Removing the Politics out of Loving my Neighbor

I think that one of the greatest disservices that we commit against one another is that of labeling each other. I understand that sometimes we need labels, especially in this culture we live in, but far too often those boxes that we label people into are boxes of judgment and stereotypes. I was born and raised as a Baptist, and up until a few years ago, I was content with that label of a Baptist. However, during that time if someone had labeled me into the same box as a Westboro Church Baptist, I would have been deeply offended, because not all Baptists wield picketing signs that read “God hates fags”.

I am guessing the same sentiment is true for my Muslim friends who are so often immediately labeled as a “Radical Islamic”, and yet we do it. Last week I saw a Facebook post that made a blanket and ugly statement about Muslim people, and I literally wept in horror. Later that evening I was talking to my husband about it, and I shared that I did not understand why I felt so much pain and responded with so much grief to what I had read. He answered, because when you read that, you picture all of your Muslim friends in Ethiopia, who you love and who you know fit none of those labels. He was right.  I think that what hurts most about labels is that they mostly happen outside of a relationship. We share posts on Facebook that box people into just one way of being – we judge the heck out of someone that we do not even know and we excuse ourself from the greatest command that we were given – love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Sometimes love looks as simple as thinking twice before we share something on social media that unjustly labels an entire group of people.

We use labels to determine who is worthy of our love and who is not – who is in and who is out. Inside the polarizing political climate that we find our country in, we are so quick to draw a box, a dividing line depending on what side we veer to. The political labels are especially divisive and hurtful, and can never really tell you the whole of a person’s heart, because labels never can. I fear that we have allowed our political leanings to give us permission to not love that neighbor. It is a sad commentary when we have reduced someone to a singular label that allows us to forget their belovedness and the fact that they were created in the image of God. It is a sad day when our politics have become our god, and the filter in which we view all of life is which political party we align with. Perhaps this generation’s biggest blindspots will trace back to our love for political labels over our love for our neighbors. I fear this as I look around me and into my own heart.

The same Jesus Who died to free us, died to free them, and loves them with the same love that He loves us. Honestly, I do not really line up anywhere on the political scale, and most days I feel like an outcast because of this. I have very swiftly been pigeon-holed into a side and labeled, but the reality is that I don’t fit on the right, and I don’t fit on the left. I am a mess of contradictions and all over the place as I try to navigate this life loving God and loving my neighbor, and maybe we were never created to be labeled into one box.

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I am guessing if the people who choose to label me would instead choose to sit down and share a pot of coffee while I share my heart, they just might walk away with a different label for me or none at all. They might see that I am apprehensive about the safety of my Black children, not because I am listening to the left and believing lies and fake news, but because of real life experiences that have happened to them here in America. They might see that I have a heart for Muslim people because of the community of Muslim friends whom we did life with in Ethiopia. They might see that I am tender toward refugees, because I am a bleeding heart who knows how hard it is to live inside of a foreign country and not speak the language or understand the culture. Maybe they would understand why I am so passionate about sanctity of life, and why that reaches farther than just the unborn lives. Maybe they would walk away agreeing with me, or maybe not, but it would certainly be a better start than just boxing me into a label without knowing me. The same is true for everybody.

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I believe a lot of the tension in this country could be relaxed, even just a little, over pots of coffee, steaming cups of tea and a cozy kitchen table. Maybe this will not fix everything, but it gives us a place to start.  When we step into the lives of people, it is so much harder to label them into a box. People are nuanced and contradictory and unique, and worthy of our time and our love and of our listening ear. Maybe loving our neighbor should stop being political and start being practical and relational. Love is always the best, first step. When we don’t know what to do, how to think, where to go, loving someone over a cup of coffee is never wrong.

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Shattered Dreams

Even a month ago, I would never have dreamed that I would be sitting at my parents’ kitchen table and sleeping in my old high school bedroom. But here I am. One decision and one long plane ride robbed it all away from me. The first time I visited Ethiopia I knew our family would one day live there. The past two years have been a dream come true. It was the very best time of my life, and it was the life that I had never known that I had always wanted. It wasn’t glamorous, and there were hardships unspeakable, but it was everything that our family needed, and it was filled with immense joy, contentment, and such abundant living.

Now, here I sit, in my childhood home 7000 miles away from that life, looking out the window at the trees that line the back yard. The leaves on the trees that were so vibrant just a short moment ago have now dulled and are falling to their death. And I can relate. Satan is right here whispering insults and slick lies that speak of failure and a wasted two years and ‘what will people think?’ and children that will grow bitter and a mama that may never recover from this heart ache. Perhaps I have a flair for the melodramatic, but the truth is that I feel everything so, so deeply, and this I am feeling to my core. We certainly did not sell our home and everything that we owned three years ago with the thought of living in Ethiopia for such an extremely short amount of time. We definitely did not prepare for martial law, or situations that jeopardized the safety of our children, or for such life-changing decisions to make. Our dreams were long-term and wide, and they did not encompass a sudden move back to the states. While the ministry continues, and I firmly believe will flourish, and our tiny seed of a dream will come to fruition, it is not going to happen the way we wanted it to happen. And that is awful. It hurts.

