Socially Medium

I have to admit that there are times that I would like to close down my social media accounts. To bend a phrase of Winston Churchill, “Never was so much bad said about so few by so many.” It is the ease and spontaneity of social media that makes it so great and so damaging — all at once. In fact, observing the rancor and the vile ideas that are often promoted, I have found myself becoming socially medium.

Photo on 7-13-14 at 7.39 AM

 

“Socially medium” is the online equivalent of the passive bystander — quietly observing the mayhem of a moment and then slipping unnoticed into the crowd.

I wonder how many of us are out there being socially medium.

Don’t hear this as a call to join the boisterous inanity of those who attribute evil to practically everything. And, you know who you are. Perhaps we all should be thinking about who we are and what we stand for and make sure that we are, indeed, standing.

I know. Being socially medium keeps us out of the controversy and safe from the attacks of others. But being socially medium also allows us to simply not think and never do if we let it become our standard.

A step away from being socially medium takes us to a place where we think, where we explore new ideas and perspectives, and where we become curious. Dialog builds relationships. Relationships build communities. Communities, when bonded over care and concern for others, become the birthing place of all manner of goodness.

Care to join me as I think more, explore more, and feed my curiosity?

Life and Hope in the Face of Death

Have you ever wondered about how you will leave this earth? Illness? Accident? Simply a last, calm breath from a well-used and mortal body? Have you ever wondered what the face of Death will look like?

I have. Although many folks I know have had these same thoughts and ponderings as they face tumultuous  conditions, my moments of contemplation are from a perspective of relative ease in both my physical and mental being. And perhaps from the human tendency to try to find a dark lining to even the wispiest of clouds.

On this Easter Sunday, I join my Christian sisters and brothers around the world in celebrating the ultimate victory over death. I believe that a Galilean carpenter was the incarnate word. I believe that he walked this earth as a man. I believe that he brought a totally counter-cultural way of living to us all. I believe that he broadened the family of God by making it possible for all people to be accepted into the kingdom. All people. I believe that he brought grace to a planet consumed with a love of judgment. I believe that Jesus was sacrificed as an intimate showing by God that people who love should do things differently. I believe that my Savior, Jesus Christ, was raised from the grave on the third day. I believe that, as he promised, he has gone to prepare an eternal dwelling place for those who believe.

I believe he is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Yet, as I glance through the news stories that bombard us daily about massacres and atrocities against children, women, and men of all faith origins, I do wish that there was a judgment and an iron fist that would stop all of those things. And I wish that the absence of that violence would open the rest of us to a life of giving and helping.

Even though the ugly things of this world are frightening and sickening, I need to remember that my role in this is to release all things into the soft and tender hands of God. Through the sacrifice of Christ, he has shown us that great power comes from the death experiences. Indeed, life and hope are best understood in the dark shadow of the valley of death.

Through the gift of the Savior, I know that I can gaze steadily into the face of Death without fear. In fact, because of the life and the hope we are promised, I feel certain that Death will tremble in that moment.

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.

 

15 Days and Counting – Mascot

All great teams have a mascot. A mascot inspires. A mascot invigorates. Occasionally, a mascot just kind of lies there.

Meet Mazzie Star, mascot of the SMU Rwanda Peace Mission 2014.

When we see photographs of glamorous celebrities, we often wonder what life in the spotlight is like. Well, you won’t learn much about that from Mazzie Star. Sure, she’s the glue of our team and some say that we owe what we are today to her. But Mazzie just moonlights as a mascot.

In real life, she has important duties. During the day, she covers not just one, but two windows in her best friend’s house. From those vantage points, she has a clear view of two streets and a working knowledge of every neighbor and every other dog living within a half mile. But just because she knows them, she doesn’t let them off with the silent treatment. Mazzie Star barks.

You see, that’s her main job — warning Robyn of anything moving outside the house. Or, when the team is there, anything moving inside the house. And nothing can be said or done to dissuade her from her sworn task. Nothing. Except maybe a snack. Or a belly rub. But sometimes not even then.

Mascots are believed to bring good luck. And certainly Mazzie Star outshines any rabbit’s foot or four leaf clover. But dear Mazzie captures an even deeper meaning for us.

Mazzie1Finding common ground is a unique experience in teams with deep ties. When tension is a little high, a little time with Mazzie brings a measure of calm. When she’s not barking, she is the epitome of the non-anxious presence.

As a team, our tasks aren’t much different from Mazzie Star’s. Be vigilant. Speak up. Reassure. And, if appropriate, eat snacks.

Mazzie won’t be making the trip. Yet she’ll be in our thoughts. As we travel, we will follow her lead. We will be vigilant for each other. We will speak up when a strong voice is needed. We will reassure and comfort.

Undoubtedly, we’ll eat snacks. And we’ll stand together.

 

 

31 Days and Counting – Dependent

When we leave on our training trip to Africa in 31 days, we will become highly dependent on others. Pilots. Drivers. Hosts. Translators. Guides. Dependent is not how many of us on our team would describe ourselves.

Image Credit: mzacha at FreeImages.com

In a few weeks, our team will place our trust in many, many people. These trusted individuals will be spread over three continents and an ocean. A good number of them will become close because their lives will not just touch ours, they will intertwine with us and our stories will become one for just a little while.

The peculiar thing about life is that, for the most part, we don’t get to choose who we depend on. For example, I have a few friends who are airline pilots, but I’m fairly certain that not once have I flown in a plane where they were at the controls. When, I eat at a restaurant, I assume that the food will be correctly prepared and the cook and the wait staff will follow the highest standards. (What was that great line from Penny in The Big Bang Theory? “Sheldon, I may only be a lowly waitress, but I have every opportunity to spit on your hamburger.”) Even when I drive down a Texas highway, I have some faith that the drivers around me will stay in their lanes and observe most of the rules of the road.

In a foreign culture, the dependence factor grows dramatically and along with it our willingness to trust.

We should always be cautious, that’s true. Yet, the willingness to trust other people is one of the most exhilarating experiences of our lives. Becoming dependent on someone else brings together two disparate forces — anticipation and relief. And even though these feelings are distinct and very different, you really can’t have one without the other.

Anticipation brings questions about those who have assumed our care. Anticipation can take us down paths of delight, but it can often be shaded with fear and dread. It’s been years, but I can still physically feel those last few moments as the roller coaster edged its way to its highest point. In the course of a few seconds, I felt both nauseated and ecstatic as I anticipated the rapid rush that was ahead. As the cars sped forward, I remember physically holding on tight while mentally letting go to experience the thrill. And what could be better than that triumphant re-entry into the loading area? Or what more questionable than our incredible urge to get in line again?

In the western world, we praise independence as a personal character trait. We nurture and train our children to be independent. We reward independence. We criticize those among us who struggle with independence. Sometimes, we create systems that ensure our independence while making it impossible for others to achieve it.

A certain beauty lies in learning to be responsibly dependent. The truth is we need each other. Perfection in life comes from being dependent and allowing others to depend on me. Independence has its place. But we can never allow it to overshadow our divine calling to help others and to allow them to help us.

In the next few weeks, I will be dependent on so many people. Many of them I will never meet. Others will become life-long friends. Still others, like my teammates and our special guides in far-away places, will likely take a place close to my heart. Perhaps the two phrases we should try to learn in every language are “thank you” and “you’re welcome.” Those words define a holy place where those who are dependent meet.

Countdown days 35 through 30 were written on the right days — but posted late because of a major web server outage. My apologies for the delay in posting and for posting several a day to catch up.