You Can Help Fight the Fears Related to Ferguson

Note: I started writing this post this morning thinking it would still be awhile before the Grand Jury announced its decision in the Darren Wilson case. We are hearing now that the decision will be announced this evening, so maybe the post will not serve the original purpose I intended. Still, I think it is important that we consider these things as we process the decision and any aftermath that may occur.

I am typically not prone to fear or worry. I must admit, however, recent events in my hometown in North County, St. Louis have made me wonder if I should take some extra precautions in case rioting breaks out when the Grand Jury announces its decision on whether or not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting death of Michael Brown. I have wondered if I should buy a generator, stock up on food, or in other ways prepare for the worst. I haven’t done these things, but I’ve thought about it.

This is not the only way that uneasiness with current events has tempted me to change my normal behavior. I met my daughter for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel on New Halls Ferry Road Saturday morning. While driving to meet her, I wondered if it was smart to have chosen that location. When I saw the many surrounding businesses that were boarded up to protect themselves from potential looting, I was saddened. As I entered the restaurant, though, I was encouraged to see it was busy with a diverse crowd of people. I was glad we were dining there and giving support to a community that needs it.

It’s obviously not wrong to be on alert or take precautions during this time. I have no problem with those doing so. I do have a problem, however, with the way fear is being heightened by obsessive, single-focused news coverage and inappropriate use of social media. While a whole lot could be written on those issues (and believe me, I’m tempted), I’d like to instead offer some ways we can combat their effects on us.

Share stories of your own positive experiences with people of other cultures, positions, and races. Such stories help combat the stereotypes that drive our fears. Challenge the mindsets that divide us – “all cops act …,” “all blacks are …,” “all whites think …” – by sharing stories of times you have seen the opposite.

Share positive news stories (with proper fact-checking, of course). It is obvious to those of us who live closer to these events that the news tends to highlight the negative incidents which occur. Even worse than that, though, is that those are the news stories which get shared most on social media. There are good stories being reported (see just one example here and others in prior posts). Let us know when you see something encouraging or inspiring.

Share some shout-outs to people you know who are making a positive impact or modeling the love and change you want to see in the world. Let people know about people and organizations that are doing good work in the area. There are many. Just a few of my shout-outs would be to “The Ferguson Response” group that held a 21 day prayer vigil and services in Ferguson, and Patricia Bynes who is willing to call out those who are doing wrong on both sides of the issue.

Share art, or poetry, or quotes that fight fear and/or promote reconciliation. Try to stay positive on your own social media sites. Even when you desire to point out the wrong people are doing, it can either be done in a way that promotes peace and understanding … or in a way that continues to bring out fear and hatred.

And finally, if you really want to combat fear:

Do NOT share without fact-checking. I am appalled at the number of people I see sharing things from fake news sources or from hearsay before verifying (see this article for examples). This helps no one.

Please feel free to share your positive stories and links here. I particularly would like to hear stories that help dispel stereotypes and calm fears.

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4 Motivating Reasons to Start Your New Year’s Resolutions NOW

After finishing up our church’s small group study of Radical by David Platt, we decided to commit to The Radical Experiment. It’s a year-long commitment to five specific challenges:

  • To pray for the entire world
  • To read through the entire Word
  • To commit our lives to multiplying community
  • To sacrifice our money for a specific purpose
  • To give our time in another context

We started working on several of the challenges immediately. For the prayer goal, we’re beginning with Operation World’s 60 day prayer experience. It’s an app that provides the history, statistics and prayer needs of a different people group each day. After the 60 days, we’ll find another resource to help us continue our prayer efforts. We decided on a chronological reading plan for the Bible challenge and have begun our reading. We’re also planning a mission trip with Casas por Cristo for March and we’re raising funds for that.

While doing the Bible reading plan and prayer experience, I’ve thought how these are usually the tasks I start at the beginning of a New Year. I’m finding it refreshing to start some New Year’s resolutions before the New Year actually begins. Here are four benefits I see to starting early:

  1. Starting now is proactive instead of reactive. Being proactive means looking ahead and planning for challenges instead of just reacting to them after they hit. We all know New Year’s Resolutions are difficult to keep. Starting early provides opportunity to work out the kinks and make adjustments to be more realistic with our goals.
  1. Starting now fosters a mindset that deals effectively with setbacks. Since I’m taking action prior to the official start date, if I miss a day here or there it doesn’t feel like defeat. And if I miss a day in 2015 it won’t undermine the whole process because I’ll have made deposits into the “resolution account” to balance out the negative days.
  1. Starting now is motivating because it doesn’t begin with the concept of failure. New Year’s resolutions often feel like attempts to reboot or refocus on something I’ve failed at previously. In 2015, my goal will be to continue something good I’ve already started instead of trying to muster up the enthusiasm to begin something I’ve been putting off for far too long.
  1. Starting now is creating momentum, which should lead to a more successful approach to the resolutions. When the New Year starts, I’ll already have established the good habits I’m working towards. I will enter the 2015 feeling like I’m ahead of the game. I like the idea that I’ll start the New Year off with some accomplishments already made towards my goals.

