Broken Systems

America is full of broken systems.  And many of these broken systems hurt the people who are most vulnerable and most in need.  Perhaps the most obvious examples of our broken systems seem to have something to do with race (or at least correlate with race).  The examples that are pointed to most often in the past year or so have to do with how law enforcement officers interact with people of color, such as in the situations involving Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio.

I’ve written about some of these issues before (here, here, and here,)  So why write about them again?

Reader Responses

The primary reason that I wanted to write about this issue again has to do with how people have responded to my previous posts, especially my friends who are in law enforcement or who have loved ones who are.  By and large these folks have said that my thoughts on these issues are too one-sided.

And this criticism is fair.  I have spent most of my energies discussing things from the perspective of people who live in under-resourced neighborhoods and who are typically black and Latino.

So should the other side be explored too?  Of course.  So I want to do that here.  But I want to put this conversation in its proper context.

So here’s the truth.  Law enforcement officers have incredibly difficult jobs.  Every interaction that they have with the public has the potential to be a life-threatening situation.  It makes sense then that law enforcement officers may be on edge.  It makes sense that they are often thinking about self-defense and self-preservation.

Add to these the realities the fact that under-resourced areas are policed more heavily, due primarily to more calls being put in to police dispatchers.  To make things more complicated, these neighborhoods tend to be populated primarily with blacks and Latinos.

When we plug all these variables into the equation, the result is not surprising — Latinos and blacks are disproportionately more likely to be killed by police.

Therefore, it is wrong for people to assume that all police officers are racist.  Obviously there are some that are.  But it is unfair to lump all law enforcement officers into that category.

But the problem remains, people in America with black and brown skin are much more likely to be killed by police than others.

Here’s my contention: This reality is the result of broken systems in America and law enforcement officers are the ones who get the see the results of these broken systems most clearly.

Broken Systems Should Be the Focus

When someone dies at the hands of the police, we all should take note.  We should ask questions.  We should seek justice.  We should mourn with the families involved, no matter the culpability of the deceased.  And we should lament that this horrible thing happened in the first place.

But our national focus on individual cases is detrimental because it prevents us from paying attention to the larger issues, namely the broken systems.  I want to tease this out a bit more.

When my friends who are white get uber-focused on the details of a particular case, they miss opportunities to feel with people who are hurting because of the case.  And the focus on details also prevents white people from seeing the broken systems that helped create the scenarios that led to the police-involved deaths.  (Note: I’m not saying the details are unimportant.  But should the national dialogue be about them?  There are people who should be focused on those details.  More on that to come…)

And when my friends who are black and Latino get uber-focused on the details of a particular case, they miss opportunities to address the larger issues.  This is because allowing a particular case to stand in for the larger issues of the broken systems can lead to unhelpful and distracting conversations.  And what if the particular case doesn’t have clear or available evidence?  Or, worse, what if the particular case involves a justified use of force?  Then the chance to talk about the issues that led to the problems in the first place is much less likely.

So here’s my point: Let’s focus more on the issues that lead to certain communities being under-resourced.  Let’s focus on why it is that blacks and Latinos tend to live in these communities more often than whites.  Let’s focus more on the horrid schools in under-resourced areas.  Let’s focus on how these realities help cause many of us to view black and Latino people, especially males, with suspicion.

Let’s focus on the wider and endemic issues that lead up to the negative interactions with police.

Let’s focus on the broken systems.

Law Enforcement Has Some Brokeness Too

However, we also need to focus on the way that these larger broken systems impact law enforcement officers and agencies.

Because of the realities that we face as a nation, police departments and other law enforcement agencies need extensive training about how to police under-resourced areas in the wisest ways.  There are lots of agencies who are doing a great job in this capacity or who are beginning to, such as Seattle and many others.  Law enforcement officers are the ones who get to see the realities of all these broken systems.  Therefore, they need to be trained in how to deal with these realities in the best ways possible.

Another thing that has been talked about a lot lately is that law enforcement agencies need to alter their recruiting practices so that the policing force looks more like the community they are policing.  This not the solution but it certainly could help, especially if police officers can be recruited from the community where they will be policing.

