Monday, October 29, 2012

I Hope the Iranians Love Their Children Too

I grew up during the Cold War. Growing up in those years meant learning implicitly to fear and hate Russians (because at the time, I and probably most others didn't really understand that the Soviet Union consisted of multiple ethnic groups, not only Russians). We viewed them as the great red menace that threatened our very way of life. We certainly did not think of them as real people who lived day by day and who had hopes, dreams, worries and fears that in many ways were not that different from our own. We couldn't be allowed to think of them in this way, because if we did, we might begin to see them as human. Once we recognized their humanity, we might dare to question the morality of threatening them with annihilation just so that we could feel more secure.

Even before the end of the Cold War I had my first opportunity to travel behind “the Iron Curtain,” the physical and philosophical barrier that divided Europe for almost two generations. Behind the curtain I met real people who got up, went to work or school, ate their food, spent time with their family and other daily activities much as I did, even if the specifics looked quite different and the language they spoke seemed quite strange. Some years later, after the Berlin Wall came down and Europe radically reoriented itself, I had the opportunity to live in Russia and become friends with not only Russians but people from other ex-Soviet ethnic groups. Sometimes it struck me as quite strange, meeting people whom not so many years earlier I could have easily found myself at war with. At the same time I recognized once again the commonality of our humanity. Yes, we had differences, but ultimately we shared very significant similarities. Now that I have friends among Russians and other groups, I cannot simply see them as an anonymous, faceless “other,” an enemy to fear and defend against. I could not easily go to war against them, because I would know that on the other side of that battle front were people much like me, people who might know friends of mine, or who might even be friends of mine.

Some still fear the Russians, but for the most part Americans have shifted their fear to other people groups. The attacks of September 11 focused us on a new enemy. And just as we did in the Cold War and prior to that in other wars, we have labeled another group that is different from us as the enemy. We promote fear and even hatred of these people because we feel threatened. Certainly there are some who do threaten our country and our way of life. But rather than seeing them as the exception, we choose to identify all who are like them as an anonymous mass. It's much easier to hate them that way. We don't have to acknowledge their individuality or their humanity. We “other” them so that we don't have to feel any compassion for them or acknowledge them as humans who also have basic human rights.

I see this in particular at the moment in the attitude toward Iranians. Iranians are the new Russians. They are the face of evil. All Iranians obviously detest us and wish nothing more than to annihilate the United States and Israel. We feel justified in calling for violence and aggression against these people because, after all, they are “the enemy.” In doing so we conveniently forget, or ignore, that most Iranians have no say in the activities of their government. Most of them simply want to live life, to take care of their families, to experience a little bit of joy. Although in many ways different from us, they too share in our common humanity. While working overseas I had the opportunity to meet a few Iranians in person. I found most of them to be quite pleasant people, very hospitable and sociable, and not at all antagonistic toward me as an American. Meeting these people challenged and changed my perception of this people group, because they reminded me that Iranians are people too.

Whenever we are inclined to label a group of people, to paint them with a broad brush, to deny them their basic human rights simply because we feel threatened by them or because they are different from us, we need to stop and remember that whatever group we are labeling is really nothing more than a collection of individuals, each with a unique personality, each seeking to live his or her life just as we are. Each person, whatever her or his nationality, ethnicity, sexuality or any other characteristic, has been created uniquely by God and is treasured by her or his Creator. When we see people in this way, can we possible treat their lives as anything less than precious?

I am deeply troubled by the calls I see in the media that call for violence and promote hatred and fear of other groups. I am particularly disturbed that many times these calls come from people who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ. I read calls for the United States to retaliate against Libyans, or Iranians, or others with overwhelming force, not thinking about the many ordinary people who will suffer and die as a result of our excessive response. To those calling for such action, these lives don't matter. They are not worth as much as our American lives. Surely God weeps when hearing such words. God, who died that all people might experience new life, does not consider an American life one bit more valuable than a Libyan, Iranian or Russian life. To think otherwise is faulty theology.

