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I Will Listen

The following thoughts bubbled up this week while I read eyewitness accounts from, news reports about, and opinion pieces on Ferguson, MO. Said thoughts have been simmering for many years, however, through many tragedies and conflicts, both domestic and international. I hope to continue this theme, with a trajectory toward active Kingdom-building, for the rest of my life.

I don’t like it. I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like it when things go wrong. I don’t like it when other people are at odds. I don’t like hashtag wars. I don’t like it when I can’t fix things. Somewhere inside me, a petulant, inconvenienced child complains that the yelling is too loud, puts her fingers in her ears and sings loudly, “LALALALALA!!”

I refuse to be that child anymore. I refuse to let my discomfort with the hashtag war govern my response (or lack thereof) to real wars, real tragedies, real shouting matches, real injustices, real problems with endless complexities.

To stop being that ineffectual child, I have to shut up. I have to listen. I have to open my ears, shut my mouth, and listen. I have to resist spouting reflexive rhetoric. I have to be quiet and let the stinging darts of another person’s story sink into the flesh of my pride and self-righteousness until it starts to bleed empathy. I have to accept the notion that there are worse things than my preconceived notions being proven wrong. I have to allow myself to feel empathy.

Denying empathy is dangerous. To hide behind a bastion of preconceived ideas and entrenched opinions dehumanizes the person whose story I’m hiding from, and it also dehumanizes me. I wonder if one of the reasons I cling to my habitual ways of seeing and opining on things is that I feel my personal epistemology/way of knowing is somehow essential to my identity.

News flash: it’s not.

I am more than a set of opinions and rock-solid beliefs about what the world is and how people are. I am a person. I am a bearer of God’s image. I am capable of listening to this other person, also a bearer of God’s image, whose story I do not know in its entirety. This other person is more than a news headline, more than a participant in a protest, more than a victim of ongoing conflict, more than a statistic, more than someone that I am suspicious of because of those pesky non-essential parts of me.

This person is a human. I am a human. I want to learn, fellow human, what being a human is like for you. And I promise to listen without jumping in to shut you up with an untimely story of what it’s like for me to be a human.

Setting aside my armor of political opinions, ingrained biases, desires for validation and justification, and discomfort at the possibility of being in the wrong in order to hear a fellow human being’s story will not make me any less a seeker and lover of the truth or any less a follower of God. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Empathy is the beginning point of compassion. Compassion is the beginning point of justice. Com – together, pati – to suffer. Compassion means to suffer with. A compassionate Lord compels me to be compassionate. Compassion is the very opposite of condescension and narrative imperialism. It doesn’t mean casting a benevolent eye on a suffering soul and heroically reaching down to pluck said soul from the depths of hardship.

It means saying, “No, I don’t know what it’s like to be you. Tell me. Show me. I want to know.”

Unlike many of my (much bolder) friends, I don’t know when or if I will ever become an activist in the traditional sense. I do know that when crises arise in this broken world, I will start listening. Will you join me?

For slightly more helpful reading on empathy, listening, and hope, I recommend the following:

In which God is transforming the world :: on hope, Iraq, and everything else

When Black Victims Become Trending Hashtags

That’s what SHE said: Reflections on #Ferguson

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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Undeniable things

There are so many times when life is just a tantalizing hint of what I thought it would be. Times when the scenery is drabber, the food is more bland, the Northern Lights are less bright than I thought they would be. Times when maybe that was God moving me to tears…I think. But I’m not sure. Maybe lack of sleep. Quite possibly PMS.

But then there are rare times when life sneaks up and pounces with an experience that is so real, so tangible that I can’t help but soak it in with a derpy grin.

Times when the lights go out on a cloudless night and I saw the Milky Way and more stars than I ever dreamed existed.

Cathedrals…not all of them, but the first one.

The most delicious cheesecake ever.

Skipping to Victoria Station late on a spring night with nothing but a backpack for luggage.

Edinburgh…Arthur’s Seat…

Woods and lakes and rock-bordered rivers in Wisconsin.

The sun rising over a caldera in Nicaragua.

I know that all of life can’t be like that. But I want to chase that life, those undeniable things. I’m tired of living and seeing and experiencing in retrospect.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The new year’s note

Salut, tout le monde!

C’est un nouvel an, le…*ahem* pardon my French. Hello, world! It’s a new year, the third day of it to be precisely exact, and I thought I’d start things off by taking a leaf out of my dad’s book and sharing a spiritual thought.

I’ve been reading through the pentateuch of late and came across the following verses:

“Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.”  Exodus 40:36-38

The description seems pretty straightforward, and I’ve no doubt read it several times without thinking much about it. This year, though, it stood out to me as a reminder to keep God in view at all times and an assurance that His eternal presence is my guide. Not a particularly new and strange revelation, I know. However, having spent the past 6 months waiting for the cloud to be “taken up” and not receiving any grand indication that it has done so, I find myself reassured that figuring out where (or if) God is leading me to go can be as simple as watching. It is also encouraging to be reminded that wherever God leads me to stay or go, His Presence is there, too.

So, here’s to a year of watching and walking, but never alone.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

While On the Road (or: Why I Want an E-reader)

And now for something completely different.

In an effort to expand my reading repertoire, I have compiled the following reading list from my own browsing and recommendations by fellow bibliophiles. A handful are re-reads, but most I have not read before. For series, I listed the first book followed by the series’ title in parentheses.

