Are We Allowed to Believe?

My car battery died today.

The thing is, I knew it was coming. The car isn’t old, just a 2016, but it was taking two tries to get it started. We’d looked up the make and model online and found that battery issues were common.

Still, I kept driving. I hoped the spot it died in would not be too inconvenient. Leaving a surgeon’s office on a visit, it finally refused to start.

Val picked me up and, a few hours later, AAA sent out a service guy and he replaced the battery. The procedure was simple enough. It could only happen after death, though. And it could only happen with a cost.

Photo by Hilary Halliwell on Pexels.com

I grew up with a system of belief. It took a few decades of life to knock that down and rebuild it into something more genuine, a faith more connected to the reality of struggle and suffering.

These past few weeks we’ve seen the country torn apart. All sides of the issue are still fighting. We’ve dug in, more divided than before. Our labels carry so much weight. Our political leanings drive nails of darkness into our identity.

One cannot be seen as simply one thing. Conservatives become fascists. Liberals become socialists. Support the police, support movements for social change. Support the misrepresented and underrepresented.

Do these things and you will be hated.

So, why believe?

Why pick a side?

Why stand up for anything when it will cost you friendships, relationships, maybe even employment?

If there is anything to believe in, it is this:

Believe in change.

Believe in grace.

Believe in large holiday dinners again, the smell of cooking ham and potato filling, deserts and coffee.

Believe in the human spirit.

Image from USA Today

Look in the eyes of our children and believe that love can be taught, tolerance can be learned, courage can be embraced and the foundation laid deep in their hearts because, one day, they’ll run the world.

Believe in freedom. Believe that struggles will pass, that poverty and sickness can be overcome. Believe that your story is not over.

Believe that the sun will rise on endless dark nights. Believe that raging fires can be walked through, that heat is only temporary.

Believe that generations of hate can be overcome. Believe that systems can change, that nothing is forever and new ideas can heal old wounds.

Someone may not have told you this is a long time, but:

You can dream.

It may not feel right, but you can dream. You can look forward to a different future.

You can hope.

You can live with a renewed strength.

2020 so far, has been a year of dealing with our illnesses. From the physical side to societal pains. Exposure of deep wounds, of those struggling and left in the wake of rampant self-centered drive. As much as companies are racing for treatments and vaccines, as much as a slow roll of political change is sounding, we must be willing to continue the work. Not just on ourselves and our families, but our jobs and our community.

All of creation demands a response.

But some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples!” “I tell you,” He answered, “if they remain silent, the very stones will cry out.” 

Luke 19: 40

The stones are crying out.

What if everything so far has led to 2020?

And now the time is yours.

No Longer Silent

We were riding in the car, afternoon sun beating down.

“Do you know what’s happening?” I asked. My oldest son looked out the window. “Like with the riots and everything?”

“Yeah.”

We were on our way to a pitching lesson. For more than a year, we’ve met with a former MLB pitcher. He loves his time there.

“Here’s something you need to know,” I said, “If you go out with your friends, you will run into situations where you are treated differently.” I listed three or four names of kids his age but different ethnicity. “If you all decide you are headed to a baseball game, for example, and walk into a gas station to get food, you will get treated differently.”

He nodded.

“Your job,” I told him, “is to stand up when you see this, when you see anyone being bullied, and try to stop it.” He swallowed. “It won’t be easy, but you have to.”

Photo by JÉSHOOTS on Pexels.com

“If God is talking to you about it, he wants you to talk about it.”

Erwin McManus

The obstacle is the way, as Ryan Holiday has written in one of my favorite books. Conflict is our radar. Stress is our tracking arrow.

What if God calls us into it to face it.

Society lacking coherent healthcare resources. 150 years of institutionalized racism. That internal system that tells us to resist the different, circle the wagons, and hold on to the life preserver because we may need it even if the boat is just fine.

The boat is not fine.

No matter where you stand.

We’ve turned away too often, looked away too long, and were willing to stand silent due to a variety of pressures.

Make no mistake. We are being called into it. God is talking to you right now. God is talking to me right now. God is talking to the world right now.

So could things be different?

Is reform more than a politically weighted buzz word? Can anything exist outside politics?

-An education that equips students for modern and relevant skills applicable Day One after graduation.

-A college system that is no longer a set of handcuffs for debt often costing more than a first house.

-Increased mental health services and screenings. -Availability to community resources that provide food and shelter, personal care items and personal connections.

