I may have Jesus’ phone number

or there may be other possible answers

I glanced at my phone as I was getting dressed. Hmmm. I had a text from 10:29 last night. No name, just a number. And I didn’t readily recognize the phone number or the area code.

“How can you be so wrong and I love you so much?”

At first I thought it was a wrong number. But the writer knew me — knew I was so wrong.

I thought about responding with something clever. But the Nigerian princess scenario kept popping into my mind.

Then, it hit me, this must be from Jesus! At first I entertained the idea that it might have been God, but then I thought, How ridiculous to think that God needs a smartphone.

So. Jesus then. It all fits. I am so wrong. And He loves me so much.

40 Days and Counting – Innocence

Great portions of my wakeful time are now spent thinking about the people I will meet in Rwanda and Kenya. With just 40 days until our team makes its way to Africa, my anticipation is growing and my excitement is building. I expect to be impressed with our hosts and those we train. I expect my heart to both soar and ache as I sit side-by-side with refugees and hear the stories they want to tell and see the life they now live. Displaced children, soldiers, individuals who have pledged themselves to missions to bring reconciliation and forgiveness, and people, like you and me, who simply wake each day to do the best they can — I can’t wait for my time with them. You see, I already know something about them. They all share, to some degree or another, a certain amount of innocence.

Innocence is a complex thing in many people’s lives. Yet, it can be so simple and powerful. As I’m writing this, I’m watching my neighbor pull her granddaughter in a wagon. Making their way up and down the street, the toddler beams happily, watching the passing scenes with interest. And when the wagon stops, there’s the incomprehensible jabbering that can only mean one thing — once more, please! I am witnessing the pure enjoyment of a moment. I am seeing innocence.

Every single person has this element of innocence. It may be an event unfolding at this minute, but it is often a memory of a time past when we believed that this world held nothing but good for us. And those moments of irritation and fear and pain were simply little reminders of how good things really are.

Children hold this innocence. Jesus talked about it in Matthew 18:1-5. “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And therein lies the greatest offer of hope. If we reclaim our innocence, we can reclaim our wholeness.

Thinking about some of the men I will meet in Rwanda, I know full well that among them will be those who have committed extreme acts of violence against their countrymen and even their own neighbors. Our team has wrestled with how these individuals will respond to our message disparaging that violence and promoting peace. Will the feelings of guilt and shame be too great?

We all feel shame when we do wrong. Sometimes we know better in the moment, but sometimes the realization of our errors comes later. As humans, we feel pain when our personal failings emerge. We wonder how we will ever be able to raise our heads and make eye contacts with others who know.

The call to peace reintroduces the potential of innocence to each of us. We all have failings. I am reminded daily of them. Yet it is the call to peace — the call to innocence — that provides my way to that better place.

My prayer for our team is that we can see the innocence of those we meet, whether man, woman, or child, and constantly hold out the hope for innocence. Innocence is the natural dwelling of those who are in peace. And it is the refuge that all of us in turmoil are seeking. It comes through the two-way door of forgiveness. Innocence returns through seeking and giving forgiveness.

42 Days and Counting – Tribes

“Education is inoculation,” we are frequently reminded by Dr. Betty Gilmore, our team leader and the director of the Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program at Southern Methodist University. With that in mind, our team has been seeking and absorbing material about Africa and, specifically, Rwanda. As I’ve gone about my daily reading, I’ve been a little discouraged. Just 42 days and the unread stories of this small, beautiful country seem to stretch out to infinity. One of the surface features of the Rwandan story is that of tribes.

This region of Africa has been inhabited by three primary tribes: the Hutu, Tutsis, and the Twa. The Twa is a very small part of the Rwandan population — about 1%. A Pygmy people, the Twa are hunter-gatherers and skilled in the craft of pottery. The Hutus have always been the largest of the tribes with over 80% of the population. Even though a minority, the Tutsis gained power and ruled over the region for over a hundred years with relative peace. When the Belgians discovered the riches of Rwanda and began their colonization and control of the country, they immediately begin to show favor to the Tutsis, providing better education and financial incentives. The discrimination fostered by the Belgians served to increase the ethnic divide of the country. Finally, when the Tutsis began to tire of outside influence and begin to push back, the Belgians incited the Hutus against the Tutsis. Violence between the tribes was present long before the holocaust of 1994 and tens of thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered over several decades.