The other day I was listening to an old song by Sting from the era of the Cold War. I think its message still has value for us to day, so I close by sharing this song with you.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Time to Remain Silent and a Time to Speak

Sometimes we men need to simply shut up. Especially male politicians. We need to recognize that there are topics on which we are not qualified to speak. Instead we need to remain silent and let those speak who are qualified. For those who have not followed the news recently, yet another male politician, Richard Mourdock—a Republican senatorial candidate in Indiana, opened his mouth and stuck his foot way down his throat earlier this week when he said:

"I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God, and I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." (emphasis mine)

I hope those words leave you feeling as sick and angry as they do me. Unfortunately Mr. Mourdock is not the first politician to make such asinine statements. Remember Missouri candidate Todd Akin earlier this year? Remember the comments about “legitimate rape”? As if these comments by politicians were not bad enough Mark Galli, writing for Christianity Today affirmed Mr. Mourdock's statement. He wrote:

"It almost goes without saying that for Christians, while rape is a terrible thing, in the providence of God, this too can be redeemed, a tragic event from which love can emerge. And yet we live in a society in which many find this view intolerable, outside the bounds — anathema. This is a delicate conversation we're a part of in America, one that requires us to eschew the cheap advice or platitudes of Job's counselors, to be sure. Then again, it may be even more "disrespectful to the survivors of rape" to fail to tell them about the wondrous redeeming power of God, even in the most horrible circumstances." (emphasis mine)

I wasn't going to comment on this, because many excellent bloggers have already spoken strongly and clearly about these comments, among others: Danielle at From Two to One, Dianna Anderson, and this article by Lynn Beisner which explores the theology behind statements such as Mr. Mourdock's. But after reflecting on this issue I realized that we do need men to speak out as well, not to proclaim our great wisdom on matters such as rape, but to denounce such statements alongside our sisters. We men need to also be saying that views such as those espoused by Mr. Akin and Mr. Mourdock have no place in our civil discourse. They certainly have no place among those who will pass the laws which govern our society. These men are entitled to hold whatever opinion they want, but they need to learn to keep silent about them rather than speaking and exposing their foolishness. I am reminded of the oft-quoted phrase: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Men, we cannot just see this as a “women's issue” and allow other men to devalue the trauma faced by women (and men) who have been raped.

In fact I need to modify my earlier statement. We men do need to be silent if we are inclined to speak about rape as if we really know anything about it. But we should not be silent in that we must acknowledge our complicity in a culture that devalues women and exalts men in such a way that rape becomes seen as a women's issue. It's not a women's issue in that most rape is perpetrated by men. So it's a men's issue as well. We don't have anything to say to survivors and victims of rape, other than to come alongside them, listen to them and offer our support in whatever way they need it. But we need to speak honestly and openly about the patriarchal culture which we support and benefit from that objectifies, sexualizes and demeans women, such that rape becomes legitimized in some perverse fashion. I am not saying that most of us men are rapists. But we tacitly and often actively perpetuate a culture in which the women around us live in fear. We go so far as to place the blame on them for the actions of men, telling them that if they only dressed more modestly and behaved differently—if only they would not “tempt” men so much, they wouldn't likely become victims. We need to stop teaching such crap to our sons. We need to stop perpetuating these lies through the media. We need to stop believing them ourselves. We need to accept responsibility for our own actions and then we need to consciously choose to act differently toward women. When we stop seeing women as different than us, as weaker than us, as needing our protection; when we stop relegating women to second (or lower) class status, then we can begin to transform society and, more specifically, the mentality that supports the culture of rape. We must let go of our power and privilege—rape after all is another means by which we men exert power over women (and other men at times)--and embrace women as fully equally partners in society. These are the things we need to be talking about. But we should remain silent on how victims of rape should behave and how they should view their situation. 