-Police and prison reform. Reeducation. Equipping offenders for change not chains.

-Voices and seats at the table for everyone.

As a man of faith, one of the more interesting parts of the Bible to me is that Jesus is often mentioned having meals with followers. The meals had points to them, from instruction to physical demonstrations of grace.

Often Jesus gathered with “sinners.” He sat with outcasts.

Imagine, the ones on the fringes, the hated, the despised, the victims, those who struggled against the Roman empire occupying Jerusalem at the time. The ones unseen. The ones society had enough of.

Jesus spent his time there. He taught, laughed, joked, shared a meal and served.

Where do we spend our time?

Where could we?

Stand Up

Make no mistake, forces want to keep you here.

Big stuff. Politics. Media spreading fear like wildfire. Fake friends. Enemies.

People you don’t even know.

Small stuff. Fear. Doubt. Questions. The Lure of Passivity. The Lore of Passivity. It’s just easier to be lazy. Recline. Relax. Check out that app. Scroll through social media. Do anything but this.

Then one day you make a move and you realize these forces won’t just sit back and take it. No, they’ll organize. They’ll start an offensive. Small things pop up. Debt, accidents, things to be fixed and adjusted. Illness.

Pandemics.

What these forces don’t realize is that they are priming you for greatness.

Nothing valuable comes easy. Change is not overnight. Change is one small victory, one choice at a time.

People need to hear you.

Photo by João Cabral on Pexels.com

Because hate is real. Fear is real. Adversity gives power to some and tries hard to take power from others.

Until you stand up.

For those who can’t. For those who are beaten down and living in fear. For those who are suffering and struggling.

Courage pulls you out of comfort. Courage brings challenge. Challenge makes comfort sound so nice. Then you find yourself at a crossroads. Keep the circle going or break it.

Break it.

Because someone is watching you. A child, a spouse, a coworker.

You choose how you respond.

Here’s a secret: Life is demanding your choice.

Poverty, racism, struggle, pandemic, fear. Forces waiting to play off what they create. If we don’t be careful we’ll respond without thinking, act without consideration, speak without hesitation and we’ll lose.

Choose your response. Choose how you see your moments. Choose the meaning inside them.

And when you do, choose compassion. Choose Love. Serve. Give.

Create.

Create community. Create family. Break chains. Show the world things can be different and you will not stand for the old way any longer.

From now on.

You stand up.

Lingering

First, I want to apologize for a delay in posting.  The last two weeks have been busy, more than usual. Inspired by a few points I’ve written about recently, I decided to go back to school and make some concrete moves to follow a dream and gain some stability in life.

My heart breaks for all involved in the shootings across the country this past week. This country is sitting on a crisis point, one that arrived on the waves of two hundred years of history.

Then I find out a few days ago that my cousin, my closest female relative in age who was always like a sister to me, is in ICU dealing with a cardiac issue. She’s too young to have these problems and we are all concerned, as a family, praying and pushing hard for her recovery.

She had done something we all do, wait for what seems like an innocent illness to pass and, when it doesn’t, finally go to the doctors. It was almost too late.

Lingering pain can destroy our lives.

pexels-photo

We get comfortable in our narratives.

This morning I took Carter to a pediatric sleep specialist at Penn State Health.  He hasn’t slept a full night in close to five years. We just keep sleeping with him to maintain some level of peace and get him back down as quick as possible.

It was time for a change and, thankfully, he will have a sleep study.

It was too easy to let it go and tell ourselves things will change at some point.

We get this way with our faith, our physical health, our families and our marriages.  Change takes effort on both sides, bringing whatever we have and meeting God in a divine collision.

For there is no such thing as stasis.  If we aren’t moving forward, we are falling back.

I’m in the midst of reading Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog about the founding of Nike. He mentioned something the other night that stuck with me.

He said that the essence of competition is forgetting, forgetting the past and ignoring the voice that tries to convince you to stop. It is facing each challenge with a fresh template.

As impossible as it seems, the power of the past can be broken.  From a macro level with policy reforms and new leaders to the micro level of taking a step of faith. It may sound cliché at this point, but I believe that God has a purpose for all of us.

We have a difference to make and, if you are reading this tonight, your difference is still waiting.  Your job isn’t over.

Your divine collision is on the horizon.

