The Grace of Race

Public outcry, eloquent articles, denouncement, arrests and prosecutions or other reactive measures following Charlottesville won’t change the nation. The attempts will bring justice and/or clarify positions, but they won’t heal the condition that has resulted in these types of problems. The rhetoric and outbursts come from deeper roots.

President Obama, quoting Nelson Mandela, tweeted recently, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love . . . . For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Hate and anger have been fostered on the extremes of the race equation in America and there are incremental shades of hurt sewn all through the fabric of our nation. Without assessment of cause and origin, it’s fair to say that somebody has to go first to step towards healing.

People learn to hate because they hurt and fear. Anger is a secondary emotion. The healing of the hurt and the alleviation of fear will remove the anger, hate and rage. I’m not saying it’s easy. In fact, it’s incremental.

There is no program, policy or procedure that will fix it. There is only love. Love can only be transferred on heart at a time.

Transferring love one heart at a time requires grace. To give love, the person it is being given to must first be received. They must be received despite the fact that they are a person. A flawed, offensive, and even wrong person. The way to change their offensiveness is to receive them and love them. Ugh; right in the middle of their stuff that we want to react negatively to and maybe even punish.

Now, I’m not saying that everyone needs to react to others like this. Only Christ followers. Only those that have been received by Him with His grace. Then, from the grace received from Jesus, we can distribute it to others. We don’t have to manufacture it.

This approach, however, is contrary to justice. There are arguments to be made which are based in justice that will tear down the call to give grace in order to impart love. That’s a choice; justice over grace. That’s a show stopper.

One heart at a time, grace upon grace, we are invited to love others. Jesus is in the reconciliation business and if you have been reconciled to Him, then you are qualified to join Him in that purpose (2 Corinthians 5). That’s what He’s doing, one heart at a time. We are invited to join Him.

Shades of Comparison Leave Us in the Dark

My path to vocational ministry is non-traditional.  Leading up to this transition in my occupation, I worked previously as an Army officer, business manager and owner as well as an attorney at law.  When I first practiced law, my primary focus was in the sphere of criminal defense.  The bulk of that criminal defense practice was representing court-appointed clients.  These were folks charged with a crime who couldn’t afford an attorney.

In those days when I talked about work or now when I tell stories about that time, some people have a noticeable reaction.  They make a face, however subtle, that indicates they can’t pay attention to the details because they are distracted by the arrangement.  “How could you represent those people? They aren’t Christians, and you are, so how could you represent them?”  Many times, it’s just the look, but sometimes it’s explicitly asked.  Church polite, of course, but asked just the same.

By contrast, one day walking out of the courthouse I called my wife and told her, “I can’t believe more Christians don’t choose the practice of law as their place of calling.”  After all, I reasoned, where else are you in a position where broken, desperate people come to you asking for your counsel and assistance?  Where else is light so necessary than in the darkest places of society?

Working closely with those whose lives were in peril of being consumed by darkness gave me a greater appreciation for light.  We all need some realization of darkness to remind us of the Light within.  We also need some realization of darkness to remind us of the darkness within.  The degree of separation between “them” and “us” is less than you might imagine.  A twist here and a turn there in life’s circumstances can lead people into situations both unplanned for and undesired.

The overlap in working with “church folks” and court-appointed folks is more similar than you might think, as well.  Sure, most of the church folks in the relatively privileged suburbs present themselves better than the accused of the court-appointed criminal justice system.  The underlying human condition, however, is just as dark.  People are people.

Here, however, is the biggest difference: Those accused and convicted of crimes realize the urgency and near hopelessness of their condition.  They know they need help.  They know they’re messed up and more often than not are desperate for any glimmer of hope.  The socially acceptable, comfortable Christians often think they have things figured out.  They rationalize that Jesus loves them regardless, and nobody (they hope) knows about their “indiscretions.”  And after all, their flaws aren’t as “bad” as the indigent criminal; likely not even perceived to be as bad as the rumors they’ve heard – and helped spread – about the guy across the pew.