Perhaps the most important area for growth would have to be in the way that excessive force by police is investigated.  Currently, it appears that most of these cases are investigated internally by the law enforcement agencies themselves or by local prosecutors.  Both of these scenarios are very problematic since they both are wrought with conflict of interest issues.  Police investigating police is obviously problematic, especially within the same agency, and since prosecutors rely on police for help with their cases, they may not be the best folks to judge the potential misconduct of police officers either.  And since data is hard to come by and the data we have seems to indicate that police officers are not likely to be indicted or even charged with a crime when a suspect is killed, it is clear that what we are currently doing isn’t working.  What is needed is an independent office to investigate cases of excessive force.  This may help us hold our police officers more accountable for their actions when necessary.

 

 

It’s time for some change.  Our broken systems need to be fixed and it’s our job as a society to do the fixing.  Let’s call for common sense solutions (like independent investigations of excessive force).

Another common sense change is to stop is labeling all police, or all white police, as racist.  That’s simply not true and it’s certainly not helpful in these discussions.

And, lastly, we need to focus more and more on the larger broken systems that lead to the scenarios like those involving Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice.

 

Thoughts?  What are some other common sense solutions that you can think of?  Share them below and keep it civil!

The Importance of Observation

What role does observation play in following Jesus? What about in leadership? Friendship? Parenthood?

I want to look at what the disciples did in John 2.1-12 in order to find some answers.

How to Be Better at Observation

Stay close to the leader

In John 2 we see the disciples are following Jesus.  They are going to a wedding with Jesus and his mom.  They are there — right with Jesus.  Where are we?  Are we right with Jesus?  Or are we off in our own world, doing our own thing?  Are we following the selfless One?  Or are we letting selfishness win?

Watch carefully

How can we be better at observation without watching carefully?  We know that the disciples were pretty good at observation because what Jesus did in their midst caught their attention.  They noticed what he did.  It didn’t get past them.  That makes me wonder about us.  As we follow Jesus, are we all that good at observation?  Or is our attention split as we pursue our own ends and desires, the American Dream, our comfort, our political agendas, etc.?

Be a lifelong learner

The observation by the the disciples led to learning.  They were with Jesus, they saw what he did, and then they believed in him.  That word “believed” is better translated as “trusted.”  Because of what they saw they trusted Jesus and wanted to learn from him more.  As we do this observation thing today, are we willing to continue to learn and to grow?  Or are we cool with being stagnant?  Are we more inclined to maintain the status quo?  Or are we willing to trust Jesus and learn from him no matter what he is teaching?

Continue to follow

In John 2.12 it says that the disciples followed Jesus to his next tour stop.  Their opportunities for observation would continue.  As tempting as it might have been, they didn’t stay at the place where Jesus did his first sign.  They kept following him.  Where ever Jesus went, they followed.  Are we willing to do that too?  Or are we satisfied with staying where we first met Jesus, where we first saw him doing something great?  Jesus doesn’t call us to stay where he once was; he says follow me.  Are we willing to?

 

Friends, observation is key to following Jesus.  We need to be near Jesus so we can see what he is doing.  Then we need to pay attention to what it is that he is doing.  We also need to grow and learn as a result of our observation.  And lastly, no matter what, we need to keep following Jesus.

 

But these same principles apply to other relationships too.  We need to be close to people, pay attention to them, grow because of them, and continue to stay close to them.  If we do these these things, then we’ll be better friends, family members, spouses, parents, etc.

 

Do you have any thoughts about the power of observation as a follower of Jesus?  Let me know in the comments below!

5 Suggestions for Better Post Worship Service Conversations

Post-Worship Conversations Done Poorly

After attending worship services for over 35 years, I’ve noticed a few things that attenders do poorly when having conversations afterward.  See if any of these comments ring a bell for you:

  • The service was too long.
  • It was too short.
  • The sermon was boring.
  • The sermon was over my head.
  • The sermon was more style than substance.
  • The sermon was too personal.
  • The sermon wasn’t applicable enough.
  • I wish that other pastor that I like better had preached.
  • I didn’t like the number of hymns that we sang.
  • I didn’t like how many worship songs we sang.
  • I would prefer a more traditional service.
  • I would prefer a more contemporary service.
  • The kids in the audience were too loud.
  • The worship leader talked too much.
  • The prayers were too long.
  • There wasn’t enough praying.
  • We stood too much.
  • We sat for too long.
  • There were too many announcements.
  • There’s weren’t enough announcements.
  • Giving was too much of a focus.
  • We weren’t encouraged to worship during the offering.
  • I wish that they played the organ.
  • I wish that there were more guitars.
  • I wish the worship team was larger.
  • I wish that the drums were louder.
  • I hate drums in worship services.
  • I prefer a rock band.
  • I prefer the choir.
  • Etc…

Do any of these statements sound familiar?  Do people you ride in the car with or go to lunch with say things like this?  More importantly, do you?  Do I?