For those who call themselves by the name of Christ, we need to do all this even more so within the church. Unfortunately in many churches that status of women is lower than in society as a whole. Yes, we affirm that we treasure and value “our” women, and in a very real way we do. But we often do so by relegating them to a certain sphere of life, asserting that as long as they remain within their God-given roles they will be less likely to encounter the evils that befall women such as rape. We often implicitly accept the idea that good women won't find themselves in such situations, so therefore those who do must obviously have been doing something wrong (i.e. immoral) and therefore in some sense “got what they deserved.” There is no place for such language or thinking within the church. The church needs to affirm the full worth and dignity of women and speak out against evil in all forms, including the evil of rape. We need to stop condemning those who are victims of it, along with any condemnation of their choices afterwards. The church should be a place of healing and restoration and we men need to do our part to make it so. Again this includes releasing our hold on power and privilege and inviting our sisters to participate fully in all aspects of life.

Finally, we men need to vote in such a way that men such as Mr. Mourdock and Mr. Akin will not be in positions to write laws on issues such as rape. These men have no business influencing such laws and as voters, we need to use our vote to make sure they don't. In this small way we can also stand alongside our sisters against the evil of rape. It's time we men learned when to speak and when to remain silent.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

He Defended the Cause of the Poor and Needed

While reading in Jeremiah 22 yesterday I encountered these words:

"Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
his upper rooms by injustice,
making his people work for nothing, 
not paying them for their labor.
He says, 'I will build myself a great palace
with spacious upper rooms.'
So he makes large windows in it,
panels it with cedar
and decorates it in red.

"Does it make you a king 
to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
He did what was right and just,
so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?"
declares the LORD.

These do not strike me as the words of a God who does not care whether we pursue justice and economic equality or not. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Economic Inequality Harms Societies

In light of my recent post concerning our response to poverty and inequality, I find this TED video very enlightening and challenging. In the past couple years as people have protested economic injustice within the United States (and elsewhere), some have responded by pointing out that compared to the rest of the world, almost all Americans are in the wealthiest 1% of the population. This is largely true and we should not forget that. However, in this video Richard Wilkinson uses data on a variety of issues to show that the level of inequality within a given society has a significant impact on a number of areas, including social relations, health, childhood well-being, math and literacy scores, trust levels, murder rates and much more.

He points out that we cannot just speak of the relative wealth level of a country on a global scale. We must consider the economic distribution within a society. If we want to have a healthier society, we must seek to reduce economic inequality; that is to say, we must strive to reduce poverty. We must do what we can to level the playing field. It is not enough to say simply that the poor will always be with us.

I don't call attention to Wilkinson's video in an effort to ignore the significant issues of global poverty and economic inequality, but to point out that economic inequality affects us here at home in America as well. As followers of Jesus Christ, called to work with God to realize the Kingdom of God on earth, we cannot simply accept inequality as an unavoidable part of the status quo. We can and should seek to reduce economic equality as a matter of spiritual and social responsibility.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Poor Will Always Be With Us

While in a conversation last week about the sermon I wrote about a couple weeks ago my conversation partner quoted the words of Jesus in Matthew 26:11—“The poor you will always have with you.” These words upset me because they were quoted in such a way as to excuse us from making serious efforts to reduce or eliminate poverty. They were a cop out and I don't think that Jesus meant them to be used as such. (In fact, I would argue exegetically that the issue of the poor being with us or not isn't really the focus in the passage, but that's another discussion.)

Our conversation that day centered on the Christian response to poverty and economic inequality. The man with whom I was speaking—a brother in Christ—sees the issue much differently than I do. He said that the playing field will always been uneven and that we need to accept that fact. Going further, he argued that our efforts to level the playing field are in fact sinful, because in making such attempts we presume to take the place of God. While I am quite sure that this brother and his wife do a lot to help people in need in various ways, I was astounded to hear him argue that we just need to accept economic inequality as an unavoidable part of human life, that in fact to work to counteract this constitutes sin. To quote Jesus' words in defense of this simply went over the top.