In 1994, a long-engineered killing spree was initiated against the Tutsis. Over the period of 100 days, close to a million people — men, women, and children — were slaughtered in the name of ethnic cleansing. The world community was slow to respond. To those on the ground in Rwanda, I’m certain that it felt like the world was simply choosing to look the other way.

This little bit of history doesn’t tell the full story. Nor does it inform us of all that has happened in the last 20 years. But it does give us a frame of reference for our mission come September.

While tribes have been an integral part of the fabric of this country and most of East Africa, we are going to share about the potential for reconciliation that springs from the hope of a larger view. What we hope to share is a simple truth.  Some concepts have far more potential than those associated with caste and ethnicity. We are going to reinforce what these wonderful people long to believe — by valuing every human being and through acts of forgiveness, true peace can come. And, we can’t help but touch on the even more gigantic truth. We are all God’s children. And that means more than tribe, the deepness of the pigment in our skins, the shape of our nose, the accent in our speech, or our earthly family tree.

We are His. And because of that, we must act differently from the world. We’re still part of a tribe. But the tribe is not set apart as Tutsi or Hutu or Twa — or African or Asian or European or American.  Our tribe is one.

Time to Let Go and Watch

A couple of days ago, I posted on my other website, PeaceBytes.org, my thoughts as I contrasted the over-the-top, now-famous rant of Richard Sherman. For those of you not involved in social media — or any other media for that matter — Mr. Sherman is the cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks.

richard shermanFollowing the Seahawks win over the San Francisco Forty-Niners last Sunday night, Mr. Sherman made some less than graceful quotes considered by many to be worse than most of the other narcissistic statements made by many of our celebrities these days. In my post on PeaceBytes, I proposed that we compare and contrast his statement with one of many profound quotes from the late Martin Luther King, Jr.

I caught a little bit of the news last night. According to that national television network and, indeed, with supporting video footage, it appears that Mr. Sherman did apologize for his statement.

That’s enough for me . . . for now. We all make mistakes. The real measure of Mr. Sherman’s character is whether he uses this to change his future behavior. So, I’ll be watching. And since I don’t really follow professional football, or college or high school football, or even internationally, soccer, that will take some effort on my part.

The apology is a crucial moment of character. It can be a catapult for improvement or the first point of sliding in a downward spiral. The important thing for those of us who witness apologies is to accept them and to cheer the apologizer to the higher path.

So, Mr. Sherman. Thanks for the apology. I am truly hoping that this is a catapult and not a slide.

And for those of you who may have heard apologies from me, I’m praying that you are hoping the same for me.

My Place on the Corner

My backpack leans against my thigh. Standing now for what seems hours, the bent metal frame presses into my gaunt flesh. It hurts. But it’s a pain that reminds me that I’m still here. Still standing. Still waiting.

People look at me and read my sign, then look away. I want to tell them, “I really would work for food.” But I don’t have that chance.

Occasionally a kind soul drops off a care package of food and water. I’m torn. I’ve worked my way into a prime location where hundreds of cars pass. Maybe one will bring that person I’ve prayed for who will offer me dignity and a chance to be what God meant me to be. So, no, even though I’m hungry, I won’t leave my post to eat from that manna sack.

The days are long, but not as long as the nights. I don’t sleep well. But as the sun sets, I move to my safe place, arrange my bed roll, and shut my eyes.

The morning breaks to another day. Some people refer to me and my friends as homeless — and hopeless. We may not have an address with a house and a yard. But we’re not hopeless. That’s why we stand and hold our signs and look for the one who wants us to be what God wants us to be.

* * *

In recent weeks, I’ve overheard several conversations where people targeted the less fortunate for their “lack of industry” and for the inconvenience they present. Before you gasp in horror, I want to confess that I’ve had those thoughts myself from time to time. Have you? Recently, I’ve come to wonder what it would be like to have little opportunity beyond staking out a street corner and reaching for the scraps that are thrown my way.

Sure, some people who “work” the streets take advantage of others. But surely you know that some people who “work” the offices in the buildings of gleaming steel and glass take advantage of others, too. The majority on the street and in the offices, however, are simply looking for their place.

photo courtesy of Constantin Jurcut

We all need a chance, we all need our hopes fulfilled. God knows that. God will provide that. But don’t we know that he wants us to be involved in the delivery?