Friends, comments like these are signs that we’re being more consumeristic than we might want to admit.  We’re treating our worship services like vendors who distribute religious goods and services.  If one vendor isn’t meeting our needs, then we’ll complain about it.  After a certain amount of time, we’ll switch to a new vendor that can better suit our needs.  Then complain about it…then switch…then complain…etc.

We’re all aware that this isn’t a good scenario, so what kinds of conversations could we have instead?  Are there ways to do this better?

Post Worship Service Conversations Done Better

I’m sure that there are a thousand ways to have better conversations after worship services.  Here are five.

  1. Focus less on my own preferences and more on what I learned, how I was convicted, or what my take away was. Many of the comments above are really selfish at their core.  They’re about me and my preferences; about my criticisms and critiques.  But it’s not possible (or advisable) to avoid talking about myself, so it might be better to discuss with friends and family after a worship service the ways I can grow as a result of what I experienced.  And if we all did this, then we would be more like communities of learners and less like communities of selfish little tyrants.
  2. Talk less about music and musical preferences and talk more about what it was like to encounter God with my community of faith. Our age-old debates about musical style are getting, well, old.  The conversations are really more about personal preferences and/or generational divides than about worshiping God.  So instead of complaining about the mandolin, the organ, the number of singers, etc., I should focus on what it was like to culminate my week of worship with communal worship.  How did I experience God as we worshiped together?  This will require me actually living a life of worship instead of pinning all my worship needs on the worship service and worrying less about my preferences and more about encountering God!
  3. Have fewer conversations about the people leading worship and more conversations about me and my community in light of the worship service. After a worship service conversations often focus in on people who were leading worship — what they were doing, how they were doing it, how long they did it, what they wore when they were doing it (especially if they are women), etc.  Now in my innermost self I know that all of these things are superficial and they reveal more about me when I complain about them than they do the people I’m complaining about.  Instead of focusing on the people leading worship, it would be better for me to think about how my community and I can be changed because we were led in worship.  This shift can do a world of good!
  4. Discuss what I learned about God or what I was reminded about God. Ultimately our worship services should be centered on God, so why would our conversations after a worship service not also be centered on him?  What about God was I reminded of during this worship service?  What about God did I learn for the first time?  How do I want to worship God more with my life in light of what I learned about him?  What part of God’s mission in this world was I reminded about and how can I help with that?  I’m convinced that our experiences in worship services would be better if we knew that our conversations afterward were going to be filled with questions like these!
  5. Have “so what” and “what if” conversations. Lastly, it would be good to let the content and experience of the worship service set in and begin to make a difference in my life.  While most of my conversations after a worship service tend to be critical in one way or another, they could be more focused on the continued impact of what I just experienced.  I think two questions help accomplish this best: 1) So what?  In light of what I heard this morning, so what should I do now?  What in my life needs to change and how am I going to go about changing it? And 2) What if?  What if we all did a better job of living out what we heard this morning?  How would the world be different?  How would it impact our efforts to speak and embody the good news of Jesus with our friends and neighbors?

 

What do you think?  Are there other ways that we can improve our post worship service conversations?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Side note — If any of us have what we feel are legitimate complaints or issues with the worship services we attend, perhaps it would be better to have some conversations with the people who plan the worship services than complaining with our friends and family.  Just a thought!  :)

Gratitude 2014

Today is Thanksgiving which, naturally enough, helps me remember to show gratitude, to be thankful.

So, what do I want to show gratitude for this year?

