what’s most important

Marquese Goodwin has known much success in his 26 years.

He was born in Lubbuck, Texas and attended Rowlett High School. There he had the second fastest 100-meter time in the Lone Star State, was the state champion in the triple jump and long jump, and was a member of the state title-winning 4×100-meter relay team. He won seven team track and field championships.

Goodwin’s success did not stop there.

On scholarship at the University of Texas, Goodwin continued to succeed. In track and field, he was a two-time NCAA champion in the long jump and a four-time All-American in track and field. He won five Big 12 Conference championships and made the All-Big 12 team seven times. His collegiate success then propelled him to the 2012 Summer Olympics, finishing tenth in the long jump.

But Goodwin simultaneously played collegiate football, starting as a receiver and returner, including in the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. He has played in the NFL since 2013; he is currently a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers.

This past Sunday, the Niners played the Giants. In the second quarter, Goodwin was on the receiving end of a huge play, scoring an 83-yard touchdown, his best play of the year.

As soon as he reached the end zone, Goodwin blew a kiss to the sky, fell to his knees, and made the sign of the cross. He then gently laid his head upon the end zone turf, as several players came and appropriately, gently knelt beside him.

Just hours earlier, his wife, former Longhorn hurdler champion Morgan Goodwin-Snow, had to deliver their first child prematurely due to complications within the pregnancy. The baby boy did not survive.

Said later in an Instagram update by Marquese:

“I just wanna thank those who’ve genuinely prayed for @morganakamomo & myself through out this pregnancy. Unfortunately we lost our baby boy due to some complications, and had to prematurely deliver him early this morning around 4am. Although we are hurt, I am grateful for the experience and grateful that God blessed me with a wife as courageous and resilient as Morgan. The pain (physically, mentally, & emotionally) that she has endured is unbelievable. Please Pray for the Goodwin family.”

I can only imagine the depth of the pain the Goodwin’s feel at this time… and to still go to work. Gut-wrenching.

And while my heart aches for this family, I find myself simultaneously struck by Goodwin’s apparent realization of what’s most important.

When Goodwin crossed the goal line, there was no celebration. There was no dancing. No drama. None of the current clever, often whimsical festivities.

Goodwin did his job, was honest in his emotion, and in his grief, still later was able to acknowledge the great big God of the universe.

My sense is that sometimes we get lost in the game. We get lost in any perceived competition — be it sports, politics, you-name-it. Sometimes we get distracted and derailed. We start to major on the minors, no longer able to recognize what is minor.

My prayer is that we always instead realize what is most important.

God be with the Goodwin family. Pray for them, Marquese humbly requests.

It’s important.

Respectfully…
AR

a social experiment

Every now and then I really like a line on this blog so much, I think it and say it over and over; sometimes it’s more than a line. I keep thinking today of how each of us contributes — knowingly or unknowingly — to the division in this country. As stated Thursday, “Our national divide will never get better if we keep contributing to the fire. We’re adding fuel to the fire with our sideways comments… our angry posts, our cutting comments on social media… the rolling of our eyes when people are sharing their stories.” Yes, we are part of the problem.

I have a good friend with whom I have long bantered over all sorts of stuff… from music and kids to healthcare and home life. We’ve long been able to talk about all. We don’t always agree, but we both recognize that agreement is not necessary for unity; respectful dialogue is always more important. We are both sharpened via such.

In recent months, my friend found herself tempted to be more of the problem, contributing to that division. It’s easy, folks. Sometimes we don’t even recognize our involvement. We feel strongly… react strongly… sometimes even baiting another by posting something provocative… maybe they’ll say something disrespectful or outlandish back… then everyone will see that they are the problem.

Unfortunately, we are part of the problem.

Recognizing such, my friend decided to conduct a small but significant social experiment. With her permission, I share such with you now…

What exactly was your experiment?

I wanted to see if I could change the quality of my Facebook feed and take control of the algorithms. I unfollowed anything political in nature — all news and current event pages — and I unfollowed friends who only post provocative political posts. I also marked all like ads as irrelevant — and I replaced them with pages that promoted peace, joy, kindness, etc. I began liking posts like crazy that were similarly peaceful and positive and then hiding posts that triggered anger, sadness, or hopelessness.

What motivated your experiment?