When I read the Bible, I find a lot of verses telling us as God's children to care for one another; to look out for the poor, the widows and the orphans and those who have been trampled by the powerful and wealthy in the world. I read the words of Isaiah in chapter 58 and hear a call to action, to work for change, not a statement that only God can level the playing field.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not the share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Elsewhere in Isaiah (chapter 1) we read a similar exhortation:

Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

I read the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 25 and hear that the way I respond to those in need indicates clearly the condition of my faith.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.

I don't see how anyone who chooses to follow after Jesus Christ can argue that we have no right or responsibility to work to reduce or eliminate the inequalities and injustices in our society and globally. To not do so goes against the very exhortations of Scripture.

I imagine that my conversation partner that day would acknowledge at least some personal obligation to respond, and as I said I believe that he and his family do what they are able. But I believe that this obligation goes beyond us as individuals and even beyond God's people as the Church. I do not accept that it is sinful to seek to remedy injustice and inequality through government action. I acknowledge that this will never fully resolve or eliminate the problems, but we can certainly do something. Ellen Painter Dollar presents some strong examples for the role of government in addressing poverty and injustice in this blog post.

We can drive a sick, uninsured child to a hospital, but if a long hospitalization or surgery is required, that child’s parents will have to either scrape together thousands or dollars (and perhaps eventually lose their home or declare bankruptcy as a result) or hope that the hospital has charity funds available. We can help an immigrant learn English and a marketable skill, but if the law doesn’t offer him a reasonable avenue toward legal work status, we can’t help him get a job that will support a family.  We can provide pregnancy counseling and baby supplies to a young unwed mother, but if that mother is unable to afford groceries, decent housing, quality daycare, and additional education for herself , she and her child will likely end up in unsafe housing, poorly nourished, un- or underemployed, and stuck in a cycle of poverty that isn’t just a problem for that family, but (in God’s economy) for all of us. Without government safety nets such as subsidized housing and daycare, food stamps, education grants, health insurance, and support for immigrants, private charity can only do so much to ease the burden of poverty.

She acknowledges, as do I, that our government is far from perfect. No government is perfect (neither would a more socially conservative one be closer to perfect). But we are better to undertake some effort to level the playing field and reduce poverty where we can than to say that it's just a reality we have to live with. I don't think that's how Jesus saw it when he walked the earth and I don't think that's how he sees it today. Yes, the poor will always be with us, but we don't have to accept that a statement that we can't and shouldn't do anything to improve this.

Finally, my conversation partner last week made an appeal to the right of people to not have their wealth “stolen” from them by the government. This argument struck me as more American than Christian, although he tried to base it on the ten commandments. The underlying issue seems to be whether it is “fair” to surrender part of your hard-earned (or not-so-hard-earned) wealth to care for others. To me this isn't even an issue, because we should gladly do so for the sake of caring for others. But even if one doesn't accept that, one must consider whether “fairness” is a concern for God. As Dollar points out elsewhere in her article:

God is not about fairness. God is about justice. God is about all people being treated with dignity as those made in God's image, about extravagant generosity regardless of merit.... It may be unfair for the wealthy to be taxed at a higher rate than the middle class, but in God's economy, it is just.

Christians may take different views on how we can address poverty, injustice and inequality in our society and globally, but we cannot take an attitude of indifference, reasoning that the poor will always be with us so we might as well just accept that fact. My conscience certainly will not allow me to do so.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

First World Problems Anthem

Danielle at From Two to One shared this video today on Facebook and it caught my attention. I think it's an interesting juxtaposition of what some Americans think are problems with the reality of poverty. What do you think? You can read more about the goal of the video and the organization that had it created in this article.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hope Floats








In any language I love this word, hope. Hope reminds me that what is now, or what was in the past, does not have to be in the future. Hope means that things can change, the world can change, people can change. For me hope forms a central part of the gospel message. In Christ I have hope that I can – will! – be transformed. Because of Jesus Christ I have hope that this world has been and is being renewed and redeemed. My hope is not in myself or my ability. My hope is not in the ability of people to overcome all the problems of this world. My hope is in Jesus Christ. But because of my hope in him, I have hope for this world, for myself, and for the people of this world.