~Matt

 

The Anchor of Forgiveness

This morning I checked the headlines for the day before work.  I flipped around until I found the impetus for this post.  The shooting in Charleston has caused the usual debates and discussion to rage around the country. Political and special interest groups grab for meaning and headlines. We start looking at gun control, mental health, racism, hate groups, crime and violence.

One part of this terrorist act makes it stand out.  Read the transcripts from the families of the victims and you’ll find it clear as day.

Forgiveness.

beach-sand-legs-shoes

The concept of forgiveness can be viewed through different lenses and it always carries weight. It walks hand in hand with guilt poured on from actions that may or may not be your own. If you are someone who follows Jesus, as the families of the victims, you see forgiveness as the cornerstone.

It anchors your faith.

It erases conditions. It reclaims power for those who stop being victims. It is a release.

Now those who enjoy philosophical debates like to throw around the question of volume.  Is there anything unforgivable? Does a mass murder carried out by a racist young white man qualify? How about the massacre of millions of people by political figures throughout history? How about those who killed in the name of their warped view of faith?

This conversation could be a book but I’ll leave off here:

I pray we never have to know a situation similar to the families of the victims. They have all right to forgive, even if some in society question or refuse to understand it. Jesus called for love to break down walls, for faith to move mountains and for sacrifice. These principals cross societal lines, gender, status, orientation, and location.

As humans, we can’t possibly get it right.  What those families did by facing down evil and responding with unfathomable grace, that reflected Jesus. That is the anchor of a church founded on a slave rebellion. It is the force that can, and should, bring down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capital building.  It is the force that can bring peace in the wake of violence and change after years of hatred.

The gunshots fired in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church echo well beyond the walls.

We have a choice: Let them fall silent or make sure they are always in our faith, hearts, and minds the next time we face the depth of darkness.

~Matt

 

Solving the Problem

On Thursday I had the chance to visit Hope Rescue Mission for their annual Thanksgiving meal.  The mission serves around 250 people between the guys living there, their families, and others that come in off the street.  The dining area was full as more than a hundred volunteers served plates of food and cleaned up after.

The crowd, and volunteers, spanned a range of ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds.  The local news arrived and taped a segment from the midst of the action. It was a moment of peace and inspiration.  This is the time of year where we should be helping, serving, and giving thanks.

And yet, we know that it is a struggle.

Media, and social media, is fighting a war hundreds of years old. Cities are rocked with violence and protest. Police struggle to maintain order and recover some level of trust with the general public.

So, as a parent, believer, and writer, where do we begin?

The issue of racism is large and encompassing. As a white male, there are things that my sons and I will be able to do much more easily than other men of differing ethnic backgrounds. My sons will have opportunities based on their appearance and gender alone. They will enter school systems where teachers will not cringe or assume when they walk in the room.

At ages 6 and almost 2, they do not know any of this. They don’t see color, they see friends at a playground and on the baseball team. They trust and love, openly and honestly.

My goal is to keep it this way. My goal, as they grow, is to help them be good citizens and be socially conscious. I want them to be activists, to stand up for a kid being bullied and speak up when they see something wrong. I want them to be men of God, to lean on their faith when they are pressed in darkness, and praise when the sun rises again.

23627

These thoughts were in my head as I stood against the wall watching the Thanksgiving meal at Hope.  I found Steve Olivo, chaplain of the Mission, seated at his table and went to his side.  We talked about the book and I mentioned that, with every interview I conduct, everyone has their own answer for poverty.  He said:

Jesus is the answer.  He changes people.

He is perfectly correct.

We can talk about systematic change, about societal shifts in power and political influence.  We can reform the education system and encourage small businesses to create jobs in cities where they are needed.  We can train police officers and public officials to be more aware of the cities they work in and communities they inhabit.  We can empower those who suffer to make the gains they need to find happiness. These are all valid efforts.

They must all be capped by the perfect love of Jesus.

We are called to serve. To love. To give water to the thirsty and food to the hungry.  We are called to meet needs and give of what we have since it is not ours anyway, merely provision from God. We are called to have the difficult conversations.

We know that grace is enough.

It is time for more churches to get their feet wet, to get involved, to be on the front lines.  Too many are too content to stay in their buildings and have their meetings, to drop off donations monthly and go back to their existence.

It is time for believers to show the love we had modeled for us two thousand years ago.

Everyone is worth it. Communities can be rebuilt. Peace can spread like the fires that light up the night sky in cities around this country this week. Radical love and grace can change hearts. Hands can be held and fists lowered.

It can happen and, I believe, one day it will.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: