46 Days and Counting – Partners

Even though we have been talking and planning this trip for months, we are down to only 46 days before we step on that plane. In just the last couple of days, as we begin to talk about our mission publicly, we’ve begun to see a beautiful outpouring from others who want to be our partners in this work. Graduate students at Southern Methodist University are coming forward with offers of help and donations of clothing and supplies. Individuals who have been hearing about our trip have asked how they might be involved.

Photo Credit: anudman at freeimages.com

Many things in life can be done alone by personal effort, individual skill, and solo performance.

But even when we convince ourselves that we are totally self-sufficient, there is a much more potent force unleashed when we allow others to lend a hand.

Our team traveling to Rwanda and Kenya is a strong group with a lot of talent and ability. But we have no delusion of self-sufficiency. We know that every moment we invest in teaching conflict management and reconciliation in Africa, every instant we interact with refugees in Rwanda or the children being cared for by the Made In the Streets ministry in Nairobi, will be greatly enhanced and made sweeter by the prayers, the encouragement, and support of those of you who want to have a part.

Thank you for your thoughts and the ways that you are imagining how you can help. The desires to dare and to share combine to form an incredibly potent and positive impact on people — men, women, and children — we might never have had the opportunity to touch.

So again, thanks for your willingness to dare and to share. We are blessed to  have you as our partners.

Social Pain and Social Media

Spoiler Alert. This posting about social pain and social media is not lighthearted. In fact, I’m writing because I’m a little discouraged. I even came close yesterday to withdrawing from social media entirely. Who knows? This expression of my feelings may be the last thing you choose to read from me.

Recently we hosted almost 50 of our graduate students in conflict residency on our campus. The week, Residency Session, is a highlight of our work. It brings individuals we’ve come to know in our online courses to Abilene where we have an opportunity to sit with them, eat with them, talk with them. We offer them pointers and instruction. And they teach us much. During the welcome, our Academic Director, Garry Bailey, spoke to the group about the way that we as peacemakers should approach everything we do.  He talked about addressing “social pain.” A little later, I made the phrase a noun. “You’ll be experiencing some intense time with your colleagues in the next week. Don’t be a social pain,” I said. “Be a peacemaker.”

As important issues crop up world-wide and our thoughts are drawn to the building tensions from attacks against Israel and retaliations made in defense, the plight of refugee children at the borders of the United States, the seeming inability of US leaders to address anything of importance, continuing crimes against women and children across the globe . . . I find that a majority of those who choose to embrace the social pain vocation are alive and well on social media.

I favor open discourse. But I’m weary of the thoughtless postings of pass-it-on information. And I’m even more exhausted from trying to save some of my social media friends embarrassment by researching things they’ve posted and quietly providing them with more accurate information. I don’t think they mean to be part of the larger problem. They are simply following a normal human reaction.

We tend to support what we already believe and discount the rest.

It’s true across every spectrum — whether it’s a question of politics, social status, race, and even sports. (Thanks, Lebron James, for helping to reveal how much energy we will invest in the most trivial issues while people’s lives hang in the balance elsewhere.) And it’s true no matter where people find themselves — liberal or conservative, moderate or progressive.

Our constant statement seems to be “I’m right and, even if you agree with me, I’m more right than you are. And even though I have no idea if this particular information is true, it would be good for my arguments if it is.”

As I’ve grown older, I learn more and more that I know less and less. I’m willing to grant that I probably know less on many topics than a majority of people out there. Yet, as I’ve matured, I find myself genuinely interested in knowing the diverse viewpoints of others.

I once worked as a volunteer in a nonprofit organization with a very talented person. He was deeply infected with the need to always be right and the drive to assert himself over others. Over the years, he told me and hundreds of others that we “just don’t understand.” In other words, it was important to him for us to know how ignorant and insignificant we were. He was a social pain and, on top of that, a social bully.

Those who choose to fuel the flames of discord by passing on questionable information aren’t much different. And those who make open attacks are much worse. Particularly those who attempt to thinly veil their attacks in humor. I’m sorry. But jokes about the homeless, the poor, children at our borders, the addicted, enemies of every ilk, are simply not funny.

My guess is that this post will anger a lot of people. I regret that and it is not my intent. However, your anger is your choice.

I’m just asking that you consider rising above your rights to consider your responsibilities and privileges. I’m asking you to leave the social pain status to others. Raise your voice for what’s important, certainly. But raise it in a conversation. When all else fails, ask a question instead of launching an attack.

What do you have to lose?


A Better View

No matter where I am, it seems I am always trying to get in position for a better view. Whether I’m at a movie, a sporting event, or even church, I often find myself in the exact spot . . . I cannot see.

Sometimes, a good location for observation just isn’t available. I am only 5’5″, after all. There are, evidently, some things that God didn’t want me to see.

Then there are those times that I have the perfect spot and someone bigger, taller, broader — or just naturally gifted at being in the wrong place — blocks my vantage point.

We learn to deal with that frustration. We know that this world is a place we share and that every one will not have the same opportunity to experience the same things. A natural part of life, this truth adds to the richness of our existence through diversity and can also build resentment when we desire what others have.

On a recent vacation, Nancy and I were driving the Road to Hana on the windward side of the island of Maui. We were first-timers to Hawaii, so we were relying heavily on a guidebook that pointed out literally hundreds of things that we likely would have missed on our own. That is the story of this picture.