Gratitude 2014

I’d like to show gratitude for…

  • …the best spouse I could have ever asked for.  I seriously don’t deserve my wife!  She has literally helped me become a better person.  Literally.
  • …the transformative power of Jesus to change lives, starting with mine.  I’ve had a front-row seat this year as Jesus has flipped my life over and the lives of some people close to me as well.
  • …my families, both my given one and my chosen one.  The level of support that my wife and I have experienced from our parents, siblings, and extended relatives has been indescribable.  And our fictive family, our chosen set of friends, have blessed us beyond belief as well.  It’s been incredibly humbling!
  • …my cousin Wendy, her parents Christy and Wade, and her kids.  As our lives are beginning to dovetail with theirs due to our adoption scenario, we couldn’t be happier at the possibilities for grace and beauty that will flow both ways.  God is good.
  • …how welcoming our neighborhood has been.  We moved to a new neighborhood this March and it’s been great!  We’ve enjoyed sharing Alida’s baking, cooking out, and enjoying hours of enlightening conversation.
  • Lake Avenue Church, our local church home.  We’ve been inspired there, served there, worked there, made and found community there, and have been given opportunities to lead there.  Gratitude doesn’t begin to express our feelings about our spiritual family!
  • …health and comfort.  My wife and I have a great life.  We’re blessed.  But we know that being blessed comes with a responsibility to be a blessing in the lives of others, especially those who don’t have health and comfort.  May we be moved to demonstrated and speak the love of Jesus where Jesus has placed us, where we work, live, and play.
  • …people in my life who are very different than my wife and I.  We’ve been stretched by the diversity and it hasn’t always been fun or easy.  But I know without a shadow of a doubt that we’ve grown.

What in your life causes you to feel gratitude?

Express it in the comments below!

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Grand Jury Decision in #Ferguson

This isn’t the first time that I’ve blogged about Ferguson.  Here’s my first post about Ferguson.  And while I still stand by what I wrote there (specifically that not all people have the same experiences with police, the Church can’t be silent about issues like Ferguson, and Jesus always sided with people who were hurting and marginalized), things have changed a bit since Officer Darren Wilson was not indicted by the grand jury.

And here’s my second post about Ferguson.  And while I also stand by what I wrote there (namely that Christians in situations like the one brought on by the events in Ferguson should take time to listen, feel, stand in solidarity, and walk in community), things have changed a bit since Office Darren Wilson was not indicted by the grand jury.

The grand jury not indicting Michael Brown’s killer changed things.

The Decision by the Grand Jury Changed Things…

Or did it?

Sure, there are now protests all across the country and the response to the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson has been marked here and there by looting and violence.

But here’s the truth, the issues that Ferguson brought to the forefront for so many people of color still exist.  The decision by this grand jury has done nothing to change this.

Here are few of those issues:

  • Median household wealth — Whites 91.4k; Blacks 6.4k
  • Home ownership — Whites 72.9%, Blacks 43.5%
  • Median household income — Whites 59.8k; Blacks 35.4k
  • Unemployment rates — Whites 5.3%; Blacks 11.4%
  • Poverty rates — Whites 9.7%; Blacks 27.2%

Here are a few more issues the decision of the grand jury didn’t change:

  • “Blacks are more likely than others to be arrested in almost every city for almost every type of crime.”
  • There are pockets in the US where it’s worse than elsewhere, such as in Clayton, MO (which is near Ferguson), where black people make up 8% of the population while 57% of the people arrested in Clayton are black.
  • “Only 173 of the 3,538 police departments” examined in a particular study have arrest rates of blacks equal to or lesser than those of other groups.

And here are some more unchanged facts that the grand jury’s decision didn’t change:

  • People of color make up about 30% of the population but about 60% of the prison population.
  • 14% of black people use drugs regularly but 37% of those arrested on drug charges are black.
  • White students are over-represented in America’s colleges.
  • 4 million people of color experience housing discrimination every year.

How to Respond in Light of the Decision by the Grand Jury

So, since things haven’t really changed all that much, how are we to respond?

