list: the carnival in my head) and when I saw that she had written this book I quickly ordered it. I rarely devour books, but this one has captured me and I completed half of it by the time I arrived in Germany. Kathy challenges us that living a Jesus-centered life will force us to live counter to the dominant trend not only in our culture, but also within most churches. This is not in itself a new teaching and Kathy does not claim it is. But she describes more specifically what it means to “live into the wild ways of Jesus,” as the books subtitle declares. She shares a lot of good thoughts and challenging ideas and I plan to share thoughts and reflections from it over the coming days or weeks.

As I traveled on Sunday I took an occasional break from Kathy's book and browsed the in-flight magazine. If you've ever flown you know what these magazines are like: filled with glossy pictures of exotic locations, high-end hotels and spas and glamorous people. The magazine articles invite you to live in this chic world, tempting you with visions of paradise. Apparently even if you fly in coach class you must have the means or at least the desire to inhabit such a realm. And the truth is, it appeals to the hedonist in me in some ways. I wonder what it would be like to live in such luxury that I could travel anywhere, stay in the nicest hotels and never (apparently) have to worry about money.

The irony of the contrast struck me. On the one hand I had this glossy magazine depicting the world's images of success and leisure. On the other I had a book challenging me to live a downwardly-mobile life, to identify with the marginalized, oppressed and outcast. The contrast couldn't have been much sharper (unless perhaps I'd been reading this magazine while walking through the slums of Haiti). To be fair to Kathy, she isn't necessarily calling everyone to give up their material wealth and move into the slums. But she is calling us to live in a radically different way that forsakes power and control; that rejects the upward climb toward success and security. The downwardly mobile life is precisely the opposite of what the world and, unfortunately, often the church encourage and practice.

I'm tempted to pursue the life depicted in the in-flight magazine. Part of me thinks that this would be such a pleasant way to live. But I wonder whether it truly satisfies. It may be comfortable, secure, even influential, but does it fulfill the soul? Does it stimulate and allow for real relationship? I can't honestly say because I don't live at that level, but I suspect that much of it is empty. As strange as it seems, I'm much more attracted to the downward life Kathy writes about. As she says, “It stinks down here but I really love the smell.” I'm not there yet. I think Kathy herself would say she's still learning and growing in this lifestyle, but she's already ahead of me.

What about you? Are you pursuing upward mobility, not just in the material world but spiritually? Or are you willing to take the downward path and enter into the “wild ways of Jesus?”

Look for more on this in the coming days or weeks and I encourage you to pick up Kathy's book and read it for yourself.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why This Friday is Called Good

I've seen several comments on Facebook and elsewhere today related to Good Friday. Many ask the question why it is called “Good” when it commemorates the death of Jesus. Certainly on one level the label doesn't seem to fit.

But it does fit, because for humanity this day marks the beginning of the process by which the entire story of the universe was transformed. The event we commemorate on this day will culminate on Sunday as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. No better, no more significant, no more meaningful event has ever happened in the history of the world. Yes, the opening scene appears to be a tragedy, loaded with grief and sorrow. We should grieve. But we should keep in mind that today is only the opening scene. And we know the end of the story. As Tony Campolo reminds us, citing a sermon he once heard, “It's Friday, but Sunday's comin'!”

In the events of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday we, everyone, all humanity, receives the opportunity to live in freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from shame, from injustice and bondage (and there are many types of bondage). The death and resurrection of Jesus announce the redemption of the world from its fallen state, from its brokenness and all that accompanies this. This redemption is of course for us humans, but it also touches on the whole creation. With the resurrection of Jesus we see God's Kingdom break into the world in a new, radical and powerful way. 

By accomplishing his purposes for creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God demonstrates that her ways are not the ways of the world. God could have acted with power, with violence, with dramatic signs to overthrow the powers of this fallen world. She could have established her kingdom through methods that we could more easily understand. But God didn't. God chose to work through weakness, through humility, through dying in order to bring new life. And more than 2,000 years later we still struggle to grasp and accept that and how much more so to actually live it ourselves. 