My feed had become 90% news and politics. Funny thing is that before the 2016 election, I hid many abrasive conservative friends. After the election, I had to hide my abrasive liberal friends, too — who were doing the exact same thing, just from the other side. I don’t care for Pres. Trump, but I didn’t need to hear the sky was falling every time I opened my feed. My gut then told me the steady diet of political opinion was unhealthy and responsible for my emotional funk. I had to change the diet or continue feeling badly.

What have you learned?

I’ve learned that I feel better when I stay clear of the political backbiting. I was taking every snipe personally, feeling defensive and hopelessly unable to control the mess in our country. I’ve become better at observing others without my heart getting so personally involved. I’ve learned it’s pretty easy to change your social media feed.

What has surprised you?

I was surprised how easy it was to change. By limiting my exposure to the bad stuff and focusing on what unites us, I began to feel better immediately.

Do you feel like you know any less than you used to?

No. I can tell if something major happens by other people’s posts. I’m then forced to go to actual, factual news sites, avoiding the provocative spin of social media.

Will you keep it up?

Yes. No second guessing. I want my involvement in social media to promote peace and loving kindness — to all. I don’t want to be drawn into any mudslinging.

What else?

I think it’s important that we take charge of the angry rhetoric being thrown around — rhetoric that only divides us. We need to realize how easy it is to become part of the problem.

My friend also added that she wishes to help build that path to unity — to positively influence those around her — to intentionally build positive relationships.

Building positive relationships… dare I say, so much wiser than any fueling of the fire.

Respectfully…
AR

 

can you feel the tension?

It’s a prudent practice to heed the wisdom in others — recognizing none of us are anywhere close to cornering the market on wisdom. I thus spent some time listening to a wise friend this week. I couldn’t scribble fast enough. Here are my notes… his comments, with a few of my a-ha’s etched in…

The country is divided. Can you feel the tension?

But know what’s true?

We all believe what we believe because we believe it’s best.

But what happens when what I believe is best is different than what you believe is best?

We believe what we believe with passion. We believe it’s best. We also believe unity is best. So what is the path to unity?

Is unity that you agree with me all the time?

Is unity that we all see eye-to-eye on every single thing?

Let’s be clear: unity is not uniformity.

“Unity is oneness of purpose — not sameness of persons.” (as said by Dr. Tony Evans)

There are people who don’t think like us, act like us, look like us, talk like us. So let’s remember that the name of the game is not trying to get you to believe what I believe; the name of the game is not trying to get you to think, act, look, or talk like me either.

True unity can only be found when we minimize our personal preferences. But many of us rubber stamp our preferences and put them above all else… above other people, above divine inspiration and instruction.

What if true unity can only be experienced to the degree that we have accepted undeserved grace?

It’s all about grace. It’s all about grace. It’s all about grace. (Did I mention it’s all about grace?)

But the reality is that undeserved and unlimited grace only comes from God. From everyone else it is limited in some capacity — some way, somehow. From everyone else it only goes so far. Unlimited grace… unearned grace… undeserved. It only comes from One who is bigger and wiser than we. And there’s only one of him.

If you’re a woman, pay attention. If you’re a minority, pay attention. If you’re a woman or a minority, it was Jesus who spoke of your value before any of the movements today.

So want to be part of the solution to the division in this country? Want to be on the path to unity, which most people agree is best? Remember it’s not beating down others so they agree with you; it’s not squelching the voice of varied opinion; it’s not even getting back at them in the next election.

Unity comes only from the awareness of how hugely much God loves each of us. When we recognize how much God loves us and all he’s done for us — and all he’s done for the person next to me, regardless of social status, income, or ethnicity — we learn to treat that person next to us better. We learn to treat him or her with love. All the time.

Hence, learn how to respond with love.

… to those people you can’t stand… to those colleagues at work you just wish would be transferred… away, far away… Respond in love.

Our national divide will never get better if we keep contributing to the fire. We’re adding fuel to the fire with our sideways comments… our angry posts, our cutting comments on social media… the rolling of our eyes when people are sharing their stories…

That’s contributing to the division. That’s participating in the work of someone or something other than God.

Someone mentioned that we are fighting the wrong enemy. So true.

So let’s be part of the solution. Let’s be the leader of humility, kindness, and grace… knowing that available, unlimited grace. It’s something that black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Democrats and Republicans, we all have in common.

Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

[FYI: Time with my friend was well spent.]

Respectfully…
AR

is Facebook good?