  1. When talking to someone who is angry about Ferguson, focus less on the facts and more on the anger and pain your conversation partner is feeling.  Having a debate with them about forensics reports, eyewitness accounts, and the like won’t get you anywhere.  Instead, talk to them about why they are feeling the way they are.
  2. Get into a posture of listening.  There’s nothing worse than a chatty Cathy whenever someone is hurting and grieving.  And, friends, many people of color are deeply pained by what’s going on in Ferguson.  It’s time that we started talking a bit less, and listening a lot more!
  3. Spend less time judging people who are doing things you may not agree with (like looting and committing acts of violence), and spend more time trying to understand what led them to a place where behaving in such a way seemed like a viable option.  Mother Teresa reportedly said that if we judge people we don’t have time to love them.  And if ever there was a time for love, it’s now!
  4. Educate yourself about issues of race and ethnicity in the US (and elsewhere!).  If you don’t know where to start, use Google.  Type in the following: “Evidence for white privilege.”  I’m sure you’ll learn a thing or two; I know I have!  Also, read some books.  Here are two suggestions that are on my to-read list: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Color Blindness by Michelle Alexander and Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson.
  5. Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, diversify your friend set.  This may be difficult, but the effort will be worth it!  The single most important moment in the development of my understanding of race and ethnicity grew out of a conversation that I had with a deeply trusted friend of color.  My hope is that the same thing can happen for you!

So did the decision by the grand jury change things?  Yeah, a few.  There are more protests.  The Brown family is left with no semblance of justice.  Officer Darren Wilson will not face criminal charges.  And social media has blown up with millions of posts.

But other than those things, the system continues unabated.  The racial and ethnic divides continue to grow.  Racism of various sorts and degrees still exists.  And things are still heavily skewed in the favor of some and against others.

 

What are your thoughts?  Let me know below!  (And please keep things civil; I will watch the comments closely!)

Ultrasound of Our Future

Ultrasound

An ultrasound machine like this one granted us our first look at a face that will forever change our lives.

 

Ultrasound of Our Baby

My wife and I have been having a lot of life-changing days lately.  This is due to the fact that we’re in the process of adopting.  You can read some about it at this link, this link, or this one.

Yesterday was another one of those days — I was blessed with the opportunity of going to our birthmother’s ultrasound appointment.  It was a complete trip!  I was so excited to see the face of our child for the first time, thanks to the ultrasound machine and technicians; all while getting to have a wonderful conversation with the child of Wendy, our birthmother (who is also my cousin and her daughter will be our child’s cousin and biological sister).

While the whole scenario was certainly surreal, like much of this process has been, the reality of the situation began to sink in more and more fully.  I was looking at pictures of our child on the ultrasound monitor after all — his or her feet, hands, legs, heart, organs, brain, eyes, arms, face…

It was beyond belief!

Want to see the star of the show?  Here you go!

ultrasound

1.2.840.113663.1500.1.374244462.3.55.20141117.143326.406.d86ae41b23b.0000000000 1.2.840.113663.1500.1.374244462.3.56.20141117.143330.656.d86ae41b23b.0000000000

 

You may be able to see that our baby is resting on his or her hand.  I don’t know why but this little detail of the ultrasound photo really stands out to me, but it does.  I guess it humanizes the photo some.  I mean, I do that — I rest on my hand!  And here’s our baby doing the same thing!

I wish I had words to encapsulate how I felt in that moment…but all my words are inadequate.  I’ll try anyway: I was excited, nervous, happy, scared, hopeful, anxious, and joyous.  Ultimately I would say that in that moment I felt blessed: blessed to be there, blessed to have this opportunity to live out the life of Jesus within my own family, and blessed to be entrusted with this little life which is being knit together in Wendy’s womb and in our hearts.

Ultrasound of Our Future

But the other side of the blessing coin is being a blessing.  There’s a biblical principle, found in the covenant with Abraham in Genesis to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, that those who are blessed by God, in whatever capacity, are expected to be a blessing to others.  To hoard the blessing of God is nothing short of utter selfishness and is ultimately sinful.

Thus, when looking into the monitor at the face of our baby, I could not help but begin to imagine all that is going to unfold over the next months and years.

It’s not often that we have the opportunity to see a face that will forever change our lives.  I don’t remember first time seeing the faces of my parents and sister, but those faces certainly count.  And in 1998 I first saw the face of my wife, Alida, and my life’s never been the same.

Seeing our baby’s face for the first time yesterday was another one of those moments.

All our prayers, all our decisions, and all our conversations for the rest of our lives will be different because of the face looking back at us in these ultrasound pictures.

And we, my wife and I, have been blessed with this opportunity.  It’s our job to steward, or to care for, this blessing well, while always being prepared to share it with others.  It’s our God-given mandate to share the blessing that we are receiving in this moment.

