Friday, February 28, 2014

Are You Willing to Cross Cultural Boundaries?

I’m truly blessed to have different organizations partner with New City – Barrio Nuevo to do community work. I know that most that help out have seldom been in a setting where they cross over racial boundaries. I know that it isn’t easy to visit the proverbial other side of the tracks. It is too easy at times to allow the perception of others about under resourced neighborhoods stop you from driving to a different section of town. I will be the first to share that life is similar regardless of which side of the tracks you happen to call home.

This last week I did a presentation at a private high school that will do an urban mission week with us in the near future. The perception of most looking at this school is that it is primarily a group of affluent Anglo’s that has little interest in being exposed to life on the other side of the tracks. I give presentations often and I know that it isn’t always easy to draw an audience into a discussion about racial inequality or generational poverty. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised when doing my presentation that many in the group actually shared their stories and helped to start a dialogue about real life questions.

As I wrapped up the discussion and gave out gifts for those who participated I had a young gal come and ask me a question. She was very slow to interrupt, great manners, my group would have bounced up to the front and just asked, ‘Hey Dave can I ask a question?’ This teen was very polite and asked, ‘Do you really think it is possible in a period of 5 days to really connect with someone who is of a totally different racial and socio-economic background?’ She continued and said, ‘I don’t want to try knowing that this is doomed to failure.’ I applauded her for the boldness and courage it took to come up to me after class by herself. I said I would love to give her an opportunity to connect with one of my teens and show in a simple way that it is very possible to make friends easily and put a damper on any sense that race and where you live totally determine who can be your friend.

I told the teen to get permission from her parents and then text me and I would text her and one of my gals. This happened as soon as school was finished that day. I actually saw the teen that I knew would easily connect with this gal. So I asked my teen for permission to do this and within a few minutes they were texting buddies. It wasn’t too long before I realized that they were communicating everyday and excited to meet in a week.

One of the goals of New City – Barrio Nuevo is to give opportunities for young, old, rich, poor, stable and not so stable types of people to make new friends and learn more about life through someone else’s eyes. I’m so excited for this connection that I pray will bring many others to step up and live outside the box. I will be the first to admit that everyone usually feels more comfortable with people that look like them, have similar backgrounds and speak the same language. Yet, the beauty in God’s Kingdom is that his love and actions transcend race, economics and locals.

Isn’t it time that you do something different purposely? I always suggest that it is awesome to try some new restaurant that gives you a step into another culture that can open your eyes to how big our world happens to be instead of letting the Internet give the impression that everything is always ready figured out! Be bold and adventurous like these young teens who defy their own cultural backgrounds!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

how do you face suffering?

One aspect of the Christian life, which isn’t broached very often, is facing suffering and death. I know that we live in a culture that has promoted feeling good and short cuts as the path for life. The challenge is that all of us at some point face the death of a loved one or a close friend. I have the experience, which wasn’t great, of watching my mom die over a period of a few years from cancer. I can’t sugar coat the experience because it was horrible to watch someone you love slowing decline and then be in constant pain. I often asked the why question to God, especially to have my mom be the one to go through this horrible life experience.

I have had some close friends who are still young face their own mortality because of cancer or an unfortunate car accident. The reality is that any of us could wake up with some disease or accidently run a red light that sees us crashing into someone that could be hurt seriously. My dad’s journey was very different from my mom’s. He slowly lost his ability to remember and think over a period of five years. I know that he didn’t suffer from physical pain but from the emotional trauma of sensing that you no longer have a handle on reality. His disease meant that he was unable to eat and ended up fixated at times with little things around him that hindered him from consuming enough calories. This ultimately brought him to a point where he died from old age in a very peaceful way I believe without much pain.

I know that most of us hesitate to ask our friends who are struggling with cancer or some other aliment how they are doing. We are fearful that they might not want to talk or be capable of expressing themselves. I have learned an immense amount through my Anne’s CPE training when it comes to being there for someone in real pain that isn’t able to find relief. I have spent my fair share of time in the hospital visiting friends who have loved ones getting surgery. It is always interesting to see how people respond to a visit of a pastor or chaplain. I know that some would rather be left alone, which I respect, but there are others who welcome a listening ear or pleasant distraction from the obvious.

