7 Days and Counting – Pieces

On occasion, random pieces come together to form a more substantial whole. I’ve been watching a number of pieces of our lives float around and then slowly combine in a grand mosaic. And all of this happens as the calendar moves past us. Just 7 days before our team leaves for Africa, the pieces are slowly beginning to weave themselves into a landscape, with many details in the foreground drifting into the vanishing horizon.

So many pieces.

darkesthour-e1360037094799For example, the work of Robyn Short, Betty Gilmore, and Nanon Williams that culminated just Wednesday night in the release of Betty and Nanon’s new book, The Darkest Hour, and Robyn’s documentary film by the same name — all exposing the tragedy of our national experiment in mass incarceration and the inhumane use of solitary confinement. As I sat with team members, Dan and Allison, hearing and seeing the results of the investment made by Robyn and Betty, I had to think that this was part of something much larger. Just one piece.

That led me to think of the diversity of our team and how we have all been blessed by the gifts and even the idiosyncrasies we find in each other.

Betty’s work as director of Southern Methodist University’s Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management program brings an additional depth to all that we do as a team. Her care and concern for students is reflected in the way our team members respond to her. More about Betty in a later post. Betty’s love for each and every one of us and her daily attention to the team and the larger mission of peacebuilding are . . . just one piece.

Robyn is a woman with a cause — actually, several. As she has slowly revealed her story to us over the last few months, we have come to see an individual who is determined to make progress on a number of fronts. Despite her determination, Robyn works hard to wrap everything in a spirit of love. Robyn and her dedication to her well-chosen causes are . . . just one piece.

Allison displays her love for people in every single one of her facial expressions. She loves peace. She loves to help others. Allison is uniquely suited for her work with students in SMU’s Study Abroad program. We’ve come to know that Allison has many great works ahead of her and she and all those works are . . . just one piece.

Aaron brings a quiet assuredness to the group. His talents are apparent and his comments are given particular consideration by other members of the team. Aaron’s professional career is evidence of his ability to observe, discern, plan, and execute in order to get things done. Yet, we also see his caring side, both through his attention to detail within the group and his expression of love and respect for his family. Aaron and his humble confidence are . . . just one piece.

Team5Malcolm plays a pivotal role in our team. While all team members have revealed an active sense of humor, Malcolm’s dry wit and observations of life and of our team are always welcome and enjoyed. Knowing that Malcolm is actively engaging people each night in his work as a peace officer brings a smile to our faces. With the ability to play numerous roles — friend, protector, family man — almost simultaneously, Malcolm and his warm presence are . . . just one piece.

Dan marshals a great deal of intensity as he pursues what I see as his passion to bring stability to any situation. His passion is not driven by his desire to control, but rather to make the world around him a better place. I know that the people of Dallas are better off because Dan sees his work as a peace officer as a calling to serve. Dan’s desire to understand what is going on around him is contagious and makes us all more curious and, thus, more human. Dan’s openness and his willingness to serve are . . . just one piece.

Obviously, in this moment in our lives, our training mission to Africa is the largest piece. Ten days in Rwanda and Kenya concentrating on sharing conflict resolution skills and motivating others to seek a peaceful path at every opportunity will capture the majority of our imaginations and energy. But even though it’s a big one, our peace mission is . . . just one piece.

However, as I sit and I think about the incredible richness of our team and the unfathomable deepness of our opportunity on this peace mission, I know that all of these things are mere pieces of the greater story of our untold futures.

Just one piece . . . just one peace.

13 Days and Counting – Credentials

When we start boarding the plane in just 13 days, airline personnel and government officials will be paying a lot of attention to our credentials. Boarding passes and passports will be the key items of the moment. And, even though a lost boarding pass or a defective passport has caused many a problem at the gate, those things aren’t nearly as terrifying as a lack of credentials in some other key areas.

Team4When Dr. Betty Gilmore selected her Africa team, she was looking for some specific characteristics. Fortunately, she had the advantage of having the SMU students in her classes. She had talked with each one, seen them interact with large groups, and read their assignments. Yet as well as she had come to know each and every one, there was something else she was hoping for — a dedication and commitment that’s a little hard to foresee.