God's people—the Church—proclaims this amazing, profound message that in the dying of God we have salvation. The restoration of the world has begun. But we all recognize, in ourselves and in the world around us, that the process is not yet complete. This is one of the mysteries of Christian faith, because we proclaim that in fact it is complete. Jesus did it all. At the same time it is on-going. We and the world are still being transformed. We who respond to God's invitation are now the very ones he uses to continue this work of transformation. As N.T. Wright powerfully states it:

“We are now called to be the people through whom the unique victory of Calvary and Easter is implemented in and for the whole world.”

We call today “good” because today we remember the death of Jesus, which marked the first step toward the redemption and transformation of the world. On Sunday we will celebrate the victory of Jesus over death, over corruption and brokenness and all that is not as God intended it to be. And beginning on Monday we will once again go out into the world and seek to live as people through whom this victory continues to be proclaimed and implemented to the whole world. 

And that's something to celebrate.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Spontaneous Generosity

The other day I was at Costco with my parents. We had just loaded our purchases into the car and were about to back out of the parking lot when a man tentatively approached my dad's window. He got my dad's attention and dad rolled down the window to find out what he wanted. The man asked if we or anyone we knew could use some work done around their house. Since my parents live in a small townhouse and we rent a house and have two able-bodied teenagers to help out, neither of us needed any help at that point in time and politely informed this man of that. He accepted this news and told how he had been looking for work for some time and had tried to get hired at Costco, but they were not hiring. He then asked my dad if he could spare any money for something to eat. 

At this point my father surprised me a bit by opening his wallet and handing the man some money. I don't know how much because I didn't watch that closely. I didn't really need to know. His response pleasantly surprised me because for most of his life my dad has been a spendthrift. Especially when I was living at home as a teenager my impression of my father was that he wouldn't spend anything he didn't have to. He's still quite frugal, but has definitely relaxed as he has gotten older (though perhaps my mother would disagree with that!) But I cannot recall ever seeing him give money to a total stranger in a parking lot. 

I was proud of my dad at that moment. And ashamed of myself. Because I sat in the passenger's seat next to my dad and did nothing. It seemed reasonable at the time. Maybe it was reasonable. After all the man was addressing my father primarily. But I certainly didn't rush to open my wallet and share what I had.

I'm trying to practice spontaneous generosity more consistently. I confess that I have inherited my father's frugality. In addition, we live on a very tight budget. Some months we're not sure whether we will have enough to pay the bills. So I can justify to myself that we need the money for ourselves. But when I'm honest with myself I recognize and admit that, while not overflowing with money, we are not hurting. We have food on the table regularly. We have a roof over our heads. And should things get really bad we have family and friends who would step in to keep us afloat. I can afford to be generous. In fact, even if none of that were true of my situation, I can afford to be generous. I just have to choose to be.

I am guilty, as I imagine many others are, of justifying my stinginess when it comes to people asking me for money on the street. I know the arguments: that they're just going to use it on alcohol, that it doesn't really help the situation, that there are better ways to help. Yes, there are better ways to help overall. And yes, they may in fact use my gift on something other than what I would prefer. But I don't know that and when I prejudge them based on appearances or my own prejudices, I sin. And I miss out on an opportunity to be the hands of Jesus. Because I don't think Jesus would question their motives. I don't think he'd wonder whether he had enough in his wallet. I think he'd give what he could because he responded to human need without judging or condemning. But I'm more comfortable withholding my couple bucks and justifying my actions by my superior knowledge of “what's good for them.”

I've never been so poor, so desperate, that I needed to beg money for food. I can't imagine how it feels.

I'm trying to actively respond with generosity when the opportunity arises. I didn't that day at Costco, but thankfully my father did. I'm also thankful that my son was with us and I hope he noticed my dad's behavior. I didn't try to make an object lesson of it. I just hope he noticed. And I hope he notices when I respond the same way—not for my own glory or praise in my son's eyes, but so that he will see the example and as he grows he will choose to do likewise. I admit, I do want my son to be proud of me, because he sees in me in some small way the example of Christ.

I want to practice spontaneous (as well as planned) generosity. How about you?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wal-Mart, the Green Giant?

