My heart aches. My heart aches for the awful violence happening in our world, and specifically in our country, and even more specifically in our schools. As my heart aches, I see different reactions on socials: discussions of gun control, mental health, and school safety. All of these are really important topics that must be discussed, as it is very apparent that things need to change, but my mind has been wrestling with something else; something I haven’t seen a lot of talk about: What is happening or not happening that leads so many of our young people to believe that committing an act of violence like this is their only option?
As story after story comes out about those who commits these acts, including most recently Nikolas; we hear about how there were telling signs in their lives. They kept to themselves, were outcast from the “normal” groups, and in his specific case even cast out of school all together.
When we read about Jesus and what he showed us about the Kingdom of God, over and over we are reminded that God runs to the ditches. God seeks out and calls to us to seek out those on the edges, those who have been forgotten, outcast, labeled as trouble and a problem. It is exactly these that Jesus runs to.
In the gospel of Luke, one of the accounts of Jesus in the Bible, Jesus was asked “How does one inherent eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” – (Luke 10:25-37)
In this story, the two religious people who first encounter the man in the ditch walk away on the other side. This could have been because they were busy, it could have been because if they touched the man they would be unclean, it could have been because of many things; but it makes me want to ask “Is our religion and busyness getting in the way of loving our neighbor?”
It seems like our only call as people of faith is to run to the ditches, and walk with those who have been beaten, forgotten, and outcast; so why are we so quick to walk on the other side? Why are we so quick to go back to our busyness and not actually see change through? Why do we think it is up to someone else?
God has called me as a youth pastor to run to the ditches, but also to be a voice for those in them. There are teens literally dying from gun violence, from suicide, from so many other things because we have set up a system that gives them no purpose. We have sent them to schools and the community and churches have walked away as if it would be taken care of. I am calling out our churches, our community leaders, our retired, our business leaders; WE NEED YOU TO RUN TO THE DITCHES. We need you to walk alongside our students, teachers, and administrations because it takes the whole village. We need you, our young people need you, Nikolas needed you…
If you want to help out, talk to your local schools and ask what they need, volunteer to tutor, volunteer to encourage teachers. If you know how, get laws changed, do it. There is so much that can be done if we all are willing to run to the ditches.
May God open our eyes to those in our lives and to our young people who are left in the ditches. May our hearts be broken to do something more that thoughts and prayers. With God’s help, may we proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. May we surround each other with a community of love and forgiveness that we might grow in our service to others. May we pray for each other that we may be true disciples, who run to the ditches and walk in the way that leads to life. "Go and do likewise."
Today I am writing on a topic that I don’t feel equipped to write on, which is why I am writing on it.
Let me explain.
I grew up in an almost exclusively upper middle class, white community, and while I don’t believe that many were racist, I do think that there was some intentionality in living in a segregated area. This was mostly presented under the mask of a great community and amazing education, and the “other areas” were always presented as dangerous and not worth going to. Mostly, it was sort of assumed that we were in a post-racial society because we never had any racial tension…(because there weren’t others to have tension with.)
Now, don't get me wrong, I had an amazing childhood, family, and friends; but I have found myself wrestling with the idea that I had little experience in racially mixed environments. I was able to play college football at a state university where I had my first experiences with this type of environment, and it was amazing. I loved the variety of experiences and stories that everyone brought to the community. As I was the white kicker/punter who came from a white community, I still felt as though I was not fully part of the community, but none the less we were a team.
The interesting thing about a team working for the same goal is that you are forced to push through your differences, otherwise you will fail.
But when I see the news today, I can’t help but remember that our country is so far from being post-racial. This past week I was a part of FaithForward, a gathered community engaged in the conversation of the future of children’s and youth ministry. Both this year and last, I felt a push on my heart for these racial conversations that we must be having.
Here is why I am just now writing about this. I feel as though I am so ignorant on this conversation that it would be better for me to be silent, rather than speak up and say or do something wrong.
But this pull hasn’t gone away, and I am done trying to push it down for it is silence that can be the biggest evil within this tension.
Too many stay silent because they feel ill-equipped to hold good conversations, but if we stay silent not only will we never be able to have good conversations; we will also allow the current tension to simply continue to build until it bursts open; which is what I believe we are seeing now.
So then, what can we, the silent ignorant, do?
First, we must study. Learn as much of you can from people from all sides of the issue; read, listen, experience. Through this learning and study, we will have a better idea on where to start having conversations.
Second, find places and communities who will let you dip your toe into these conversations.
Finally, from here we will no longer be ignorant and in this we will realize how much pain our silence has caused and maybe we can do something about it.
Our common goal must be a world where all who are created in God’s image (that mean’s everyone!) are equal.
I don’t know about you, but I am done being silent and ignorant. Whose with me?
It seems like our culture does too. We are surrounded by sound: music, TV, radio, YouTube, etc….all the time. Many people will keep at least one ear bud in so that they have a sort of daily sound track.