But I am proud of the team we left behind in Ethiopia, local men and women who have the same dream and passion as we have, and who work to accomplish that dream. I know this was never really about us. I know, despite Satan’s whisperings, that this is one thing that we did right. I am thankful for that.

“He [the missionary] can live his live amongst his people and deal with them as though he would have no successor. He should remember that he is the least permanent element in the [ministry].He may fall sick and go home, or he may die, or he may be called elsewhere. He disappears,the [ministry] remains.The native Christians are the permanent element.” Roland Allen

I am trying to lean into God and His plans. I am trying to get on board. I find momentary delight in things like finding a home, only to feel sudden guilt for being excited about a fireplace and large back yard and dreams of decorating a house. Should I feel excited? Is it okay? If I get excited will God just take it all away again? I am in this soul-searching wrestling match with God and honestly questioning Him and His plan for us. That doesn’t sound very spiritual or missionary-ish. But it is the raw truth. Every time I wrestle, I notice that God doesn’t push me away, He draws me closer and embraces my flailing, my wailing, and my angry questions. He is big enough to handle my hurt and to let me wrestle. It doesn’t phase Him or threaten Who He is. To leave the mission field and go back to America, is hands-down the hardest thing God has ever asked me to do. In so many ways this feel more foreign and uncertain, and maybe this is exactly the way it is supposed to feel to remind me of where my real home is. Home is everywhere and nowhere at all, because home can never really be here. Maybe this weird and wacky America is our new mission field. Maybe just maybe there is a purpose in this mess, and the shattered dreams will be rearranged into something new.

Deep breath. Here am I God; send me. This new mission field is terribly frightening.

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The view out my kitchen window in Ethiopia. I am going to miss this.

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The Heartbeat of a Moment – How Will We Respond to #blacklivesmatter ?

This is not the post that I wanted to write to launch me into this new space. It really isn’t; I had much better, much gentler and well-received ideas for my first post. My blog isn’t even ready to publish a post, let alone this one. It is not my desire to use this platform for inflammatory posts that divide and bite. I have been there and done that, and I don’t want that to be a reflection of me any longer. However, there are times when I know that the Spirit is pressing into me to use my voice. For a long time I have danced around this topic, just dipping my toes in once in awhile on Facebook, but then quickly retreating. The truth is that I don’t really feel qualified to write this, because I am white. It is a big part of what holds me back every time. But yesterday, after a day where I cautiously posted on Facebook and involved my voice, and then felt so saddened by comments all over Facebook, I felt like a full blog post was needed, and maybe a white mama with black boys does have a place in this. I am diving into the conversation, at least for a moment. My desire is to do this with grace. May we please have this conversation? This cannot be a conversation that is marked as taboo, simply because it makes us uncomfortable. We have to be able to freely dialogue, because the truth is, if we cannot have this conversation, if you scroll on by and remain quiet, then we cannot truly understand it, and if we cannot understand it, then how can we ever find solutions to change it? Let me preface this and say that in writing this post I am not against law enforcement, so many of them do such a brilliant and heroic job of keeping us safe. It is not right that they suffer, and that their families fear for their lives. Many risks their lives every single day, and just last night a whole new horror took place where police officers again lost their lives. This is devastating and outrageous, and I am so heart broken for their loved ones. It reiterates the fact that their unjust loss of lives is so, so wrong and opposite of how this world should be. So is the loss of our black brothers and sisters. We should be righteously outraged for all of this and moved to compassion.  And just as it is not okay to make a blanket statement saying that police officers are corrupt, neither is it okay to say that black men are –fill-in-the-blank–. It doesn’t work that way. There are many sides to every story, and many unique people involved in those stories. Let’s understand that, but let’s talk and question this together.

How should a Jesus follower respond to the outcry and injustices in our country by so many people of color?

I am asking myself this question, because I think that a response is necessary. The world is waiting and watching for our reaction, because it matters so, so much. We claim to follow Jesus in life and practice, so with held breath the world turns to us to see if we really do what we proclaim to do. Maybe this is our chance to be known by our love. I am the mama of two Ethiopian boys, with beautiful dark skin. At one time in my life I thought that skin color did not matter at all. I am deeply grieved by my prior ignorance. Ignorance is not bliss when it hurts other people. I was proud of being ‘color-blind’, but failed to realize that I was unconsciously implying to my boys that there was something shameful about the way that God had created them. I thought racism was a thing of our American past, and that the chapter of atrocities for that was closed. I thought our country had moved on. I grew up in a very small, very white town. I had no friends of color. None. I remember hearing adults in my life speaking of black men and how so many of them have a chip on their shoulder because of slavery, and act as if the world owes them because of something that did not even happen to themand I did not even realize that what I was hearing was racism.