I haven’t the slightest idea of what that will look like.  But I know this for sure: this child isn’t just ours.  He or she belongs to God and God will do with him or her whatever he sees fit.

It’s our job to be a blessing to this child and to be ready to share him or her with the world.

 

If you’d like to support my wife and I during this process, that would be great!  Please pray that everything continues to go smoothly and that all the little details that need ironing out will get ironed out.  For more ways to support us, click here.  Thanks!

Death Row Lessons

 

Death Row Lessons

What do you think of this video?

In it David Dow reveals a few lessons he has learned after working for 20 years with death row inmates.  He walks through various statistics and facts to help make his points.  And, along the way, he includes stories of people he has worked with, specifically a young man named Will who came from a low-income family in which he was almost killed by his own mother.

David Dow attempts to avoid controversy by spending his time toward the end of the video talking about something everyone can agree on: preventing the murder of an innocent person.

Let’s not get into a debate about the death penalty.  Instead let’s focus on what the speaker focused on — intervening before the murder is committed in the first place.

In fact, the story of Will that David Dow tells is not that dissimilar to the stories of the young men (and women) in my neighborhood.  Most of them are low income and therefore have limited access to things that other folks take for granted (such as a quality education, healthy food, quiet and safe places to do homework, etc.).  And many of the folks in my neighborhood are also from broken, violent, and dysfunctional families, some of which have long family histories of gang involvement.

What are some ways that we can intervene in the lives of young people, like Will and like those in my neighborhood, to help nudge them off the paths that might lead toward horrific crimes and ultimately death row?

And how should those who follow Jesus be involved in this process?  How can we, with the help of the Spirit of God and our various church communities, help prevent people from ending up on death row?  Do we really believe that Jesus has the ability to transform people and systems?  If so, why do we act like we don’t?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

5 Ways to Hurt Relationships

This blog post is going to be revealing.  I’m going to try my best to be vulnerable and authentic.  My plan is to share 5 ways that relationships can be hurt.

And how can I be sure that these 5 ways to hurt relationships are actually for real?  Well, because I’ve been guilty of them all at one time or another!

Here we go…

relationships

Doh! We’re so good at hurting people in relationships!
By: Andrew McCluskey

5 Ways to Hurt Relationships

  1. Make Assumptions — Assumptions hurt relationships just about more than anything else.  Part of the reason why is because they are so simple to make.  They take almost no effort whatsoever.  It may just be me (but, dang, I hope not!), but it’s almost as if the human default mode is set to “assume everyone is out to get you.”  When we behave this way within relationships, whether in marriages and friendships or at work and within families, we are guaranteed to hurt people we care about and with whom we need continued contact.  Why?  Because the assumptions we make tend to be really harmful, such as the assumption that someone is lying, trying to hurt us on purpose, ignorant, or stupid.
  2. Jump to Conclusions – A high school football coach of mine once said that the most athletic thing that local sports reporters d0 is to jump to conclusions.  Well, if that’s true, then I should be the Olympic representative for the USA in the category of jumping to conclusions!  The way that it usually works for me (and for others too, I’m hoping) is that I make an assumption. Then I follow the logic of the assumption to the end and get angry about the resulting imaginary conclusion.  Here’s an example: If someone is late to a meeting that we both agreed to attend, I often jump to the conclusion that they are intentionally being disrespectful.  I don’t allow for the fact that I live in LA County, an area know for traffic problems.  And even though I hurt relationships by jumping to conclusions, I certainly don’t like it when people do it to me!
  3. Fail to Apologize — Relationships that were once close but that are now broken for whatever reason, are like a cut powerline.  No longer can the powerline serve its function of delivering electricity where it’s needed and now both of the ends that were once together are dangerous.  Our relationships are not just about the specific people in them.  They are also about all the people connected to the parties within the relationships.  And when we are failing to apologize to one another we are depriving the rest of our relationships our best selves.  Furthermore, when we fail to apologize our emotions are raw and we’re often a danger for other people in our lives too.  It’s time we started apologizing when we’ve wronged someone, owning up to our part in the drama and taking responsibility to move forward in healthy ways.
  4. Fail to Forgive –Not only is apologizing important, but forgiving whomever hurt us is important too.  Relationships in which one person is trying to make things right while the other is trying to stand on the moral high ground by withholding forgiveness are set up for lots and lots of trouble.  In relationships that have lasted for a while, there is no moral high ground.  Since everyone within relationships is a person, then everyone has made mistakes.  No one is perfect, meaning that there’s no room to set on the high throne of judgment.  That a position that is reserved for God alone.  Our job within relationships is to accept apologies and offer forgiveness.  Not only is withholding forgiveness bad for the relationship, it’s bad for us too!  It can create bitterness and bitterness can ruin our lives little by little over time.
  5. Argue While Angry — All human relationships are going to including arguments.  We’re all people and we all have opinions and those opinions do not always line up just so.  And all relationships will also have to cope with anger from time to time.  Anger is a typical human emotion.  We don’t always seem to have control over when it comes or even why it comes.  But anger in and of itself is not bad or inherently sinful.  It’s what we do when we’re angry that matters.  Here’s how the Bible puts it in Ephesians 4.26: “In your anger do not sin.”  And I would probably add to this that arguing while angry is almost never a good idea.  Trust me.  You’ll say and do things that you will regret; things that can’t be forgotten or taken back.  It would be better to attempt to calm down before having a discussion regarding a disagreement.