My learning curve is that pain and suffering are a real part of life that too often we ignore or pretend don’t exist and that for some reason we think we are above all of this. It is too easy to really think that it isn’t spiritual or manly to cry or talk about how you feel. I’m learning that it is so important to communicate to those that are close to you and be open to that welcoming friend who tries to reach back and comfort you regardless of whether they understand totally.

It is so essential to train our kids and teens to see that suffering is a normal expression of life experiences. I can remember being around my grandparents when they died. I was asked to do the funeral for both of my grandmas and great aunt. It was both humbling but also enlightening to realize that most of my relatives didn’t want to tell us that either grandma was dying so we get a call after the fact. I was rather upset because I had wanted to see them before they died and be able to say a real good bye.
My friend who has cancer is slow to say much, which I totally understand. I know that too often there are few words that can express how you feel about someone and how you want the best for them. It is very disheartening to watch anyone die from the ravages of cancer. I also know that suffering can also be a positive experience that helps us communicate with family in such a way that we are brought together and are healthier. We had a cancer scare with my Anne a couple of years ago that was very difficult for me to face. I couldn’t believe that it was possible and then to wait for a surgeon to do a simple procedure and come back with the news that everything is normal and there is nothing to worry about.

It is essential to see that God is part of the good and bad times in life. I don’t want to get into a discussion of whether God is the cause, directly or indirectly of cancer, yet the important fact is that God cares and is present in all life circumstances. He is the one who has comforted me as I faced the phone call in the middle of the night about my mom’s passing. My dad’s death was more part of my life because I was around him when it happened. I’m thankful for having family and friends who are teaching me how to face life and death with genuine understanding.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Is it easy to step across racial boundaries to make new friends?

I always find myself in the middle of groups where I’m perceived to be the one who has an easy time making new connections with a large variety of people. I admit that I love making new friends but I too at times can be shy and withdrawn when forced to talk to someone I don’t know or more honestly don’t like. I had the privilege to be part of a 2 Mile March and Lunch for Unity to stand up against gang violence. One of my hopes, some view it as naive, is to see people of different racial and socio-economic backgrounds work together. This Saturday saw a group of my college interns, kids, teens, a group of Koreans and some new friends help with the pulling off this march and lunch.

The 2 Mile March was to remember Dewight Westbrook who had been murdered in July 2012 by a gang act of violence. His mom, Knoye, a close friend, was the one who so much wanted to celebrate his life and also make a stand against the violence around us. We were so fortunate to have a new friend with the Phoenix Police Department who is now involved with the community that helped us out with getting motorcycle officers to lead the march on the busy Baseline Road in South Phoenix - Laveen. We had probably 50 people that marched and another 50 who helped with the lunch and setup at the park.

I know that it isn’t easy for people to mix that don’t know each other unless someone takes the initiative to bring them together. It is all too common to see age segregation, racial segregation and even church segregation. This is normal for most because everyone likes to be around people that are like them, speak their language, listen to similar music and share life stories in common. The opportunity that we must seize for a community to come together is that we have to be willing to walk across those lines and reshape the culture of our community to be come heterogeneous instead of homogeneous.

The day after this awesome march and lunch I spent time with my Korean friends that had helped significantly with the lunch and the setup for the march. The pastor, a great friend, had asked me to come and do a discussion on how to be a neighbor or make friends with people outside your people group or comfort zone. The ultimate question came back to why should anyone venture out of his or her safety zone to risk being hurt by a new relationship that could backfire because of cultural differences. Some would say it isn’t worth the effort because of the hurt that most likely could result.

I praised my Korean friends for partnering with me to help a largely African American group understanding that this wasn’t something they would typically do. Don’t get me wrong because this group has helped paint houses of low income families and bless the homeless with food and clothing but the challenge is how to make this more than just an event but create a pathway to establish new relationships that can turn into friendships. My heart and theirs is too see people come to understand their need for God and become spiritually alive! The challenge or opportunity is that it is up to us as individuals to be more open to building bridges to different people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures.

What brought this topic of making new friends outside your group even more interesting was my visiting with a High School group from a predominately ‘White’ High School in Scottsdale. I did my usual discussion on community work, learning to understand the cultures around you and see the benefit of partnerships that work both ways so everyone learns from each other. The teacher who is leading this group for a week’s project in my neighborhood had already warned me that the class probably wouldn’t say anything. I did my best and actually got them to open up a little and understand some of life’s challenges when you don’t have a dad, normal family or much support.

I was pleasantly surprised when after my discussion with this High School group that one of the students came up to me and asked an awesome question, ‘Is it possible to really make a friend with one of my teens in just a few days? If this isn’t likely isn’t it a waste of time to even try?’ I totally agreed with this teen understanding the radical differences between her and most of my group. I challenged her to text me so I could give her name and cell to one of my teens. The test was whether this gal would do it and my teen would respond. It only took a few minutes before these gals were texting and becoming friends from very different perspectives.

I’m excited to have this group from Scottsdale come for a week to work with me and see how Katie and Dae Dae have progressed in their new friendship. I’m also excited to see my Korean friends be risk takers and step outside of their comfort zone to help me with Hispanic and African American kids, teens and families. I know that in the end we will all benefit, be stretched and learn more about the impact that a helping hand can have on anyone, myself included and become agents of grace and mercy. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Living and learning your story

As someone who wants to continually improve as a communicator both verbally and in writing I know that telling not just stories but my story becomes paramount. Yet, the challenge for most is that we are always trying to live someone else’s story assuming that there is something wrong with our own? I just finished a variety of books over the last year that talk about individual’s stories that range from an alcoholic priest, who loves to write, a lawyer guy that takes his kids all over the world, a friend who writes about his son’s struggles between science and faith communities, a daughter who loves to review Christian books and blogs and the list can go on and on.

What is exciting is that these individuals are stirring up in me the desire to write and experience my story in the present tense. It is too easy at times to daydream or reflect on the past and at some point believe that as you age your story ceases to matter and is of little interest to most. Yet most of my favorites authors are old people who are very capable of making life interesting and exciting regardless of whether you had one of these bad hair days, are experiencing real tragedy or just won the lotto and don’t have to worry about the bills.

I’m very fortunate to have a wide variety of friends of all ages, backgrounds, racial mix and socio-economical settings. I’m learning to have real life experiences that don’t necessarily mean that you have to travel across continents, even though I have a gifted brother who is a professor, photographer, blogger who does this but have discovered the adventure in your backyard. Yesterday, I ventured with a group of 20 that were a mix of my present life, little kids, teens, college students and a good friend my age. We ventured up a hiking trail that was around 2 miles to the top after climbing around 1,000 feet. I always have a few speedy guys that race to the top, a few that go at a normal pace and a couple that question whether they really wanted to do this.

I decided to award the few that raced to the top a monetary price. So Bookie got $5, David got $4 and QT got $3. The story of my life is my passion to be with my kids, teens and college students in circumstances that at times can stretch them and get them to think outside of their life box to discover that there is a big world around them that is scary but with a friend tagging along they can do something that matters with their lives and will make a difference. I could go into detail about my kids that Bookie’s dad has been in prison since he was like 4, David’s dad lives in Cali and that QT has frizzy long hair for being around 9 years old. I could also talk about my friend Roger who has been around us the last 6 years and on occasion helps out with transportation and funding McDonalds.

What is incredible about the books I’ve read is that it helps to flesh out your own story and the fact that it is still being written and isn’t even close to being finished. I know that I will at some point write more about my dad’s life that did come to an end this last October. I was fortunate to be his special friend and helper over a period of three years. He taught me the importance of being thankful for the little things and to stop worrying and focus on the present. My wife has a habit of telling me to look up at the sky or I will joke that I’m already smelling the coffee. I have been blessed to have an incredible life partner that is always pushing me to do more and she would love to be a world traveler so I have to become more open to that.