There aren’t too many times in life when I knowingly continue on in something that isn’t a good idea. Ok, granted, there are a few fast food drive-throughs in which I would be better served to suppress an every-now-and-then craving; routinely, however, I find myself re-examining a habit: is it good? … is it healthy? … or do I need to change some aspect of my behavior?

For years, I’ve enjoyed the contact and communication that comes via social media. I’ve been able to catch up and keep in touch with friends in a fairly fast and convenient way — from my school day besties, peers in Russia and Thailand, to old friends far and new friends near.

Facebook’s “friendaversaries” prompt thanksgiving for our enduring connections. Twitter’s tweets keep us current on the high school sports teams back home. And Snapchat and Instagram each make us smile, offering a real-time glimpse in what’s going on in the life of another. Some even add some rather unique and unusual facial features.

Yet I find myself again examining a somewhat simple idea: is social media good?

Is it good?

Assuming we have reasonable boundaries and the outlet becomes not a time-waster, keeping us from tending to all else that needs to get done in our day, are these websites and apps healthy for us to participate in?

The pictures of peonies and pups certainly brighten my day. The sports team shout outs also make me smile. Truthfully, I even find the daily deluge of pickle posts quite encouraging; while never a fan of the tiny, briny, and (in my semi-humble opinion) still slimy cucumber, at least my friends are thinking of me!

But the question of goodness arises beyond the pickles and puppies. It’s when we substitute a thread or a post for authentic conversation — especially when we’re talking about serious stuff. As one who was exposed to significant conflict growing up, it’s not that I love conflict; it’s more that I believe strongly in handling it well. If we could learn to communicate more respectfully and listen more selflessly in the existence of conflict, I believe we could damper the intensity and avoid much of the relational, collateral damage.

The challenge is that Facebook and Twitter do not do the above; stereotypical participation does not promote respectful communication nor selfless listening. When I utilize my 140 character allowance to opine, for example, that is not dialogue; that is not authentic conversation. It is simply instead a rephrasing of “I just have to say”… “let me tell you how I feel”… or “this is how I think.” How I feel or think does not require me to respect the feeling or thinking of any other. If there is no need to respect the feeling or thinking of another, it seems a foolish trap that even the intelligent fall into.

Remember the wise words an articulate guest writer shared here two and a half years ago, a friend who decided to make a behavioral change on social media:

“… So without even knowing it, I learned that I didn’t have to attend every argument I was invited to. I stopped posting political pieces. Stopped commenting for the sake of starting up a fight. I weighed in here and there but I chose my words carefully and bracketed it with things like ‘respectfully’ and ‘we don’t all have to agree.’ I became mindful that, for most of my Facebook friends, what I posted was the only definition they would have of me. I don’t speak to many of them face to face. They don’t know how I live my life, that there is more to me than my posts and replies. And I didn’t want that to be their truth about me. I am more than just my political beliefs or my religion or my alma mater (though that one I still have a hard time not defending). I am a sum of all of those things and more…”

Authentic conversation helps us know one another deeply and more. And yes, there is more to each of us than our opinions, “sides,” and alma maters (Boiler up). But when we omit the respectful give-and-take and selfless listening vital to authentic communication, we aren’t getting to know another any more than we already do. We are only hearing ourselves think. That doesn’t seem wise.

So is social media good?

Maybe. Those pickle pics make me laugh.

But my sense is, for most of us, it’s more our behavior that may need to change.

Respectfully…
AR

who I am for

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern that current social media conversations are frequently too harsh and uninviting of actual, respectful dialogue. I’ve actually been somewhat perplexed as to why way too many of even the typically are so willing to forgo respectful dialogue.

I’ve also had to raggle and wrestle with my own role — my contributions to the current state of less than encouraging vitriol. I wish to be part of the solution — not fueling the fire of a hot-tempered state.

Recently, a wise friend hit the nail on the head for me. He made a comment that highlighted my sense of what’s happening in social media. That is…

Too many times we are known most for what we are against.

In other words, we are so busy shouting and pointing fingers at what we’re against, that who we are actually for is completely drowned out. People can no longer hear who and what we are for.

I want to be known for who I am for — not for what I am against.

Let me repeat that…

I want to be known for who I am for — not for what I am against.

Let that sit in for a moment.

What you are for?

Can people tell?

Or…

Have you yelled so loudly that we only know what you are against?

Shouting about what we are against rarely invites increased dialogue. It also typically is not marked by any broad, consistent respect.