Hope does not deny the reality of the problems around us. Hope does not put on rose-colored glasses and pretend that everything's great. Nor does hope look backward to some prior golden age, wishing hopefully that we could return to that previous time. No, hope looks ahead with, well with hope, that this world and the people in it will be restored to what they were created to be. Hope does not give in to despair.

As I said earlier, I believe that hope forms a central part of the gospel message. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have hope not because of anything we have done or can do, but because of what has already been done for us. When I read the Bible, I see this message of hope popping up all over, God reminding God's people that God will save them, redeem them, transform their situation – even if that situation is a result of their own sinful choices. God is a God of hope. Too often this message gets drowned out in a pessimism that focuses on the problems and the perceived increase in godlessness in our world. We can become so busy telling people how bad it is (or how bad they are) that we forget the hope that we have. And this hope is not just for a future day when we will all escape from this hopeless place. No, the hope we have is for this world and this life as well as the life after this one. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that we are to be pitied more than all people if we have hope only for the future life. I think that the same could be said in reverse: we are also to be pitied if we hold on to hope only for the life after this life. God's power is at work in and through us here and now to bring about transformation, to work out God's redemption and renewal of humanity and this world, until the day when it culminates in the new heaven and new earth.

I am reminded of a very old Michael W. Smith song in which he sang:

When things get bad
and you can't stand to look
It's time to read
To the end of the book.

Have we forgotten how the story ends? We shouldn't, because if we do we lose sight of hope. Our hope is sustained by what Jesus has already done and by the assurances of Scripture of what God has yet to do. God's work, while complete in Christ, is at the same time not yet completely fulfilled. We know how the story ends, but the end has not yet come. Between now and then, we can choose to focus on the problems of this sinful world, or we can look in hope at what God has promised to do and choose to join in that work. Personally, I prefer to focus on hope. Pessimism and despair sink the spirit, but hope floats.

Monday, October 8, 2012

God's Politics?

I had hoped to make it through to the election next month without being told how I should vote as a Christian. Alas, such was not to be. Last Sunday I learned that as a Christian I need to stand against the moral disintegration of the United States by: 1) standing for a constructionist view of the U.S Constitution, 2) standing against the accumulation of debt, against increased taxation and against increased government spending and 3) against abortion. I was told that the fate of our nation and, implicitly of our faith, hangs in the balance. In fact it hangs tenuously by the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court, where four current members do not stand for these three issues. With one more nomination by an ungodly president, the balance could shift and we would descend into a tailspin from which we might never recover (that language is mine, not the message I heard, although the sense was certainly there.) Interestingly, I remember hearing such statements as far back as the presidency of Ronald Reagan.

I am troubled not by the fact that my pastor has his own opinion on these issues, whether I concur with them or not. I think there is room for diverse viewpoints on most political issues. However, I am very troubled that he drew a clear connection between taking particular stands on these issues and standing for one's faith. In fact I was flabbergasted to learn that my view of the U.S. Constitution represents a faith issue. I heard on Sunday the distinct statement that to accept the view that the Constitution is a living document and to allow for its interpretation in light of a modern context is sin. Again, I am not arguing for or against this view of the Constitution, but whichever viewpoint you hold (or whether you hold any at all), I hardly think it qualifies as a matter integral to Christian faith. It troubled me very deeply when my pastor quoted from the U.S. Constitution during worship as if this were some holy, sacred document. It is an amazing document that has served this country well throughout its history and, I hope, will continue to do so for many years to come. But whether it is interpreted in one way or another has nothing to do with God's kingdom. God's kingdom will endure and advance whether we interpret the Constitution in a strict constructionist manner or whether we allow for reinterpretation based on current conditions. This may well make a difference in terms of where our country goes, but where our country goes is not a kingdom-of-God issue. God's kingdom does not depend on the United States. God can and will work through this country whatever it looks like. Try not to fall off your chairs at this, but God can work even without the United States.