In the guidebook, the writer talked glowingly of a spot in the long and winding road where we would see this scene. He couldn’t rate the beauty high enough. Yet, after a wonderful description, he pointed out that there was no legal place to park at that particular spot. And he warned that others would disregard that safety factor and try anyway. True to his word, that was what happened.

As we came around the corner, we saw half a dozen people out on the road, clamoring for a safe place to take pictures and enjoy the view. Had it not been for the cars coming by, they probably would have been successful. We pulled past the bend of the road and the scattering tourists slowly and Nancy announced that the book told of another spot where the same scene could be taken in if we were patient.

Moments later, we found a small turn-out and parked the car. We crossed the highway and found that spot. And as we watched the road for cars, we ventured to a place to take the perfect picture on a small overlook safely tucked behind the guardrail.

I don’t know if those people who stopped up the road were able to get their pictures. Sometimes people get by with breaking the rules and probably scoff at those of us who don’t. Yet, in the face of seeming inequity, we most often find a moment to grasp the opportunity we need.

Listening. Patience. Persistence. The perfect perspective on a beautiful possibility is often well within our grasp.

Bad Fashion Choices

Have you ever wondered what changes Michael Jackson made after he sang his #1 hit song, Man in the Mirror?

The song, written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett, shares the experience of looking around, seeing needs, and then making the commitment to bring change. The song speaks of hungry children, the homeless, and the heartbroken. It is a call to action.

Take a look at yourself and make the change
You gotta get it right, while you got the time
Cause when you close your heart
Then you close your mind.

I’m not trying to start a debate over Michael Jackson’s life or lifestyle. A little research reveals that he did, in fact, make some significant charitable contributions. Yet, our glimpse into his latter years showed an increasingly troubled man who surrounded himself with those who wanted to take from him. I wonder how differently things would have been had he chosen to spend time with those who truly needed his help.

The man in the mirror image is a fitting one. Occasionally I’ll look through family albums or videos and steal a glance of my past. Invariably I’ll ask myself, “Why in the world would I choose to dress that way?” or “Why didn’t anyone bother to tell me how bad that hairstyle was?”

I have to remind myself that I was there at the time. I was fully capable of seeing who I was, how I dressed, and how I parted my hair. (Yes, I once had sufficient hair to part. Now, it is merely departed.) But the point is that I failed to see.

Why is it so hard to see ourselves?

And when we do, why is is so difficult to make a change?

As you look around today and see things that need to be done and people who need you, take a look in the mirror. But don’t look away until you genuinely see yourself. For, when you see yourself, you are uniquely equipped to truly see others.

Hey, Buddy!

“Hey, Buddy!  How have you been?”

The voice seemed to float out of thin air.  It bore the tone of familiarity – the sweet pitch of a friend found.

Looking up from my menu, I was surprised to discover that the greeting was meant for me.  Crouched next to my table was a young woman of maybe 19 or 20.  From her blouse, her apron, and her note pad, I realized that she was my waitress.

“So, Buddy, what will it be today?  Can I get you something to drink?”

“A glass of water, please.  And a grilled chicken salad.”

“In a hurry today, Buddy?”

“Just a long day on the road with another 3 hours before I’m home.”

“Don’t worry.  I’ll get you fed and on your way.”

As she walked toward the kitchen, I wondered, “Have I met this woman before?”

In a few moments she was back with my water.  “So, Buddy.  Are you glad to be going home?”

I nodded.  She smiled and headed to the table on my left to clear some dishes.  I noticed the people at the next table watching me.

Self-consciously, I began what I hoped was a less than obvious inventory of my person.  I ran my right hand lightly over my hair – most appeared to be in place.  I rolled my tongue around my front teeth – nothing apparently protruding.  A quick glance down showed all buttons buttoned and all zippers zipped.

About that time, my waitress, “Sabrina” her nametag said, reappeared with my food.

“Here, Buddy.  I know you’re in a rush, but do me a favor and enjoy this.”

My neighbors were watching again.  Sabrina slid the plate my way, unrolled my silverware and handed me my napkin.  “I’ll be back to check on you in a minute.”

I ate my salad in silence.  When she returned with my check I had to ask, “Have we met before?”

“I don’t think so, Buddy.  Why?”

“Because you call me ‘Buddy’ like that’s my name and like I’m somebody you know.  And I haven’t heard you call anyone else ‘Buddy.’”

The neighbors were leaning our direction, waiting for her reply.

“I call you ‘Buddy’ because you’re alone. People shouldn’t have to eat alone.  I’m all you’ve got today.  Everyone else in my area has a friend.”

She was right.  I was the only customer in her area dining solo.  My neighbors were nodding.  They turned back to their lunches, satisfied.

“Thank you,” I said quietly.

“You’re welcome, Buddy.  Take care.”

“You, too, Sabrina.”

As I headed down the highway, I thought back on this unusual, but pleasant, meal.

An hour later, I stopped to buy gas at one of those throwbacks in time – a service station where you can’t pay at the pumps.  As I entered the door, the attendant looked up from his sack lunch.  He was dining alone.

As I slid him my credit card, I gently spoke, “Hey, Buddy!  How have you been?”