Dark is dark and pretending it’s light by shades of comparison cheapens the grace of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t die for us to be judgmental by comparison or dismissive of the heart in need of redemption.  He wants to transform us from glory to glory, but we can’t go to the next glory believing the glory we’ve already experienced somehow jumped us ahead to a place of superiority.

– From “Transforming the Prodigal Soul” available here

Pray for Mean Old Men and Watch Things Change

A friend from college came into town last night and we met for the first time in about 15 years. In the middle of talking, a man somewhat dramatically came through the door, doubled over and groaning. I asked him, “are you OK?” He told me that he had hurt his back. He continued on and that appeared to be the end of it, although he was pretty hunched over as he walked away.

As my friend and I continued to talk, I couldn’t get past the guy that had just gone past us. A minute or two after the initial encounter, I told my friend, “Hold on, I’ll be right back; I’ve got to go do something.”

I went and asked the man if I could pray for his back. I don’t always do that, but I sure was pulled to this time and I didn’t initially want to. That’s why it took a minute or two.

My friend and I were friends from a time in my life when I didn’t know Jesus. I would have never prayed for that man. Might have made fun of him, but would not have prayed. My hesitation was the reconciliation of the collision between a past life and a new life which was occurring for me. Would Jason think I was weird? Is this too much; do I seem like a religious nut? That was the source of my pause.

When I finally did ask the man to pray for him, he looked at me with a depth of need. He needed connection. He needed care. He needed prayer, and he said as much when I offered. With my left hand on his left shoulder and my right hand on his back, I said a simple prayer to invite healing and went back to my seat.

Not too much later, he came by and said, “it worked.” I replied, “I figured it would.” I figured that because I felt God in it from the minute the guy came through the door.

Not too much later, after the guy had left, the bartender asked me if I had prayed for him and I told her that I had. She said that he comes in all the time and is very mean. He cusses them out to the point that it brings them to tears. In fact, when he came in this time the manager told her that she was going to the back until he left.

Not tonight, though. He was kind tonight. It was totally different. Whatever happened, he was different, she said.

Don’t miss it. Don’t miss it like I almost did. The dynamic of the Kingdom of Heaven hitting earth changes people. It changes college buddies in the new normal of a re-framed reality. It changes mean old men. It changes bartenders. Let It change you.

The Most Critical Components Towards Realization of Our Purpose

Practicing law provided insight into things applicable well beyond the criminal justice system. Circumstances that had resulted in criminal ramifications exposed things that otherwise would go unnoticed. The insulation of the suburbs or compromise of excuses eroded under the scrutiny of the law. In other words, there were things that were true for people charged with a crime that are just as true for those of us living “normal” lives but we can’t see them based on our relative comfort or distraction.

When I was introduced to someone who was in the middle of a lifestyle of problems, resulting in repetitive criminal charges and other issues, there were consistently two things that were present. The #1 most consistent thing that was inconsistent in the lives of troubled people was fatherlessness. Almost every time I asked an habitual offender where their father was, it was a tragic story.

As things shifted, I became increasingly engaged with “good” people from the suburbs, typically from a church in the suburbs. When they had persistent struggles, the #1 thing that I have found to be an underlying agitate is their father relationship. The father relationship is incredibly pivotal to how we view God and how we view ourselves. Our realization of God’s true identity and our realization of our own identity according to Him is foundation to our freedom. If we have unresolved issues with our dad, we are often going to struggle realizing the Fatherhood of our Dad.

The second most consistent inconsistency is purposelessness. Where people lack purpose, whether impoverished criminal defendants or suburban professionals, they tend to struggle. We are wired for “why.” We need to get up every day knowing that the world has a need and we have a contribution to the solution. Realization of our place is the next question after realization of our identity.

We don’t realize our identity or our purpose “one time at band camp.” There are gates of realization along the pathway of a journey. They are markers and clues on our quest into eternity. Those gates and markers tend to come in difficult times when we have to answer questions within us that we don’t have the answer to. We need the Designer to show us how He wired us and what He intends for that unique wiring. Questions can bring revelation and revelation unlocks the application of our identity and design. You don’t have to wait for the hard times to ask the deep questions any more than you have to be charged with a crime to need to figure things out.