I believe that my pastor fell into a typical evangelical error on Sunday. He equated a particular cultural viewpoint with a kingdom-of-God viewpoint. According to this perspective, if we fail to vote in a particular way, our country will lose God's favor (do we enjoy some special favor anyway?) and stray off the path of godliness. I'll let you in on a little secret, we've never really been on the path of godliness. Yes, we've done some good, decent things as a nation. We've also done a lot of incredibly sinful, selfish, destructive things that have certainly caused God to weep. I don't know that this is anymore the case now than it was fifty or a hundred years ago.

Along with our “enlightening” message, we received a voter's guide on Sunday. This voter's guide, although declared to be “non-partisan”, comes from an organization that is non-partisan in a strictly legal sense only. A look at the questions they ask candidates and the issues that affirm, including statements made in the guide concerning citizen-initiated propositions, reveals quite clearly what they support and what they oppose. This organization has every right to push their position, but I really resented having this forced on me in Sunday morning worship and even more being told that this was not an effort to influence my vote, but just a desire to help me be a more-informed voter.

The whole worship service left me with the feeling that, in order to fit into God's family, I must adopt a certain set of political views. If I don't, my godliness is apparently in question. There's no room for diversity, no room for discussion or exploration of the complex context of most political issues. The message and the voter's guide were simplistic, dividing issues into black and white without any possible middle ground. It left us with a false dichotomy. We're either for or against, in or out, standing for righteousness or allowing sin to spread.

All this struck me as particularly ironic given that I just finished reading Gregory Boyd's book The Myth of a Christian Nation. This book challenged my thinking about the interaction between faith and politics. Boyd argues clearly and strongly that we as Christians err whenever we put our faith in bringing about God's kingdom through the power of the kingdoms of this world. In fact he calls it idolatry. He points to the history of the church to demonstrate that whenever the church has sought and gained political power, it has done far more of a disservice than a service to the Gospel. Most often is has resulted in the name of Christ being defamed rather than exalted. Boyd doesn't tell his readers to disengage from politics. But he does encourage us to recognize that God's work does not depend on whether a particular politician or set of policies gains power. God doesn't work through power-over structures. God works through service, through sacrifice, through counter-cultural movements that transform hearts from within rather than seeking to impose change through laws and legislation. There are times when laws and legislation are appropriate and useful, but ultimately they do not bring about the kingdom of God.

If we're going to talk about political issues from the pulpit, let's talk about issues of real righteousness, like whether we are fostering justice, peace and love. Let's talk about our own lifestyles of greed that directly and indirectly leave most of the world in dire poverty and destroy God's creation. Let's ask whether our behavior demonstrates the love of God more than a desire to protect our personal interests and our American way of life. I love my country, but the kingdom of God is about so much more than defending any particular view of it. In fact the kingdom of God is about far more than the United States at all.

This has been a lengthy post, but Sunday's message left me very troubled. I debated whether to share my thoughts about it, but in light of the applause that arose from much of the congregation after Sunday's message, I felt I need to speak out and offer an alternative viewpoint. Within the worship community on Sunday there was little place for that, although I appreciate one couple who I respect and appreciate, who came up to me afterwards and asked what I thought and how I was feeling. We had a very healthy and open conversation for several minutes, the kind that we need more of in the church. I know the pastor felt very passionately about what he shared and sees these as really crucial issues, but I think his message presented things as far too black and white and false equated certain viewpoints with the kingdom of God.