I want to be known for who I am for…

… for my family… friends…
… for the least of these…
… for all…

I want to be known for who I am for…

Notably, this may be my shortest post ever.

But when we speak of what we are for, it removes the ranting and raving, and leads to clearer, more concise, respectful conversation.

Respectfully…
AR

they are dumb

Rarely do we simply post another’s editorial, but the truth is we learn from each other — never solely from one and never wisely, solely from the likeminded. Hear the wise words of New York City writer, Sean Blanda, written well over a year and a half ago, in a piece entitled “The ‘Other Side’ Is Not Dumb”… [Note: all emphasis is mine.]

“There’s a fun game I like to play in a group of trusted friends called ‘Controversial Opinion.’ The rules are simple: Don’t talk about what was shared during Controversial Opinion afterward and you aren’t allowed to ‘argue’  —  only to ask questions about why that person feels that way. Opinions can range from ‘I think James Bond movies are overrated’ to ‘I think Donald Trump would make a excellent president.’

Usually, someone responds to an opinion with, ‘Oh my god! I had no idea you were one of those people!’ Which is really another way of saying ‘I thought you were on my team!’
In psychology, the idea that everyone is like us is called the ‘false-consensus bias.’ This bias often manifests itself when we see TV ratings… or in politics… or polls…

Online it means we can be blindsided by the opinions of our friends or, more broadly, America. Over time, this morphs into a subconscious belief that we and our friends are the sane ones and that there’s a crazy ‘Other Side’ that must be laughed at  —  an Other Side that just doesn’t ‘get it,’ and is clearly not as intelligent as ‘us.’ But this holier-than-thou social media behavior is counterproductive, it’s self-aggrandizement at the cost of actual nuanced discourse and if we want to consider online discourse productive, we need to move past this.

What is emerging is the worst kind of echo chamber, one where those inside are increasingly convinced that everyone shares their world view, that their ranks are growing when they aren’t. It’s like clockwork: an event happens and then your social media circle is shocked when a non-social media peer group public reacts to news in an unexpected way. They then mock the Other Side for being ‘out of touch’ or ‘dumb’…

When someone communicates that they are not ‘on our side’ our first reaction is to run away or dismiss them as stupid. To be sure, there are hateful, racist, people not worthy of the small amount of electricity it takes just one of your synapses to fire. I’m instead referencing those who actually believe in an opposing viewpoint of a complicated issue, and do so for genuine, considered reasons. Or at least, for reasons just as good as yours.

This is not a ‘political correctness’ issue. It’s a fundamental rejection of the possibility to consider that the people who don’t feel the same way you do might be right. It’s a preference to see the Other Side as a cardboard cut out, and not the complicated individual human beings that they actually are.

What happens instead of genuine intellectual curiosity is the sharing of Slate or Daily Kos or Fox News or Red State links. Sites that exist almost solely to produce content to be shared so friends can pat each other on the back and mock the Other Side. Look at the Other Side! So dumb and unable to see this the way I do!

Sharing links that mock a caricature of the Other Side isn’t signaling that we’re somehow more informed. It signals that we’d rather be smug a$$holes than consider alternative views. It signals that we’d much rather show our friends that we’re like them, than try to understand those who are not.

It’s impossible to consider yourself a curious person and participate in social media in this way. We cannot consider ourselves ‘empathetic’ only to turn around and belittle those who don’t agree with us.
On Twitter and Facebook this means we prioritize by sharing stuff that will garner approval of our peers over stuff that’s actually, you know, true. We share stuff that ignores wider realities, selectively shares information, or is just an outright falsehood. The misinformation is so rampant that the Washington Post stopped publishing its internet fact-checking column because people didn’t seem to care if stuff was true…

Institutional distrust is so high right now, and cognitive bias so strong always, that the people who fall for hoax news stories are frequently only interested in consuming information that conforms with their views  —  even when it’s demonstrably fake.
The solution, as [author Fredrik] deBoer says, ‘You have to be willing to sacrifice your carefully curated social performance and be willing to work with people who are not like you.’ In other words you have to recognize that the Other Side is made of actual people.

But I’d like to go a step further. We should all enter every issue with the very real possibility that we might be wrong this time.

Isn’t it possible that you… like me, suffer from this from time to time? Isn’t it possible that we’re not right about everything? That those who live in places not where you live, watch shows that you don’t watch, and read books that you don’t read, have opinions and belief systems just as valid as yours? That maybe you don’t see the entire picture?

