Last January, I went to the other side of the world, to Uganda.

I think we all have a picture in our minds of what a place like Uganda is. The thing is that what I found was so much more than what I thought I would find.

Uganda was so much more poor than I ever imagined. When I say poor, I mean that thousands of people live in slums, collect their water from ditches, do not have basic sanitation. I mean that there are systemic problems that prevent people from just “pulling themselves up” by their bootstraps, the way we proud Americans think.

But Uganda is so much more than poverty. To see only poverty is to not see the people. Uganda is a beautiful place, far more beautiful than we imagine. It is a place that is rich in spirit, where people who have nothing believe that they are blessed. The people of Uganda believe they are blessed far more than you or I do. They are grateful. They are joyful. 

Uganda is everything. It is tragic and beautiful, a combination of despair and triumph.

Last week, I got some much needed good news. The infant rescue home that we worked to fund is finally complete! We have photographic proof. The furniture is being moved in as we speak and children will soon be rescued from poverty and certain death to begin a new life in a clean, safe, loving home.

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Just seeing those kids brings me back.

What’s more, the remaining rescue home is just about $13,000 away from reaching total funding! Just a few more bucks and the number of children rescued by this wonderful place can be doubled. How incredible is that?

If you can loosen a few coins from your pocket, you could assist World Help reach their goal and finish the final phase of the project.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of Peter getting out of the boat this weekend.

You know, the one where the disciples see Jesus walking on the water and they think he’s a ghost. And so Peter dares the “ghost” to tell him to come out on the water.

And before Peter can even think twice, he acts recklessly and steps out of the boat.

There are very few times in our lives when we actually get a chance to step out of the boat, to take a big step of faith, not knowing if we are going to sink. Peter took his chances.

I’ve also been thinking about something else.

The eleven guys who did not get out of the boat.

I wonder what they said to one another.

“What is Peter doing?”

“That’s a bad idea.”

“He is going to sink!”

“I’ve read a blog about these guys who try to walk on water. I don’t agree with it.”

See, every precious time we get the chance to step out of our boat, there is going to be eleven (or a lot more) people who stay in the boat, and tell us why we should stay put. They are the concerned friends who urge “discernment.” They are the experts who prophesy disaster at every turn. They are the barely-informed Christians who think they have well-reasoned moral objection.

I have been seriously struggling with this recently, knowing that I have made choices, I have gotten out of my boat. And there are plenty of people who have an opinion about that. Mob mentality is alive and well and it keeps us in fear of ever leaving the little boundaries of the boats we are in.

“We are all in the same boat,” they say. Maybe it’s because no one is allowed to leave the boat.

All of the people in the boat mean well. But the result is the same. The voices of fear, anxiety, safety, guilt or shame always try to crowd in and hold us back. They try to tell us that our faith is too reckless. They try to tell us that God wants us to stay safely in the boat. They try to convince us that we are doing something wrong by getting out of the boat.

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You know, the hardest part of getting out of the boat might not be seeing the wind and the waves that are about to crash into us, but shutting out the voices who try to hold us back, wondering what could have been.

Hey everyone.

By now, I bet most of your kiddos have started school. Maybe you even sent a bigger kiddo or two off to college! I’m back in the full swing of things, which is always exciting, tiring, refreshing and all-consuming at the same time.

You know, two weeks out from Michael Brown’s death, I can already feel some people are starting to get tired of the story. It’s starting to become “old news.” We simply cannot let that happen. We cannot let ourselves become “weary” about these issues. Is that not what we so often do? We witness a tragedy and we vow “never again,” but then we get tired and distracted. And when it happens again, we wonder how.

On the other hand, now that the cacophony of voices is starting to winnow down, I think we are getting some really wise words coming out, slowly, purposefully. I was looking for them this week.

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I am really excited to be diving into Ed Cyzewski’s newest book A Christian Survival Guide. It’s a great little book that covers a lot of ground, the sort of perennial stumbling blocks that trip up Christians of the twenty-first century. You can download it right now for a ridiculously low price, making it pretty much an impulse purchase.

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Also from Ed, he posted a great piece this week on the role of doubt in the lives of Christians, a topic that has really had me wrestling lately. I am more and more convinced that when I am in a season of doubt, God is not further from me, but nearer than I ever expect.

There were also a number of great words written this week, following up on the events of Ferguson. I particularly appreciated Caris Adel’s words in When I Say “Most White Christians.” There is a massive difference in the way race groups view the events that are unfolding.

I also was especially challenged by Tyler Braun this week. His words were brief, but he is right, and he elaborates on what I was trying to say on Wednesday. The problem with privilege, is that those of us who have it, usually do not know it. We project our reality onto everyone else. We universalize our tiny little experiences.