In the midst of processing the thoughts I shared last week about the impact of our lifestyle on our environment, a book at the library caught my attention. Force of Nature by Edward Humes traces the changes within Wal-Mart over the past several years, changes that Humes describes as a green revolution. A quite unlikely story indeed!

I have not been a fan of Wal-mart for a long time for a number of reasons. They treat their employees poorly. Their drive to sell at the lowest price leads them to sell poor-quality merchandise and at the same time drives other retailers from any market they enter. This same drive for the lowest price has also led to them purchasing from the lowest-cost supplier without much regard for the impact on the society and environment in the place of production. My list could go on, but you get the idea. I also simply don't really like the atmosphere in a Wal-mart store. I much prefer the atmosphere at Target, though the stores are quite similar in many ways. I will acknowledge that I do at times shop at Wal-mart. Sometimes I cannot find what I'm looking for at Target and Wal-mart is a convenient place to shop for some things, such as for the box of paperclips I needed yesterday.

With this perspective I found it amazing, even inconceivable to think that Wal-mart might somehow undergo a green revolution, much less that it might become a leading force in promoting environmental awareness, responsibility and sustainability. But in this book Humes documents precisely how and why this is happening. Through the influence of an environmentally-minded consultant named Jib Ellison, Wal-mart's executives became convinced that it was in their best business interest to make changes that positively affected the environment. They didn't make this decision primarily out of a sense of corporate responsibility or social awareness. They did it because they understood that paying attention to the environmental impact of their entire business, from the production and supply-chain to the final sale, could positively affect the corporation's bottom line. Good environmental stewardship makes good  (and profitable) business sense. As one consultant emphasized to them repeatedly: carbon=money. Cut the carbon, save money. 

Humes doesn't argue that Wal-mart is suddenly the greatest company in the world, or that everything about their business should be emulated. He criticizes many of their practices even now. But he recognizes and emphasizes the profound impact that a company the size of Wal-mart has when it decides to change its approach to business and embrace greater environmental responsibility as part of its core business model. The knock-on effect is amazing. For example, when Wal-mart decided to start buying more organic cotton, suddenly the market for organic cotton broadened such that thousands more acres were planted and harvested organically, because Wal-mart created demand for it. When Wal-mart realized that packaging products in smaller containers could save on shipping and production costs, suddenly whole industries were compelled to follow suit. If they didn't, they wouldn't be selling at Wal-mart anymore, and few companies want to be shut out of that market.

This book excites me. It offers hope that businesses can change and we can begin to interact with our world in a healthier, more sustainable way. It also challenged me to think more about my own lifestyle. Where can I make further changes that will reduce my impact on the world around me and allow me to live in a sustainable manner, sustainable for me, for my children, for their children and for the rest of the people on this planet.? I've only begun to reflect on this question. Last Friday I shared a few small steps I've made, but I hope that they will prove to be only the beginning.

Nonetheless, all the changes Wal-mart has made and all the positive impact these changes have had do not solve the fundamental issue. “Can Wal-Mart be sustainable?”asks Hume in the epilogue. “Can the biggest retailer in the world—can any large, mainstream business in this outsourced consumer economy—be green? The simple, accurate answer is no.” The answer is no because no matter how much we remove waste from the production, distribution and sale of products, no matter how much we shift to producing things in a more environmentally-friendly manner, we cannot sustain an economy that thrives on selling people things they do not need. Planned obsolescence is not sustainable. But making long-lasting quality products in an environmentally-responsible manner isn't going to provide the continued demand that produces the growth and profits that Wal-mart and their shareholders demand. So our current economic structure is fundamentally flawed and unsustainable. 

“As American shoppers said hello to Wal-Mart a half century ago, they said farewell to a society of less  stuff, of products built in America and built to last, of saving instead of spending, of postponing purchases rather than borrowing for them, of knowing your customers personally rather than surveying their demographics.”

Ultimately Wal-mart is not solely responsible for our unsustainable lifestyles. We are. Sure, their sales approach and business model fuel the fire, but we are the ones supplying the demand. We are also often the shareholders demanding a profitable return on our investment. We can choose to live differently. We can choose to buy less and pay greater attention to the impact of our purchases, both locally and halfway around the world in the place they are produced. But are we willing to make the changes necessary to live sustainably? Am I?