An experienced hand at assembling student teams to travel to other countries, Betty knew, perhaps better than any of us, how much time and work would be required in preparing for this trip. Just as a passenger’s credentials are carefully scrutinized, Betty had to look carefully at each one of us.

Team3While the best case scenario would be a perfect fit, we all know it’s rare for that to happen when assembling a team. For a team to come together, it must experience struggle. People have to learn to deal with the blemishes. For in seeing the good and the bad in our mission partners, we begin to develop a real sense of the strength of the team. And, fittingly, we come to love and respect each other in a very special way.

In the day-to-day world, credentials are things that are earned. A degree, a license, an honor. We love people with credentials. And once credentialed, it does feel rather nice to have someone take notice.

On this trip, the hope of each and every one of us is that our special credentials are noticed by everyone we meet. Our special credentials will be well earned. We’ve worked hard. Yet, the magic ingredient is our willingness to stick together.

Team5When Betty, Robyn, Aaron, Malcolm, Allison, Dan, and I set foot in Africa, we want to be seen as a peace movement. Holding each other up, carrying each other’s burdens, looking out for one another, respecting each other. These are the credentials that will speak most loudly as we move together to train others and model peace.


37 Days and Counting – ALARM

In 37 days, our gallant band of adventurers will head to Rwanda — and then later to Kenya — to conduct training in conflict resolution and leadership. Our group is made up of students from Southern Methodist University’s graduate program in Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management and the director of that program, Dr. Betty Gilmore. And then there’s me. The students will be earning academic credit and Betty will be supervising their educational experience. The Rwandan leg of our journey is under the supervision and sponsorship of African Leadership And Reconciliation Ministries (ALARM), a group that is working quietly in 8 African nations to help people understand how their faith should impact their daily lives.

ALARM President, Rev. Célestin Musekura, Ph.D. in action.

 Dr. Musekura was studying outside his home country when the holocaust raged through Rwanda and hundreds of thousands of his countrymen were killed over the period of 100 days. That very year, 1994, Dr. Musekura founded ALARM and begin initiating his vision to positively influence the thinking and actions of the people of east and central Africa. ALARM has now expanded into 8 countries — Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. All of its offices are staffed with well-trained, professional African men and women who serve as missionaries to their people.

Our group will be hosted by the staff in Kigali, Rwanda. For months, they have been working with Betty Gilmore to coordinate our efforts. Our team is eager to meet and work with these extraordinary people.

ALARM has a three-part vision. By concentrating on developing leaders, reconciling relationships, and transforming communities, the ministry has become a trusted partner with many churches, communities, and government officials in east and central Africa.

Our team will benefit in many ways from our work with ALARM. Its expertise in the African culture, coupled with its local contacts and reputation have opened the door to opportunities that would have never been possible. The key to ALARM’s success is its unwavering commitment to serve the people of these countries by showing God’s love.

Click over to ALARM’s website and spend a little time getting to know its incredible story and its committed staff. If you sometimes wonder if much good is happening in the world, this is your chance to see good in action. In coming posts, I’ll be sharing more about ALARM and about our team’s unique mission in Rwanda.

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?


The Problem with the Public Debate of Sin

For some time, I have been troubled over the way that we, as a society and as individuals, approach conflict. Civil discourse has given way, in large part, to guerrilla-like tactics and all-out war in the very halls that once were a symbol of maturity and civility. The following post flows from my troubled spirit. As such, much of this is therapeutic for me. I just feel like I need to be transparent and to add what is hopefully a respectful voice to the conversation.

I’ve been on the verge of shutting down all of my social media accounts for about a year.


Because there is a certain burden associated with standing by and watching a few of your friends – a few of your vocal friends – become those obnoxious, narrow-minded individuals who prove little with their rhetoric, who often react strongly on the basis of misinformation, and who, quite frankly, eclipse the value of their “stand” on a particular issue with their words of bias and hatred. That saddens me.