Even as I am writing this I am listening to music through ear buds in a very packed and loud coffee shop, who is playing music of their own.
To me silence is loud. Silence forces me to pay attention to the small things. In fact, silence forces all of us to pause and pay attention to things we might usually just push down inside us.
There is an amazing song by Twenty-One Piolets called “Car Radio.” The simple premise of the song is that someone stole his car radio and so now his car rides are silent, and it forces his to deal with his inner thoughts. The season of Lent, it is a great time to bring back a practice of silence. If we can get through the awkward part of silence then we can move to a place where we work through the thoughts we often suppress.
Maybe this is why our culture likes noise? It distracts us from the things that take effort and time within us. It distracts us from the yearning deep within us in our souls. Noise helps us go through the routines of daily life without being interrupted by the idea that “MAYBE IT ISN’T SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE THIS?”
I think our world and our lives need more interruptions from the noise.
The gospels share that Jesus often went away from the noise to be in silence and pray. "News of [Jesus] spread even more and huge crowds gathered to listen and to be healed from their illnesses.But Jesus would withdraw to deserted places for prayer." (Luke 5:15-16 CEB)
Maybe you can find time in the morning or at night for silence, or even just simply turn off your car radio and drive in silence and allow God to work on your soul, unpacking some of the boxes you keep deep within.
For me, I take a morning walk with my dog, Shalom. (#morningwalkswithShalom) At first the morning walks started because our dog needed something to get out all of her energy and I needed a more exercise, but now it has turned into a 30 minute silence meditation time every morning; no music, no screens, just my dog, silence, nature and God. On our walks, I am often able to see amazing small things in creation I would have never seen if I was distracted. God speaks to me on our walks and works on my soul.
How can you make time for silence? What do you need God to work on in your life?
In ministering to families, I have noticed a trend in many conversations I am having: everyone is stressed. Conversation after conversation. I hear things like: "If i would just..." "If I could only..." "I'm not a good enough..."
When these statements are made, we are putting our own pressures, real or not, on ourselves. I used to hear most of these statements from teens, but now it seems that we, as adults, are saying these things even more.
It seems like there is so much pressure today to be the perfect person, the perfect parent, the perfect student, the perfect everything...that none of us can live up to it. A lot of this is due to the edited selves that people share on social media. We don't share the mess.
I do this too, even just trying to keep this blog going sometimes feels like I am just trying to run this crazy race. We all do this.
Here is what I want to say to you and myself today: GIVE YOURSELF SOME GRACE.
Grace by definition is an unearned and undeserved gift. We must be willing to give ourselves the gift of being OK not stacking up to all the "perfect people" who are really just edited versions of their own imperfect lives.
Give yourself some grace, you are enough. Take time to smell the roses or jump in a pile of leaves. God has offered each of us divine grace, the ultimate gift that we would never be able to earn; LIFE, and not just life but life eternal.
The biggest problem with not giving ourselves grace is that we find ourselves covered in the stress, not stopping, and exhausted trying to be the perfect whatever-we-hope-to-be that we don't allow ourselves the space to accept the gift of grace God is offering each of us. Because you are God's handiwork, you are enough.
So today, give yourself grace. Take time to pause because there will always be another thing you could do. But if you don't stop long enough to give your self grace by accepting God's then you will miss LIFE altogether.
Three years ago, we were adopted by our dog, Shalom.
We originally thought she was a sort of lab mix, but as it turned out she is a Dutch Shepherd. Neither of us have ever had a Shepherd, but we are completely in love with them now. They are smart, intuitive, protective, loving, and energetic...very energetic.
We learned very quickly that if we didn't exercise her in the morning that she would put her energy to use in other ways like digging holes all over the yard, escaping her crate for fence and keeping critters on their toes.
So each morning, I take her for a long walk, often about 2 miles long.
At first this routine was purely to wear our dog out, but it soon became a spiritual practice for me as well.
I found that starting my day, everyday, with a long walk with my dog forced me to take pause; to slow down; and simply be. I don't listen to music, or a TED talk, i just simply walk in silence; saying "hi" to neighbors along the way and noticing amazing things in creation.
About 2 years ago, my new phone was able to keep track of my exercise, and so I started bringing it with me as a step counter. But I also would stop and take picture with it of the cool things in creation I noticed. It was then that #morningwalkswithShalom was born.
I started sharing my pictures I take each morning. My hope is that they will remind all of us to take pause, step out from the non-stop lives we all live, and simply be. When we do this, we notice all the amazing things God is doing around us that we otherwise would miss.
Fittingly our dog's name, Shalom, means peace or "when everything is as it should be" in Hebrew, which is how we feel when we are with her and how I feel on my walks.
I have gotten a lot of response from people who say they look forward to the next post. So may you be inspired to find your shalom, you way to stop and pause.
If you want to follow my pictures I post search for #morningwalkswithShalom Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.