I know that there are still some from Denver that are reeling from a Football game a month ago and many in Canada that can’t believe that the US beat them in sudden death shoot offs in the Olympics. I also know that the experience of a few skiers and others is that when you push yourself to the limit you make actually go over the edge, not get the gold and maybe even get hurt. Yet, I’m convinced that all of them will be back up trying again for future gold.

I admit that as a little kid I did dream about being a baseball player, a scientist and for a short time a flier like my dad. My life turned out rather different in that I did win a little league series in Montana by hitting 3 home runs, I did become an Eagle Scout, I have finished 8 marathons, have been married for 40 years and have 3 grown kids that are all married. I have lived in some amazing places like San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco Area, San Luis Obispo and even Phoenix in the Valley of the Sun. Yes, I have traveled to India, Siri Lanka, Thailand, Korea, China, Hawaii and the craziest was to drive all the way down Baja Ca/Mexico to the tip to help a friend.

My dad is the one who could brag that he has flown around the world so many times that he couldn’t remember. He had done secret missions flying a B-52 with the ‘bomb’ on board just in case some world crisis happened. Yet, the greatest thing about my dad is that coming home was always to him the greatest adventure and gift. Yes, I can remember when he brought me back a super 8-movie camera from Korea during one of his Vietnam tours when I was a teen.

I like my story and wouldn’t trade it to be a rock star, even though that was my teen passion or a jet pilot like my dad. My dream and hope is to be able to also tell the stories of my little kids that are now becoming big kids and adults in the near future. I know that reading or hearing other people’s stories are the most inspiring way to learn about life and not be afraid to experience it even in the midst of going off the edge!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Person Behind the Champion

I have the privilege of meeting lots of different people over the course of a year. This last year I have had an intern from ASU who is also a competitive swimmer. She is from the east coast where swimming isn’t as popular as in the valley of the sun. What is amazing about Melanie was how quickly she fell in love with one of our little kids, Ruby. It wasn’t too long before they became a pair. Ruby doesn’t have any brothers or sister and lost her dad at a really young age. Melanie became this older special friend and sister to her over the last year.

This last weekend we were able to watch Melanie compete against another college’s team on a lazy Saturday afternoon. What made this day special was that I could bring Ruby and a few of her friends to watch Melanie compete. I’m not sure that any of them really understood what was involved with being a swimmer who had a scholarship for college because of all of your training and ability. We watched our Melanie from up top on this massive arena as she won each of her different heats. She made it look so easy.

The special treat for us was meeting her parents who were out from the cold east coast to watch their daughter compete. What was inspirational was to hear how her involvement with New City had touched her life. What we were quick to say it was Melanie and her commitment to Ruby that had made a huge difference for our work. Little do most of our kids, teens or volunteers know what amount of time it takes Melanie to practice each week in addition to her classes and then her life outside!

I had done a lesson with my guy’s group about one of the Olympic gold medal guys from Canada whose inspiration in his life is his older brother who has MS. The great picture from the Olympics was these two brothers together, holding up their country’s flag. I had listened to a couple of interviews with Alex talking about his brother Fredrick. He mentioned how Fredrick had inspired him to never quit and keep trying regardless of circumstances. I watched Alex win a gold medal and could see his brother on the sideline screaming out for his brother.

What struck me as I listened to Melanie’s parents talk about their swimming journey was that neither of them swam and that it was a friend that drug her to the pool at a young age. I was a swim team parent for a few years so I know how much practice and involvement is required for the swimmer and their family. My hope for my kids, especially our Ruby, is to help them see that they too can inspire someone to go beyond their normal life expectations. It does take a lot of practice, determination and hard work to get to the Olympics but it can happen. What was so amazing about watching Alex get his gold and Melanie winning her heat was the people that were standing behind them cheering them to the finish!