For example, I am troubled over a young man who I once believed showed great promise in the field of peacemaking. But his online posts revealed bias, bigotry, and almost total disregard for anyone who thinks differently. I am certainly tough enough to hear his opinion and rancor, but it is just painful and embarrassing. And I often wonder what damage he is doing to others and for the peaceful cause of Christ.

I have other friends or acquaintances, both personal and online, who have taken far different positions from me on political matters, theological matters, health and lifestyle matters. They have stated their opinions and made their arguments. Respectfully.

The quietness of their voices belies the volume of their message. By speaking appropriately, at the right time, and with a humility that comes from valuing others, their words were heard.

On a number of the issues these friends address, I don’t find myself persuaded. Yet, I do experience a deeper understanding of both them and of myself. And I’ve found that when I respond in kind, our conversations and our relationships grow stronger. In many cases, we find true resolution to the challenges that threaten to separate us.

People are finding a lot of issues to fight over in the political realm. The economy, gun control, immigration. In recent days, with the United States Supreme Court considering cases involving same-sex relationships, the bile vomited from both sides of the issue is revolting at its occurrence and the stench it has left behind is stifling.

WARNING: The following is a statement of my beliefs.

I believe in God and in Jesus Christ.

I believe that God tells us through scripture that homosexuality is a sin.

However, I also believe that God has made it clear that

  • Adultery and fornication are sins.
  • Murder and covetousness are sins.
  • Lust, lying, and idolatry are sins.
  • Personal promotion over the needs of others and anger are sins.
  • A good portion of my personal motivation is worldly and, thus, sinful.

And I believe that God makes no distinction between sins. He despises them all because he sees what sin does to us, his beloved. God loves us even though we are sinners.

I see no need to enter into public debate of my beliefs because of the inherent problem with the public debate of sin.

The problem with the public debate of sin is that sin is not debatable or negotiable. It is what it is. We don’t have the option of deciding what is sinful and what is not.

Therefore, I also believe that God has made it clear that

  • I am to love all people, regardless of their beliefs.
  • I am to respect every one.
  • I am to converse and work with others in an effort to build relationship and, where needed and available, reconciliation – regardless of their belief.
  • I am never to do anything that drives others further from God because of my weakness in conveying God’s spirit and being.
  • I am never to do anything that soils the image of God with others by acting like . . . well, like me. I am called to walk in God’s steps and take on his demeanor and spirit of love.
  • I am to challenge my own beliefs, ferret out errors in my thinking and behavior, and seek a brighter understanding. While God is all-knowing and wise, I am only a work-in-progress.
  • I can have hope in a God who loves, who listens, and who provides grace for my failings.
  • God will make the judgments about people. That is not my job.
  • I can, with a desire to obey God, become a person who others see God through — even when I set clear standards and expectations and disagree with them.

And, I also believe that my failure to seek the things on this last list is just as sinful as the things on my first list.

Right now, we are confusing the concept of sin with the concept of public opinion. We seem to believe that the Supreme Court’s decisions on this issue or that issue will be a blow to the kingdom of heaven. How shortsighted can we be?

You can’t legislate or litigate morality. You can’t make people accept God’s invitation to holiness and a joyful life. You can’t publicly debate sin and expect to see large scale conversion as a result. In fact, you most likely will see the opposite.

Here’s what we can do:

  • Live in accordance with our understanding of God’s hopes and desires for us.
  • Encourage others to come to know God.
  • Encourage each other in holy living.
  • When we disagree, never let our personal motives or feelings derail the hope for reconciliation and future relationship with others.
  • Exercise our voices appropriately. Talk with humility. Speak truth. Explore questions with integrity. Vote. Stay engaged and remain helpful when the vote goes against us.
  • Love every single person – family, friends, strangers, and especially our enemies.

DI LOGOGod asks us for very little because God has everything covered. Let’s quit debating and begin meaningful conversation. We can accomplish far more by pursuing peace than we can by waging war.