When Jesus Meets…

I am adding a series to my blog this year. I will continue book reviews (even though I missed one for January) and 12 Step posts (my most recent one is here). I will also have one challenge per month to help create community and I will continue my once a month highlight/lowlight.

I will also be adding a series called When Jesus Meets….

Jesus met a lot of people during his short ministry. Those interactions teach us a lot about how we should interact with people today. I hope this series will be encouraging and inspiring, and as always I hope it will generate discussion.

As we think about the different types of people we come across each day, we must think about how we treat them, how we welcome them, how love them.

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I recently taught a two class series on why I still believe. There are many reasons not to believe: sickness and death; natural disasters; racist, close-minded words and attitudes; religious intolerance; poverty worldwide. I have had friends ask me how I can still believe when all of these things exist.

And to be honest, I have had to ask myself the same question: why do I still believe? Some mornings, I question my faith. We live in a Christian culture that often does not welcome disbelief and questioning. So I don’t always know what to do with my questions.

But I have learned to be okay with asking them. I have trusted friends and spiritual advisers I can go to with my questions. Reading the Psalms reminds me that I can express and all emotions in prayer and worship to God. Listening to the lives of friends and family members who have experienced intense moments of doubt have set the example for me: it is possible to question and still maintain faith.

And there is an encounter with Jesus that expresses this.

In John 11, Jesus is informed his friend, Lazarus, is sick. Jesus waits before going to the village where Lazarus was. Jesus knew something miraculous was going to happen. He waited so that it would have been four days after Lazarus died before he arrived. Four days was significant for the Jews, so Jesus made sure He waited that long. The wait would make the miracle even more magnificent.

But when Jesus arrived, the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, come to Him and express their sorrow. Martha says, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary came with all of the mourners behind her.

And the story says that when He saw the sorrow of all those present, Jesus wept.

Wait, what? Jesus? The guy who knew that Lazarus was about to be raised from the dead? The guy who knew what was going on? The guy who had all this power and authority? Yes. That guy.

Jesus wept.

And that is why I still believe. Because no matter what I am facing, no matter what pain I am experiencing, no matter what question I am asking Jesus weeps with me. The one person who had it all together (or at the least came the closest to having it all together as anyone) wept. Jesus cared so much about Martha and Mary that He cried with them. He did not pacify them or mollify them or disregard their emotion or tell them, “It will be okay.”

He didn’t do any of that.

He wept.

When Jesus meets those who are in the midst of grief and sorrow, He weeps.

Sometimes, words are not necessary. Sometimes, actions are not needed.

Sometimes, we need to weep with others.

Just like Jesus did.

My Name Is Paul…Helping Families

This year, I will continue my posts about how churches can improve the ways they help and support those who are in addiction and recovery. As always, I welcome input, feedback, and questions. Please share your thoughts with me and share this post with your friends!

When Alcoholics Anonymous started, the group was made up almost entirely of men. When the book was written, it was assumed that most alcoholics were men. In the 1920s and 30s those were typical cultural assumptions. As I read through the big book, I do not read a book written from a patriarchal perspective; rather, I read a book limited by its cultural context. However, the stories at the end of the book and the literature that has been included since has included the stories of women as well as those from other ethnic groups.

12 Step Groups have modeled the breaking down of gender, ethnic, and class lines. When people arrive for meetings, they gather to discuss their problems with alcohol and their solutions to overcome addiction and live sober. Everything else is irrelevant.

But when the original Alcoholics Anonymous book was written, the assumptions were there. Because of those assumptions, a chapter was added that is addressed specifically to the wives of alcoholics. It was written by some of the wives of the early members of AA.

It is important for several reasons. First, it acknowledges that people other than the addict suffer from the effects of addiction. The families of alcoholics were embarrassed. They felt the financial strain. They felt the emotional strain. The pain and agony associated with addiction is not limited to the person using the substance. The family members of addicts needed to hear that. They still need to hear it.

Second, families need to hear that it is okay to still love the addict. No matter how much pain is caused, no matter how much embarrassment occurs, no matter how much family and friends wish you would shun the alcoholic, families still love them. And they should. And it’s okay.

Third, often families need to be reminded that the addiction is not their fault. No matter how often someone uses the term, “So-and-so drove me to drink,” it is not true. The alcoholic can come up with a lot of excuses and blame a lot of people, but the fault lies within. There may be genetic or environmental reasons that help lead to an addiction, but ultimately the choice to drink or not lies with the individual. Families need to hear they are not the reason.

As I have been writing about lessons the church needs to learn in dealing with addicts, I think it is also important to reflect on how the church supports (or fails to support) families of addicts. Families do not necessarily need church members to come in and heap judgment on the addict. The family may not even be ready to talk about what is going on and all the effects the disease of addiction has had.

So what do families need from churches?

First, they need someone who will listen. Pastors, ministers, members, do not need to show up and say, “That person sucks!” They need people who are willing to come and say, “What is going on with you?” And then just listen. There may or may not be anything to do. But listening is important.

Second, create safe spaces within churches for addicts and their families. This may mean hosting meetings like AA or NA or Celebrate Recovery. It might mean hosting Al-Anon meetings. But churches need to be in the business of recovery—not judgment.

Third, have times for testimonies. And have them for people of all ages. Churches often do not do a good job of confession. That must change. Those in your church who have overcome addiction need to share their stories with their church families. Those who still struggle need to share their stories, as well. This does not apply only to addiction. There are a lot of people in your church who have overcome struggles of various kinds. Those stories must be shared.

P.S. The writing of the chapter, “To Wives,” in the Big Book ultimately led to the formation of Al-Anon, a 12 Step group for those who love addicts. The three main lessons of Al-Anon are: You didn’t cause it, You can’t control it, and You can’t cure it. If you have a family member who struggles with addiction, Al-Anon can be a good place to start seeking support.

We Shall Overcome: Reflections on MLK Day 2015

Yesterday was an amazing day.

I read a lot.

I marched with a large group of people.

I attended a gathering calling for nonviolent police responses to crime.

I dined at a banquet with over 600 people in attendance.

All to honor the memory of a man whose impact has already spanned 50 years, and will likely span hundreds more.

Martin Luther King, Jr., stood up against the evils of racism and prejudice. He fought against societal structures that enabled poverty. He fought against war. So much of our civil rights advances over the past 50 years can be attributed to his work, the SCLC, and those who worked with him.

Yet what struck me yesterday is how much we have tamed his message. We don’t often quote, “There aren’t enough white persons in our country who are willing to cherish democratic principles over privilege.” We sometimes gloss over the fact that he broke the same laws the Ferguson protesters are breaking nationwide. We often forget that his nonviolent philosophy was not about African-Americans passively waiting until white people got their act together, but was an intentional, direct-action approach that called people’s attention to the injustices that existed. It seems to me that we forget how radical he was. It seems we also forget how violent the institutional response was.*

But there was something else that had an even greater impact on me. It was one of the most profound moments of my life.

At the end of the banquet the keynote speaker—himself a man who had faced hatred, racism, and segregation in its worst forms in the 50s and 60s—had all of us stand, join hands, and sing “We Shall Overcome.”

Of the 600 in attendance, there appeared to be close to 100 who sang that song in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. Listening to their voices blend with the voices of younger generations moved me in a way beyond words.

“We shall overcome.

Oh, deep in my heart,

I do believe:

We shall overcome. Someday.”

So simple yet so profound.

And to join in with people who lived through an era that tried to take everything away from them taught me some valuable lessons:

No matter how much a people group is oppressed, there is a strength that cannot be quashed. I continue to be amazed by the stories of people who were maced, beaten, chased with dogs, tear-gassed and then arrested. I continue to be amazed that those same things happen in 2015. Yet still people stand. Still they rise. And I am so amazed.

People who have never known better do not need to accept things the way they are. Our country was built on the foundation of slavery. African-Americans were brought to this country and treated worse than cattle to work on the land that was taken from the indigenous peoples. For 300 years they were enslaved. For 100 years after slavery, they were segregated and treated as second class citizens. Yet they refused to accept that was who they were. They believed they were children created in God’s image and they fought to be recognized as such. That indomitable spirit is nothing less than inspiring.

Oppressed groups are not the only ones who need to overcome. Dr. King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail is hard on white Christians, especially clergy. Because they were just hoping things would get better without having to get their hands dirty. Unfortunately, that attitude has been passed down in too many church traditions. We must overcome our silence, our apathy, our inaction.

So as I listened to the crowd sing “We Shall Overcome,” I thought about how different things must be from 50 years ago, but how different they need to be 50 years from now. I thought about the example of the people who sang that song 50 years ago and their encouragement to a new generation to pass that message along.

I thought about that word “We.” I thought about how grateful I was to be included in last night’s gathering. I thought about how things could change if we realized we were all in this together; if we would all listen and not discount other people’s experiences.

And then I smiled. Because we shall overcome. One day.

 

Community Building Challenge: Participate and Share!

I mentioned in my blog post earlier this week that I will be giving a new challenge on the first Saturday of each month during 2015. (Yes, I know this is the second Saturday of January!)

These challenges have three purposes:

Increase Awareness

Grow Community

Build Relationships

If we are going to achieve justice and equality, if we are going to overcome systemic racism, if we are going to attain racial reconciliation, if we are going to admit and push back against our privilege, then we need to be in the business of building relationships. The challenges I present this year have that purpose in mind.

So for the month of January, here is your challenge:

Invite someone into your home who has never been in your home before.

Simple. Just invite someone over. It can be for dinner, dessert and coffee, a movie/game night, or just to sit and talk. But invite someone who has never been in your house before. Sit and talk. Get to know them. Allow them to tell you their story and share your story with them.

This is where it begins. We build relationships by building relationships.

Please participate in these challenges with me this year. Share this challenge with everyone you know. Share your stories! You can talk about them here or on facebook or twitter. But share your stories. Let us learn together how we can successfully create and sustain community.

The Truth Hurts

“I could hate slavery, but I didn’t know what to do with the slave right in front of me.” The Invention of Wings.

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When working with clients, they often face some uncomfortable truths. Sometimes, they are being victimized by someone they love and they need to stand up for themselves. Other times, they are creating a problem and are coming to realize they need to change their own behavior.

Either way, they experience discomfort. Truth is often not easy.

At times, it is more difficult because the person is doing something they know is wrong, but they have convinced themselves they need to do it. A person may hate dishonesty yet keep secrets from their partner in order to spare his or her feelings. Someone may hate insulting speech yet they often utilize sarcastic cut-downs as an attempt at humor to defuse a tense situation.

Not only do they need to be confronted with what they are doing that is causing pain, they need to acknowledge that their actions do not line up with their beliefs.

This is prevalent in 12 Step groups, as well. Most addicts hate using substances. Yet they cannot stop. They do not enjoy lying to their families, stealing to pay for their drug of choice, or destroying their bodies. But the need for satiating their desire is greater than the need to change behavior.

Again: they experience discomfort. Truth is often not easy.

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In The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd tells the tale of Sarah Grimke and Hetty “Handful” Grimke, set in early 19th century Charleston, SC. Sarah is given the slave, Handful, as a gift for her 11th birthday. From a young age, Sarah hates the institution of slavery. She hates that Handful has been given to her as property. Yet she cannot free her no matter how hard she tries.

Throughout her life, she tries to figure out the best ways to treat Handful. In a particularly poignant scene in the novel, Sarah is looking at Handful and says to herself, “I could hate slavery, but I didn’t know what to do with the slave right in front of me.”

That tremendously captures the human experience. Intellectual assent or opposition is easy. Practical application is hard.

I believe in the value of hard work. But what about people who are unable to work for a variety of reasons?

I believe it is necessary to abide by laws. But what do we do with those people who break the law? Or how do we monitor those who enforce the law?

I believe abortion is wrong. But how should we treat women who have already had abortions? Or how should we treat the children born to women who struggle to provide for their kids?

I believe war is wrong. But how should veterans and active service people be treated?

I believe in looking beyond our differences and sharing community. But how can we still respect and honor different ethnic backgrounds and experiences?

I know what I believe in and what I oppose. But what do I do with the person right in front of me?

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I hate systemic racism.

I hate the denial that systemic racism exists.

I hate the reality of white privilege.

I hate the denial of that reality.

But what do I do with the people right in front of me—the people who I interact with daily that are suffering due to the unfairness and injustice in the systems and structures that are currently in place; as well as the people who think things really aren’t that bad and we all just need to get over it?

I know what I believe and I know what I hate; but what do I do with the person right in front of me?

I can speak up. I can speak out. I can build awareness. I can work for justice and equality.

But all of that must be done in relationship. I must remember that the person right in front of me is exactly that: a person. A beloved child of God. They have worth and value, whether they agree with me or not.

Because I have seen the effects of systemic racism and unchecked white privilege, I will continue advocating for people who have faced the unfairness inherent in the system.

Because I have relationships with people who have not seen the effects of unfairness, I will continue seeking ways to inform them. I will continue seeking ways to have conversations to explore some uncomfortable truths.

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We live in a country that essentially idolizes freedom. Yet many do not want to acknowledge that freedom is limited for a large number of our population.

We must acknowledge that truth; no matter how much it hurts.

So how do we do this? By getting to know people. By listening to other people’s stories. By paying attention to what is going on in our communities.

In other words, we do this by building relationships. We build relationships through dialogue and experience. Over the course of 2015, I will be making one challenge per month. These challenges are intended to increase awareness and build relationship.

There is a lot of negativity today. And much of it actually does need to exist. We need to be made aware of how difficult life is for people who face systemic racism and oppression of many forms.

But we need practical measures to bring about lasting change. I know what I believe. I know what I hate.

But what do I do with the person right in front of me?

I will normally be posting the challenges on the first Saturday of the month, but I will post this month’s challenge here, as well:

During the month of January, invite one person into your home that has never been in your home before. Don’t meet them somewhere for coffee. Don’t choose someone who was in your last place several years ago. Choose someone you have never invited before and ask them to be a guest in your house. It can be for dinner, for dessert, for a game/movie night, or it can just be for a time to visit. But find someone you have not spent time with and invite them to be your guest.

Are you willing to try that?

Let us all look for ways to increase our awareness and grow our community by building relationships.