Think political correctness has gotten out of control? Follow the many great social activists on Twitter. Think America’s stance on guns is puzzling? Read the stories of the 31% of Americans that own a firearm. This is not to say the Other Side is ‘right’ but that they likely have real reasons to feel that way. And only after understanding those reasons can a real discussion take place.

As any debate club veteran knows, if you can’t make your opponent’s point for them, you don’t truly grasp the issue. We can bemoan political gridlock and a divisive media all we want. But we won’t truly progress as individuals until we make an honest effort to understand those that are not like us. And you won’t convince anyone to feel the way you do if you don’t respect their position and opinions.

A dare for the next time you’re in discussion with someone you disagree with: Don’t try to ‘win.’ Don’t try to ‘convince’ anyone of your viewpoint. Don’t score points by mocking them to your peers. Instead try to ‘lose.’ Hear them out. Ask them to convince you and mean it. No one is going to tell your environmentalist friends that you merely asked follow up questions after your brother made his pro-fracking case.

Or, the next time you feel compelled to share a link on social media about current events, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it because that link brings to light information you hadn’t considered? Or does it confirm your world view, reminding your circle of intellectual teammates that you’re not on the Other Side?

I implore you to seek out your opposite. When you hear someone cite ‘facts’ that don’t support your viewpoint don’t think ‘that can’t be true!’ Instead consider, ‘Hm, maybe that person is right? I should look into this.’

Because refusing to truly understand those who disagree with you is intellectual laziness and worse, is usually worse than what you’re accusing the Other Side of doing.”

Respectfully… of all sides…
AR

a special community

A friend pegged me recently, noticing a theme in recent posts… “Start small… Let’s get back to the basics of community!” Exactly. Community is vital to ongoing peace and healthy living. Hence, let’s define it once more.

Multiple definitions are easily found… “a group of people living in the same place”… “having a particular characteristic in common”… “a feeling of fellowship with others”…

All valid and good.

But after a sweet few months of very poignant learning and application, I’ve been wrestling with my own definition. Allow me a humble stab…

Community… a group of people doing life together… a genuine connectivity marked by contagious, unlimited empathy and grace. No judgment. It’s a bunch of small moments strung together, noticing the people around you. Self is always secondary. Community is practical, authentic, and good.

One of the things I have been incredibly thankful for is the blessing of experiencing community. Having moved from a community that was beautifully thriving, one logically questions what will be next. Will we experience this again? Can we experience this again?

The answer is “yes” — especially if we recognize our own role. Thus allow an example from this past weekend…

Our youngest is involved in Special Olympics. Special Olympics are the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with special needs, offering year-round training and competitions to 5.7 million athletes in 172 countries each year. This organization ministers to many in a unique, affirming way.

For us, this past Saturday was the district bowling competition. Our son and his high school team qualified after a strong score in last month’s county competition. But Saturday was initially pretty tiring.

It came on the heels of Friday night, an evening which saw Josh’s high school best their arch rival on the gridiron, capturing the district football championship. Josh was at that game, on the side lines, a student manager for the team. With all the fanfare, celebration, and overflowing adrenaline, it was a late night for all, especially the coaches and players.

Needing to be at the bowling competition by 8:30 a.m., it was a little tougher to roll out of bed. But once there, we would compete against some 350 plus other Special Olympians — a sweet, beautiful sight!

Allow me a brief tangent, as the camaraderie was incredibly contagious… all shapes, sizes, disabilities, and ethnicities… persons in competition with one another, sincerely rooting one another on — celebrating one another.

Osvaldo may have been my favorite. He would approach each roll the same way… sauntering up to line, deliberately dropping his ball, slowly, very slowly. And then he would wait. He would stand at the foul line waiting for that really, really slow-moving ball to make its way to the pins. Most often he watched it roll into the gutter, but any gutter caused no dismay. He would turn around smiling, such joy in his step, thankful for the opportunity to bowl.

The sweetest moment occurred after Osvaldo had thrown multiple, consecutive gutter balls. On the second roll of a final frame, he rolled a one. Yes, one; he hit one pin. Osvaldo turned around, jumping up and down, high-fiving everyone in the adjacent vicinity! He was thrilled with his accomplishment.

Additionally thrilling for us — and back to the point of today’s post — was the manifestation of community…

First, Josh’s Special Olympics coach arrived. He is also the head coach of the football team.