Now on this blog I tend to write about missional stuff.  So how is any of this missional?  Well, since seeking the mission of God in our world is best undertaken with others and not alone, then we’re going to have to figure out how to hurt one another less.  And since the only real way to share Jesus with others is through relationships, we’re going to have to figure out paths toward healthy connections with other people.

Avoiding these five things is a good start.

 

What else should be on this list?  Let me know in the comments below!

Getting the Flock out of the Pen

Here’s the best thing I’ve read all week:

If the church consists of all those who have believed in Jesus, then church leaders must be less concerned with attracting a bigger flock and more concerned with getting the flock out of the pen.

This awesome nugget comes from Neil Cole and Phil Helfer in their timely and amazing book entitled Church Transfusion: Changing Your Church Organically–From the Inside Out.

Perception Is Reality

Perception is everything.

perception

Sometimes it is said that a messenger is the message. I want to spend some time in this post unpacking what this idea means.

I want to do so by telling a story:

Perception on the Block

My wife and I were on a walk in our neighborhood recently. The intention behind this walk was to get to know some of our neighbors in an effort to share the love of Jesus with them in some capacity. So we prayed before we went on our walk and we asked God to bring people across our path that we could positively impact.

There was a group of young men that were hanging out across the street. So we went up to them and introduced ourselves. While we were doing this I noticed that there were two young men behind them who appeared to be in the middle of some kind of business transaction, which meant I wanted nothing to do with that conversation.

As we were about to continue our walk, one of the young men who was doing business said, “There go the police.”

This interaction reminded my wife and I of how we are perceived in our neighborhood. And that perception is generally that we are affiliated with the police or at least that we don’t really belong in the neighborhood. My perception of this perception of us is that it’s because we are white and we live in a predominantly African-American and Latino community.

Whatever the case, this perception is reality to those who perceive us. And this is a perception that we must overcome over time.

So as we think about how to be a tangible blessing in our neighborhood, how do we deal with this perception and others like it?

Here’s what I did in the story above: I simply turned around and approached the two young men who said that we were the police. I told them that we weren’t the police and that we lived across the street.

I’m not sure what they thought of this interaction but I felt it necessary to confront this issue head-on. The main reason why is because I understand that this perception of us being the police could really get in the way of us interacting with the people on our block in meaningful ways moving forward.

But some of the perceptions of followers of Jesus are not as obvious as the ones in our neighborhood.

Sometimes perceptions of followers of Jesus are more subtle or or more general, such as that Christians are judgmental, too political, sticks in the mud, etc. (as revealed in the book unChristian by David Kinnnaman).  And the reality is that it’s only through time and trust that perceptions such as these can be countered in healthy ways.

And while sometimes we may feel that the perception of us by those who do not yet follow Jesus is unfair, the responsibility is not on the perceiver but on the one being perceived. In other words, it’s our job as the messengers to be sure that the message is coming across clearly despite potential perception issues.

So here’s the question: how do we combat perceptions that might prevent us from being the tangible blessings that we are to be where we work, live, and play? Let me know what you think in the comments below!