The truth is, we do live in a culture that is still raging with racism, as much as I wish it were not true, it is. I see so many white people on Facebook saying ‘stop making this all about race’, and oh, how I wish it was just that easy. Because it is not, and because racism is alive and well here in America, my husband and I do have to teach our two Ethiopian sons to present themselves in a certain way in public, and we have to teach them ways to be safe, on top of teaching them the typical things like honesty, respect, love, obedience to authority, etc. that most parents teach their children. But this added stuff; it is different. If this is not your reality, could you step into mine for a moment? It is a heartbreaking conversation to look my teenage son in the eyes and tell him that he has to be careful, that because of his skin color, when he is in the ‘land of the free’, he needs to be extra respectful and compliant, that he has to act differently than his white brother, than his white friends, or else his life could one day be in danger. This is a reality. To say otherwise is to ignore the truth that my son could be killed just for walking down the street wearing a hoodie on his head and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is not drama or overreaction. This is not indoctrinating my children with fear, this is preparing them with wisdom. This is not the equality that our country declares to gift to everyone. Devastatingly, it does happen, people of color really are dieing unjust deaths, and instead of mourning and weeping with those who mourn and weep, we throw around phrases like ‘gang-related’ and ‘thug’, and ‘criminal record’, and we fail to see the problem is actually with sanctity of life. I read post after post yesterday from black men (from all walks of life) sharing their actual experiences, not fears of what could be – unjust experiences that my husband, that my dad, that my brother have never ever had to face. Many of these men are from affluent or middle class areas; because the truth is this really can occur anywhere. It could occur here in a safe white neighborhood. It could occur there in a dangerous crime-ridden neighborhood. But regardless of where this is happening, the loss of human life should move us and bother us, and for some reason many black people feel like the deaths of their loved ones largely do not matter to us. And that is just not okay with me.

Devastatingly, it does happen, people of color are dieing unjust deaths, and instead of mourning and weeping with those who mourn and weep, we throw around phrases like ‘gang-related’ and ‘thug’, and  ‘criminal record’, and  we fail to see the problem is actually with sanctity of life.

Followers of Jesus are vocal about abortion, but when our brothers and sisters of color are crying out in fear for their very lives, and for the lives of those they love, shouldn’t we be listening? Are not their feelings valid? Shouldn’t there also be an outcry from us for them? Doesn’t sanctity of life matter for them as much as it matters for the unborn child, for the white teenage girl, for the police officer, for the muslim man?  Are they not all lovingly made in the image of God? I can NEVER understand what a person of color faces while living in this country. I know what it is to try to raise one, but to actually live as one, I have no idea. I have never known, and I will never know, because I am white, and I can never live another way. I cannot change that. But I do want to exercise great compassion. I do want to listen and to learn, because if a large group of people (not all – I am reminding myself to stay away from blanket statements, because they only stereo-type and promote racism) are saying that they are living in fear for their lives and the lives of those they love, then who am I to tell them that they are wrong to feel that way, or should not feel that way? Who am I to tell them that if they would just ‘be respectful’ and stay away from dangerous neighborhoods, and teach their children the same then they will have nothing to fear? I cannot tell someone how to feel any more than I can tell them that their experiences are invalid, just because I don’t and can’t experience what they experience.

We are image bearers and as such, should we not be bearing His image, and inviting one another into the gospel life? All I am asking is that if a group of people are saying that they are scared and hurting, shouldn’t we be pressing in as the Church and at the very least listening to find out why? When we hashtag black lives matter, please understand that we are not saying that white lives don’t matter or police officers don’t matter, essentially what we are saying is that all other lives do not matter more than black lives. As a Jesus follower I am compelled to compassion, to lament, and yes even publicly, with those who mourn, to listen to the outcry of humans who are hurting, because we know that Jesus is close to the broken hearted. Where Jesus is, I want to be. To be a Jesus follower is to love justice and mercy, and that means to have an active part in restoring what is wrong in our society; it is to seek hard after “on earth as it is on heaven’.

When we hashtag black lives matter, please understand that we are not saying that white lives don’t matter or police officers don’t matter, essentially what we are saying is that all other lives do not matter more than black lives.

I believe we are standing in a pivotal point in history in the heartbeat of a moment, where we have a choice. We must take a side. I know it is not comfortable. I know it is not popular. But we must. I want to side with life. I want to stand with human dignity. I want to ere on the side of compassion and loving people well.

We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”  Elie Wiesel

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I will weep with those who weep, because I could only hope for the same if it were one of mine. And, the truth is, it could be.

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