Devotional/spiritual growth/theology:

The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer

Orthodoxy, Chesterton

Three Free Sins, Steve Brown

Not A Fan, Kyle Idleman

Simply Christian, N.T. Wright

The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer

The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer

A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law

Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster

The Great Divorce, Surprised by Joy, etc., C.S. Lewis

Personal growth/self-improvement:

The Art of Living, André Maurois

What Color is Your Parachute?, Richard N. Bolles

Fired to Hired, Tory Johnson

Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend

Fantasy, sci fi, allegorical fiction:

Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan

Lillith, MacDonald

Till We Have Faces, Lewis

Miss Peregrin’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs

Real Story (Gap Into cycle), Stephen Donaldson

Beyond the Summerland (Binding of the Blade), L.B. Graham

The Color of Magic (Discworld), Terry Pratchett

The Wee Free Men (Discworld), Terry Pratchett

The Skin Map (Bright Empires), Stephen Lawhead

Good Omens, Pratchett/Gaiman

The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time), Robert Jordan

Black (Circle series), Ted Dekker

The Forge of God, Greg Bear

Pattern Recognition, William Gibson

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynn Jones

100 Cupboards (series), N.D. Wilson

In the Forests of Serre, Patricia McKillip

Sandry’s Book (Circle of Magic), Tamora Pierce

Other categories to be added whenever I get around to launching new facebook polls. Stay tuned!  [Also, I recognize that the definitions of these categories is somewhat fluid and any given book could fit into multiple categories. This is simply how I’ve chosen to group them.]

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

In the absence of a can opener

I first encountered the Third World at the age of five. Or six. Probably five.

Dad was attending the US Army Sergeants Major Academy at the time. We lived on Aero Vista Blvd, Ft. Bliss (El Paso), TX and went to Biggs Chapel for church.

Around Easter one year, Biggs chapel organized a mission trip to some of the poorest sections of Jaurez, Mexico, and my parents, my sister, and I participated. Given that Mexico is a grand total of 0-20 miles away from anywhere in El Paso, international mission trips here weren’t the logistical Goliath that they are for some churches (that’s changed a bit in recent years).

As I was only five (or six, but I’m pretty sure I was five), the trip registered less as a sequence of events and more as a series of questions and impressions that I was only able to understand years later. So, here is an account of my first mission trip, as remembered by my five-year-old self:

Someone had said the houses would be made of cardboard, which sounded like a strange and impractical proposition to me as cardboard wouldn’t be much use in the rain. It made a little more sense once I saw that most of the 3-4 foot tall boxes that stood in for houses had scraps of metal for a roof and a variety of walls ranging from just cardboard to wooden pallets insulated with cardboard, with a few metal walls thrown in. The second thing that struck me was how many little metal-topped boxes there were in the “cardboard city”. The first was the kids playing on their house roofs and how I wished I could play on the roof of my house.

Our first stop (and the part of the trip I best remember) was at the end of a neighborhood street, where we passed out canned goods to the adults and candy and snacks to the kids. I was with mom, passing out the goody bags. Four mental pictures I remember specifically.

-At one point I looked up at the line of kids in front of us, most of them probably around the same age as I was, and couldn’t see any of them smiling. I would have been smiling if someone handed me a bag of treats, so that seemed odd to me.

-The second mental picture is of looking down the packed dirt “street” and seeing kids running toward their homes, presumably to tell their families about the people handing out food, and running up the street toward us.

-The third picture is of a woman walking on the electrical wires lying haphazardly on the ground. Until this point, I was under the impression, probably from cartoons, that touching any kind of electrical or telephone wire meant electrocution and death. Which is probably just as well, because had I known about insulated wiring, I would have been more tempted to climb telephone poles.

-The fourth mental picture is of looking over to the other side of the street and seeing other people from our group handing out bags of canned food to the neighborhood adults. Ever the pragmatist, I asked mom or dad, “Do they have can openers? How are they going to get the food out?” (#firstworldproblems. Oh wait, hashtags didn’t exist in 1995)

After passing out food, we visited a nearby church. I remember thinking it was cool that we knew the same songs as the song leader, even though we were singing in different languagues.

And that was my first mission trip. Though my five-year-old self didn’t quite know what to do with the experience, my older-than-five self has been able to take meaning and insight from it. I now know that extreme poverty can bring despair. Despair can keep you from smiling when someone gives you free candy. You might run toward the strangers handing out food because you haven’t eaten for more than a day. If you touch a telephone wire, you probably won’t be electrocuted (but it’s still not a good idea to play around wires). If you’re hungry enough, not having a can opener won’t stop you from eating a can of green beans. Lastly, there is extreme poverty outside of the First World. But the poor in riches can also be poor in spirit; and there the love and grace of God abounds mightily.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

My very first exiting of North America

The first time I went overseas was when my dad was stationed in Germany for the last time. It was not a very memorable trip, as I was six months old when we crossed the pond. Dad worked at Nelson Kaserne in Neu-Ulm, and we lived in Ulm.

Things I remember about Ulm:

…nothing, really.

About a year later, we moved to Bimbach in Hesse (sort of the middle of Germany) for 1 1/2-ish years. Dad worked in Fulda.

Things I remember about Bimbach:

Our top-floor appartment with slanting ceilings. The balcony overlooking a field. The field becoming a construction site (it was very exciting to watch). The park down the street with a slide that (at the time) seemed very tall and scary. Looking at the chickens in a backyard bordering the park. The time we went camping in Holland (We listened to Psalty tapes on the way there. Sleeping in a tent was thrilling at the time. Oh, and there are lots and lots and lots of flowers in the Netherlands.) Probably other things, but those stand out.

I sort of remember the flight back to the States. I was three by then and excited about moving to this new and exotic place called North Carolina.

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2012 in Uncategorized