Friday, September 29, 2017

Family! That’s what changes a neighborhood!

One of the most important ways of empowering an individual is knowing their name, remembering it and becoming a friend. I tire of well-intentioned people showing an interest in helping but for personal biases end up sadly with an us vs them mindset. I admit that it’s rather easy to have a heart that can be patronizing but still not be at a place where you intentionally walk with a new friend and just as important choose to be with them which equates to moving into their neighborhood. (Contrast Jesus moving from Heaven to Earth to be in our neighborhood! John 1:14)

I appreciate the need to understand cultures, people groups and racial differences to be better equipped to do neighborhood work and live in our world. Yet, in my experience the best way to embrace and engage a community is to actually choose to live in the neighborhood. Naively it’s easy to think that it’s a ‘piece of cake’ to fit into to a new community, yet, it takes years of living, working, playing, worshiping, struggling and just being there to become part of the fabric.

I’ve been asked by many friends outside my community how much longer I’m going to do neighborhood work. This is a very emotional, difficult topic to address. I love my kids, teens, grandmas and single moms so it’s almost impossible to imagine not living here forever! I’m so blessed and fortunate to have friends who adopt you into their families!

What has to happen for someone to make you family? I will always remember having a friend in our group intentionally name their son after my son and choose to use our last name for their little guy’s last name. The journey that is required to be family is your willingness, availability to just be there 24-7! It’s choosing to let things that could push you apart to not matter. This isn’t easy in today’s racially, politically, religiously divided world. It’s so easy to look at our differences that what draws us together.

I know that too often in my circle of Christian friends it’s sad that our theological differences seem to determine at times whether we can be real friends, besties or buds. I know that when someone has my back it makes it so much easier to watch theirs. Yet, too often we allow the myth that homogeneity is the norm for everything. We want to shop where everyone looks like us. We want our kids to attend schools where everyone has the same skin color, is monolingual and likes the same football team.

I live in the 5th or 6th largest city in our beautiful country. What’s amazing to me is that I can make new friends who have no idea that Phoenix is a diverse global city. The opportunity is for you to drive out of your garage onto the freeway of the world and see your larger neighborhood. The unfortunate face is that most stay in their homogeneous neighborhood to assume that everyone in the Valley of the Sun is the same. Amazingly the Starbucks I frequent every day is international in its’ coffee addicts!

The opportunity is to stop keeping people, kids, seniors at a distance and instead choose to become a friend, learn about what it was like living in Phoenix in the 50’s as a Black young woman who actually picked cotton. (Meet Ms. Martha who is 90 and one of my neighborhood grandmas.)

Family is everything!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Stop it!! Don’t gossip period!!

I catch myself too often in the middle of thinking I’m being sensitive and helping someone only to discover that I’ve broken someone’s confidence. I didn’t intentionally seek to gossip or trash talk but it happened. Last night I received a message from a good friend who I do respect that was losing it because a couple of close friends had trash talked behind this individual’s back. I had recently watched all of these individuals together actually helping each other.

So why do we continue to bash and attack those that are close to us? I totally get why I might attack someone who I view as a competitor or someone that I honestly don’t like. Yet, the fallacy in all of this is I and others truly believe that by gossiping or pretending to help by putting down that we are actually building ourselves up? How’s it possible to be into deconstructionism and think that it’s actually going to help anyone?

I experienced one of the most humbling and tragic events in my life when a few in my leadership core decided I was no longer their ‘guy’. When I first heard this, it was shocking and numbing. The aftermath was a soul-searching time and a reflection on a few friends who had gone behind my back to do something they believed was best for all. I know that looking back over the last 12 years I admit that I had a lot to do with the disconnect amongst a small group. Yet, what hurt was knowing that a few had chosen to strategize my demise and didn’t do this eyeball to eyeball.

Ultimately, I didn’t learn how to be more venerable from this circumstance but more guarded especially around close friends and even my family. Who wants to be exposed as a failure or the ‘wrong guy’? Yes, I’ve learned since to be bolder, depend on the Lord more and never be ashamed of who I am. My younger friend who was hurt by a few friends is still hurt, upset and angry. Big picture is why do we continue to tear down those who we appear to care about and love?

My mom would always remind me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say about someone then don’t say anything it all. Verbally abusing someone will never make anyone a better person but only hurt all of those involved.

So, stop talking unless it’s going to build up another person. Silence sometimes can be golden!

Race & Hate? WHY?

One of the more difficult obstacles to understanding the present race wars is the fact that I’m White and assume I know everything. I was raised by an incredible dad who shielded me from the terse racial battles he grew up in around greater St. Louis. I can honestly say that my dad never used the N word to me as a kid growing up. Yet, my personal purview that I’m colored blind is truly out of touch with the world around me even as I work intentionally with at risk youth that are non-whites.

I will honestly admit that I initially reacted to the BLM movement and was too quick to say don’t all lives matter? Yet, as I read a post from a good friend that lives in St. Louis she was making the point, why does it seem to be the case that too many White Police Officers are killing young Black Men and getting away with it? The acquittal of the Police Officer who shot Anthony Lamar Smith has caused unrest in a city that is already on edge after Ferguson and Michael Brown. Our nation is presently in the center of a race war that isn’t going to stop.

I have been significantly impacted as I continue to read books, like White Rage, The New Jim Crow, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption and now a novel, Lightening Men that is about Atlanta in the 50’s. I’m ashamed of my own church’s background when it comes to the apparent disconnect with admitting that we have been a segragationistic community. As I read White Rage I was horrified to think that I might have had relatives who took place in public lynchings that were justified solely because of the color of an individual’s skin regardless of true justice!

How is it possible in 2017 that we still are struggling with racial and sexual discrimination in schools, the work place and still in church? I watched in horror over the last few months as key figures in our social and political arenas continue to normalize racism and sexism? I have a close professor friend who was fired for his passion for talking about social justice, White Privilege and elitism? He was teaching at a supposedly Christian University that sadly seems unwilling to come to grips with its inability to be real about the why of firing my friend.

So, what is the cause of our continued race wars? I attended a lecture recently of a seasoned White House speech writer who was up in arms because of our present nationalistic, America First and White Supremist mindset with our present administration. His point, which is very convicting, is that we might be changing back into a country that totally ignores its diverse legacy and attempts to erase our bigoted past or further more promote it.

The pathway to creating a healthier balance between different people groups is to stop judging and analyzing anyone by the color of their skin, gender, body size, educational background, income level and see each person as a human being. What happened to MLK’s statement that we are to look at a person not according to their skin color but according to their character?

There is only one RACE which is the HUMAN RACE!