And second, three young men strolled up to Josh as he was about to roll. Each played in last night’s football game. Two of the three, in fact, are highly sought after Division I athletes. Yet each came up to Josh, high-fived him, hugged him, and wished him well. They hung around, letting him know “we are in this together” (… whatever “this” is).

Community, my friends, is sincere. It’s sincere, empowering, and contagious. It’s genuine connectivity — from star to special athletes. There is unlimited empathy and grace, which is powerful indeed. There is no judgment. There is celebration simply in doing life together, whatever that is.

Respectfully…
AR

change your questions

“Every change — big or small — typically begins with a new question.”

— Dr. Marilee Adams, Author of “Change Your Questions Change Your Life” (a longtime Intramuralist favorite)

Most of us seem to crave some sort of change, especially in regard to the seemingly surfeit of increasing societal schisms today.

Hence, today… only questions…

25 to be exact.

  1. Do I really respect all people?
  2. If my opinion supports one people group but disrespects another, is there anything about my opinion or its expression that I need to change?
  3. Am I living in an echo chamber? If so, why won’t I exit?
  4. Am I committed to dialogue?
  5. Where am I stuck?
  6. Where am I wrong?
  7. Where have I refused to acknowledge that I have more to learn?
  8. How can I love my “neighbor” more?
  9. Where am I destroying community as opposed to fostering it?
  10. What bias is within me?
  11. What agenda-driven news sources are impeding my objectivity?
  12. Is social media helping?
  13. How does my behavior need to change?
  14. Who do I have trouble giving grace to? Why?
  15. Where do I point fingers only at others and avoid examination of self?
  16. Have I forgotten that even a stopped clock is right twice a day?
  17. Who have I justified loving less?
  18. Where I have I allowed ethnicity, political standing, or anything to get in the way?
  19. Where am I refusing to listen?
  20. Am I a “learner” or a “judger”?
  21. Do I ask “what assumptions am I making” or “whose fault is it”?
  22. Do I ask “what are they thinking, feeling and wanting” or “why are they always so dumb and irritating”?
  23. Who is holding me accountable? Am I submissive to anyone?
  24. Have I translated my individual experience into truth for all others? And…
  25. What unintentional consequences is my behavior, opinion, or the current expression of my opinion having?

Want solution?

Want to navigate wisely through some of the tough issues currently set before us?

“Every change — big or small — typically begins with a new question.”

Maybe we should consider changing our questions.

Respectfully…
AR

for all this

As a follow up to Tuesday’s acknowledgment that “Something’s Wrong,” it doesn’t take long to get lured into focusing upon all that is wrong; it’s too heavy and too much. Hence, I am thankful when something shocks me out of it. For example…

This past weekend we celebrated my youngest’s 16th birthday. It was sweet and celebratory, affirming and fun. But after three days of celebrating, this typically enthusiastic parent added “exhausted” to the list.

The reason we celebrate for three days, no less, is because of who Josh is… because of how God made him… because we remember when he was born… and because of how incredible much we have learned both from him and through him. Two years ago, I wrote about Josh’s birthday. It is wise to read again…

*****

A long standing premise of the Intramuralist is to consistently advocate for a focus on all that is good and true and right. In fact, one of our cultural challenges it seems, is that both individually and corporately, we spend so much energy and attention on that which is not good and true and right… division… strife… evil… impurity… a lack of loyalty and/or faithfulness, etc. Such takes up way too much of our time, minds, and airwaves.

“… whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things…”

My now 14 year old son, Josh — that child born years ago with an extra special need, chromosome, and a wall missing in is heart — is one of the best, most effective ways God teaches me now in regard to all that is good and true and right.

As expected, no less, this joy-filled teen’s birthday included music and dancing, cake and cookies, and multiple friends and family. He received many day-brightening gifts, calls, texts, and visits that made his heart so obviously overflow with thanks. (It made this parent even need a nap.)

Yet the moment that seemed most “blog-worthy” was seemingly small in comparison. It was just a singular sentence — a comment Josh made before the festivities were in full swing; yet it was a moment that is still making me think…

Standing outside briefly before the sunrise, in between our daily repertoire of song and dance preceding the much anticipated school bus arrival, Josh stopped his singing, pausing for a moment of thanks. He wanted to give God thanks for the celebration of the day — and more.

And in the middle of that moment — in this conversation I felt deeply privileged to overhear — Josh stopped, leaned somewhat backwards, grinning from ear to ear, and pointing meekly to himself said:

“And God, thanks for all this.”