This blog is for the October synchroblog on faith and politics. Others writing about this include:

Saturday, October 6, 2012

12 Commandments

Last week, while reading the submissions to the Faith and Feminism blog carnival hosted by Danielle at From Two to One, I discovered a great blog: All Things Beautiful. As part of her participation in a blog linkup related to The Happiness Project Alyssa shared recently 12 commandments she wrote to help her focus more positively on life. Although I am not reading the book or participating in the blog linkup, I really liked Alyssa's twelve commandments and decided to write twelve statements of my own. In addition to prompting the idea, I appreciate the twelve statements Alyssa wrote for herself, some of which found their way into my own list.

To me these twelve statements (I like that word a bit more than commandments) remind me how to live in order to experience a greater level of happiness – or really more joy (although I recognize that the two words are not entirely interchangeable) in life. No matter how much some people might try to convince me that I should, I don't wake up every morning with a rosy outlook. I don't feel like “praising the Lord” every moment. Probably this is my own personal shortcoming, but the harsh reality is that life can be difficult and some days really suck. On such days, it is really helpful to remind myself of a few basic principles that can help change my outlook. They are not magical incantations and don't guarantee that my perspective on life will suddenly change. But by writing them down I can look back at them when unhappiness threatens to bog me down.

Unfortunately I don't have a great notebook to write my statements in like Alyssa does, so I'll just do my best with the formatting capabilities of my blog engine. Now, presented in no particular order, here are my twelve commandments:

Let others know they are loved.

Take one thing at a time

Celebrate beauty!

Be true to yourself.

Learn something new.

Savor the moment.

Look beyond yourself.

Serve others.

Give your worries to God.

Be gracious and compassionate.

Take time to listen.

Take time to photograph the flowers.

I should write these out and hang them over my desk as well, so I'll reflect on them throughout the week. It's not an exhaustive list—I could have added a number of other statements—but I think they give me a good starting place.

What do you think? What twelve statements would you write for yourself? What would help you to stay positive when life tries to drag you down?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Power of Reconciliation

While searching for something on YouTube today I came across this video, which brought tears to my eyes.

As I watched this video I recalled the movie Invictus, a powerful film about the first year of Nelson Mandela's presidency in South Africa. Early in the film and shortly after his election, Mandela attends a South African rugby match. As he walks on the field (pitch?), the crowd erupts in a lot of catcalls and booing. Mandela is clearly not well-liked by the many whites attending the match. When the new South African national anthem is sung, the white audience and the almost exclusively white rugby team (they have one black player) do not sing along. This is not their song. Their refusal to sing the anthem parallels their refusal to accept the new realities in South Africa.

With that image in my mind, this video struck a powerful chord in me. Here, some twenty years later, we see the entire audience and the entire rugby team singing this new anthem together with pride. We see more black and mixed-race players on the team. We see a mixed audience and people of different races interlocking arms. We see indications that reconcilation has made progress in this land.

I'm under no illusions that all of South Africa's problems, including racial ones, are behind it. But I see signs of hope. This video, especially in light of the movie Invictus, says to me that the path of reconciliation is a far more fruitful one than the path of revenge and getting even. Grace and mercy can triumph, even in this fallen world. It requires a significant price and demands exceptional courage. Nelson Mandela was not perfect, but given his background and his experience, the fact that he chose to pursue a path of reconciliation and unity demonstrates the tremendous amount of moral courage he possessed.

Watching this video I think of other deeply troubled areas in the world, regions where conflict has gone of for decades, if not centuries. I think of Palestine and Israel, of Northern Ireland and Ireland, of the former Yugoslavia, of Azerbaijan and Armenia. Wouldn't it be wonderful to see the peoples in these places joined together in reconcilation and unity, rather than fighting and dying in an effort to gain control over one another? That day may never be fully realized, at least until Jesus returns. But I'm going to celebrate moments like the one in this video whenever I encounter them, because they are truly beautiful. 

Watch the video one more time, and this time celebrate the diversity and reconcilation you see there. And if you haven't watched it, view the film Invictus as well. You won't be disappointed.