Emily Wierenga had some very personal thoughts on how we react to suicide. There are so many people who are walking among dry bones.

Finally, I was very challenged, inspired, uplifted and broken all at the same time by Caleb Wilde’s post Eight People Who Found Life In DyingMost of us fear death. A few of us are cursed with dying slowly. But a few of those people have learned, for lack of a better word, how to die well, because dying well means living as if you are not dying. And it just puts me to shame, because I’m still learning to live, and I’m not dying at all!

That’s what fueled me this week. What about you?

 

Last week was a pretty notable week, to say the least.600x570

A well-loved celebrity passed away tragically. A heretofore unknown Midwest city exploded in unrest.

Let’s just be honest. Last week was many a blogger’s dream week. No shortage of news to comment on! A constant flood of images to post on social media! If you did not have anything to say about one story, you could surely find something to say about the other. And for those bloggers who were bored with both, we even got a Christian worship singer coming out as a lesbian. The whole blogosphere just had an epileptic seizure.

I watched the goings-on. I read story after story and blog after blog. But I wrote nothing. I read blogs that told me I was not ashamed enough of my country. Others said that by my silence, I was tacitly endorsing oppression in Ferguson. The storm of angry words tried to suck me in, tried to make me say something.

But I held my tongue, er, fingers as it were. And that was a very purposeful decision. I decided I would not write any opinions about Ferguson, about racism, about suicide, or any other topic du jour last week.

Why? Because for perhaps the first time, the events of last week proved to me one thing:

My opinions don’t count for much.

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It’s a new day, a new week, a new school year for many of us including myself.

But in many ways, I don’t know how to begin, even to begin writing this new paragraph.

My classroom, for all of the chaos that it might contain, is actually something of a retreat from the outside world. And in many ways, I needed a retreat last week more than usual. You may have felt the same way. There are times when the world just does not make a whole lot of sense.

I’m not a sociologist. But what I think I saw on display last week was a whole lot of hate being exposed. It takes a lot of hate to create a system that oppresses people. The hate that oppresses also brings out hate and anger in the oppressed. I saw a lot of people rush to judgment, to judge people they do not even know. Passing easy judgment on people feels good, and it is another kind of hate, a disdain for others, a refusal to understand them.

Sometimes, hate is so casual, so quiet, so acceptable that it doesn’t even look like hate to most of us. It happens in increments of neglect. Maybe it is layer upon layer of lazy, purposeless hate that has built up like a blanket of dust on our culture.

Here is what I do know:

I know that Jesus had to command us to love one another. He had to make that command because love is hard. It is unintuitive. As much as we want to wax poetic about our common decency, I know that if my most honest moments, I have to work to love my neighbor as myself. I love myself far more than I love my neighbor. I accept my own sins, while I hate the sins of my neighbor (something Jesus did not command.) In fact, it is easy for me to love myself and hate my neighbor, simply by not caring about my neighbor.

Worse, it is our mutual disdain for each other that keeps us in the tragic place we find ourselves. It is hate that keeps us simmering, distracted from our larger problems. Hate keeps us socially and spiritually poor and weak. And no matter how much hate and judgment we indulge ourselves in, we always have more. It doesn’t run out the more we engage in it. It only increases.

If it was Jesus’ will that we all hate each other, judge each other, neglect each other, he would never have had to say anything at all. It is almost our default mode. People have recognized this for thousands of years. Take Euripides, the Athenian playwright.

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Here is what I know. This week, it is going to take a lot of work to love our neighbors as ourselves. It is going to take work to put down our judgment, our incessant opinions of others, to love, rather than to hate.

Who is up for the challenge?

You know, it’s been one of those weeks, hasn’t it.

It’s been one of those weeks for everyone with the death of Robin Williams. And then it was made more complicated as all of the conflicting opinions about depression and suicide started washing over social media.

It has been an extra weird week living in Missouri. And even though I’m in Kansas City, four hours away from Ferguson, it’s impossible to feel like this doesn’t hit very close to home.

There has been a reason I have not commented on these events. I just cannot find the right words at just this moment, and to be honest, I feel free to not say anything just yet. We so often rush to social media and our blogs in the heat of the moment, desperately wanting to say something, if only to assert that, yes, we have an opinion. And it just makes things worse so much of the time. So for now, I just pause and try to take it all in and when I say something, I’ll try to measure my words.

All that being said, there were tons of truthful, necessary words written over the week and you’ve already read them. But just yesterday, as I was so weary at reading the news, I was reminded of this video of a couple of cops in my own town. For all of our talk of police brutality and militarization, there are at least a few who go out on the streets every day to protect and serve, not search and destroy. I haven’t been prouder of my city in a long time.