Thanks for all this.

There was no focus on what some may see as missing.
There was no ignoring of current circumstances.
There was no dismissal of having Down syndrome.
There was no wishing he was someone or something else.
There was no desire to be any different.
There was only a joy-laced expression of gratitude for who he is…

Thanks for all this.

Whatever is true… whatever is lovely… think about these things…

Respectfully…
AR

neighbors, enemies, or what… round 2

Since my strong sense is we focus way too much on who is our enemy, I’ve decided to focus a little bit more on who is our neighbor. Remember: as long as we can curtail the category of who actually is our neighbor, we don’t have to love them, like them, or even try. We don’t have to respect them. We don’t have to invest in relationship. We can instead judge them and ignore their perspective in its entirety. After all, they are the enemy.

Much of the current challenge with this enemy label mindset is that we have begun to attach the enemy label to others because of their social, political standing. We have veered far away from finding the enemy on any Ten Most Wanted list; we have made other people worse based on what they believe.

Harder still is that we’ve had some pretty poor examples in regard to who fits into what category. Very intelligent people have unfortunately offered some very foolish answers regarding both friend and foe. I have found myself guilty, too, at times — even if only silently opined. At various points in my life, I may have given the distinct impression that my “enemy” was either Patriots’ fans or that kid who started on the mound in place of my son. I allowed myself to think less of them. Let me rephrase: I allowed myself to judge them… as… someone less wise than me. I was able to think less of them because I could not see them as my neighbor.

But what if we could change that? What if we could broaden the category, so-to-speak? What if we realized who our neighbors actually are? … and then… wouldn’t that affect how we treated them? Wouldn’t that make the hard conversations possible? And better yet, would that not offer solution in some of the tough areas?

Who is our neighbor?

I’ve been doing much reading on the subject as of late — especially moving hundreds of miles away to a community in which I knew no one. Who is my neighbor? And what is required of me?

Allow me to share one insight that struck me… from Levi Rogers, a writer and coffee roaster from Salt Lake City…

“… Who are my enemies? For me, it’s simple really. My enemies are politicians, Congress, rich people, Wall Street Bankers, rich Christians, and the most hated form of all: ‘rich, white, Christian politicians.’ I jest, but it’s not too far off. If I were to see a member… dying on the side of the road, I would walk by with joy. Congress in my mind — can go to hell.

I can empathize with the drug addicts, the alcoholics, with minorities, with people of differing genders and sexual orientations. But not the rich yuppie who lives on the Hill, who is against immigration reform, and in defense of laws like Florida’s Stand Your Ground. These people I cannot empathize with. The people who, as Kanye says are, ‘Prolly all in the Hamptons, bragging ‘bout what they made.’ These people are my neighbors and the ones Jesus calls me to love. And it bugs the crap out of me.

‘Who is my neighbor?’… The central question here being: how do I love and serve the very people who I abhor the most, especially when I disagree with them? How do I love them even at times when I feel righteous in my hatred…?”

I love the sincerity in the above expression. Feel free to change up the demographics… maybe a person’s righteous hatred isn’t directed toward “rich, white, Christian politicians.” Maybe it’s directed at “rude, in-your-face, Black Lives Matter protestors”… maybe it’s directed at “out-of-touch, outspoken celebrities”… maybe it’s someone else. The point is that we are each capable at minimizing who our neighbor actually is.

All of the above are our neighbors.

Our neighbors are those who are next to us. Our neighbors are those who are in need. Nothing else disqualifies a person, but we keep justifying the disqualifying of a person as a neighbor… maybe because they’re rich and white… rude and in-your-face… or out-of-touch and outspoken. We continue to find reason to disrespect, reason to judge, and reason to reject all empathetic attempts from all of the above. We don’t listen well. We are simply not very good at neighboring.

In my reading I keep coming across this “neighboring” concept. It’s an active verb. It’s full of intentionality. There is something required of me. So what does it mean to “neighbor”?

To near. And to care.

On Sunday, barring no unforeseen events, I’d like to talk somewhat about racial reconciliation. It’s actually a post I’ve been working on for well over a month. It’s hard. It’s a tough topic. Good people disagree. We have different opinions and approaches. So let me set Sunday up with today’s truth: we must realize who our neighbors actually are.

Respectfully…
AR

{Photo by Christian Stahl on Unsplash}