 

The Connection of Comfort

We were in Northern Virginia this past weekend and decided to head into Washington D.C. on the way to the airport. We had mentioned going in to see some monuments if we had time and the kids had shown strong interest in doing so. We were running short of time as we had to catch a flight, but we decided to give it a try.

We drove past the Jefferson Memorial, the Capital and the White House as we looked for a place to park. Without much time to waste, we were fortunate to find a parking spot as D.C. was crowded with tourists. From our parking spot, we walked past the Vietnam Memorial towards our intended destination, which was the Lincoln Memorial. After checking it out, in addition to the reflecting pool and Washington Monument (from a distance), we had to head back to the car and onto the airport.

We walked back towards the Vietnam Memorial towards our car. I’ve been to the Vietnam Memorial before; it impacted me then as well as this time both going and coming. My father served two tours in Vietnam and the names on that wall of those that didn’t come home are a grim provocation of what could have been for my dad and our family. I’m thankful.

As we were moving towards our car, I was processing some emotion as we walked briskly to be on time for our flight. Julie noticed an older Asian man along the pathway where we were walking near the Vietnam Memorial. She noticed he was weeping. It caused her to cry as we continued to walk and, about 50 yards past the man, she had to go back. She turned and jogged back towards him.

When she reached him, she comforted him and asked him if she could give him a hug. If you know her, you aren’t surprised. He smiled and welcomed the comfort. That was it. We had to go; we had a flight to catch.

I’m really glad we decided to detour our trip to the airport. The kids loved it and this brief encounter was rich and deep. While the man was a little older than me, he apparently has a story that cause him emotions in much the same way that the realization of what could have become my story did for me.

Holy Spirit is the Comforter and He lives within every born-again believer in Jesus. He lives in us not only because we need comfort, but also because other people do. Giving comfort is a testimony of Jesus, with or without words. The expression of the heart of God is accomplished through people with people. People around us are weeping and we get to connect heaven to earth if we’ll notice earth and offer heaven.

The Impact of Fathers

I used to volunteer in youth prisons and over time developed a routine which I tended to default to when I met a young man (ages 14-17) for the first time in the facility. I would introduce myself and ask the boy his name and where he was from. He was reluctant to interact at all and would usually be looking at the floor with no interest in opening up even a little bit about himself.

I would then ask him where his father is and that would get his attention; he would usually look at me with interest for the first time. His eyes would communicate, “How did you know?” I would often have to repeat the question as he was caught off guard, “where is your father?”

The stories were always terrible; they were dead, in prison, never been around, drunk, on drugs, etc. The only reasonable response at that point in our conversation was, “I’m sorry; I’m really sorry that you have had to deal with that.” I can’t fix it, I can only hope to meet the kid where he is and show some comfort that his story and hurt is legitimate.

That was often a start to talk more about the hurts in his life that he had been challenged with and the choices that flowed from those circumstances. Connecting the heart and the head to begin to understand that he wasn’t weird for being angry and that the anger came from the hurt. Understand the hurt, hopefully choose to forgive and maybe begin to walk out of the cycle.

When I would offer comfort, however, it wouldn’t initially be received. “It’s alright,” or “It doesn’t matter” was always the response. Always. They were in prison; it mattered.

The need for affirmation and acceptance with unconditional love is foundational; we all need it. The connection to our experience with our father produces a lens within us for how we see God, how we see ourselves and how we see the world. The best dad in the world, however, isn’t the target; the Father is.

Our dad relationship is either a bridge or a barrier to realizing the love of the Father. Ideally, we have a father relationship that fosters an easier realization of trust and acceptance than abusive, neglectful earthly experiences would. Either way, though, we seek to hear from the Father, “You’re a son . . . and I’m pleased with you.”

Acknowledging the condition of our hearts related to our experience with our biological father positions us to hear from the Father. When we have let go in the natural, we can receive in the supernatural. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we can hear this testimony of the Holy Spirit. From that, we will call out, “Abba (Daddy), Father!”