This approach to my Bible reading and prayer goals has been so positive and motivating that I’m starting on a few more resolutions now instead of waiting. One such goal is related to this blog. To date, I’ve been blogging inconsistently, whenever the mood strikes and/or I make time for it. I’m now planning a posting schedule for 2015. I’m particularly excited to work on turning my “Encourager’s Devotional Series” into a blog feature. This was something I used to send out to email subscribers and Bible study groups. I’ve been told many times, for MANY years, I should create an internet version. Looks like it’s time to get to it. Stay tuned for that and an overall schedule – and remember, I hope to be posting it BEFORE the New Year begins. 🙂

What challenges or goals have you been putting off until the New Year? What resolutions to you begrudgingly put on your list every year only to have forgotten about them in a few months? How might starting now change your success rate?

The Pain in Peace

The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church, where I sometimes go to find inner peace.

The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Church, where I sometimes go to find inner peace.

My husband will be very happy to see I’m admitting this in public. I have a hard time saying I’m sorry when it comes to an argument.

It’s not that I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. I’m a firm believer that both sides have usually fallen into some form of error when embroiled in an argument – if not from the outset, most definitely once the battle begins.

And it’s not even that I don’t feel sorry for something along the way. At the very least, even when I feel like I’m 100% correct in my original point of contention, I’m always sorry we’re fighting. And I’m sorry the other person has been hurt in the process of airing out our grievances.

Here’s where my hang-up with “sorry” comes in: I can’t stand the thought of it being issued prematurely. I refuse to make an apology until I feel like my voice has been heard. I dislike the idea of a peace treaty that comes from either of us not having said what we’re really thinking and feeling. For me, a peace that stems from sugar coating or backing down from a perceived truth is only temporary. The issue will inevitably come up again because root issues were never really resolved.

I share all of this, not because I think I’m right or justified in this approach to conflict mediation. Rather, I put all this out on the table as an introduction to processing the quote from Jean Vanier. Here, I will share how I am working through the challenges presented in the quote, with the hope that the lessons I’m learning will also be seen as applicable to those who are praying for peace and justice in Ferguson, Missouri and beyond.

The quote really challenged me to think through the idea of what I’m willing to lose in an effort to pursue peace. Now, I’m still working through the processing of this, but here’s what it looks like so far:

Contemplating the loss of certitudes – Am I willing to admit I may be wrong? If I am, then the resulting action would be to listen more closely to the person on the other side of the debate. Instead of only listening for signs that they hear my point of view, I will listen more closely to theirs. What hurts are they expressing? What feels like injustice to them? What valid points are they bringing to the table? Instead of only seeking to be understood, perhaps I should ask questions about their history and what has led them to the conclusions they are expressing.

Contemplating the loss of comforts that shelter and define me – Am I willing to get out of my comfort zone and explore this issue from the perspective of “the other”? Am I willing to probe my own heart and see why I think saying “I’m sorry” is equivalent to saying, “I’m wrong”? Why does the withholding of my apology bring me comfort and a sense of security? Am I willing to give up that security in order to pursue peace? Why must the apology only come at the end of the discussion? Perhaps mingling in a few sincere apologies along the way would bring a level of comfort to the other person and foster truer, more effective dialogue. After all, I’m not just sorry after they’ve acknowledged my points. I’m sorry at various points in the discussion, so why not throw it out there as it’s occurring instead of waiting for them to earn it? (Darn! This is a difficult thing to admit.)

Contemplating the loss of hurts that shelter and define me – As difficult as that last area of contemplation was for me, this one is even harder. Am I willing to let go of my hurts? Holding on to my hurts shelters me from being hurt again. Will I risk all that in order to restore relationship? How does my hurt define me? Not just this hurt, but all the past hurts that feel similar to this one. Is it fair to bring all that baggage into this current conversation? It seems reasonable to allow both sides to acknowledge those hurts as reasons for their current stance on the issue and to promote understanding. If, however, I’m unwilling to release my grasp on those hurts … well, then I’m still in self-preservation mode and not yet working towards relationship preservation.

“Peace is the fruit of love, a love that is also justice.” In seeking peace and justice, which of the losses is hardest for you to take?

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 12:18 (NASB)

Weeping for the City

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Today, I feel connected to the heart of Jesus when he looked out over the city of Jerusalem.

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.'” (Luke 19:41-42, NIV)

I am disheartened by the way people indiscriminately latch on to stories, pictures, and social media posts that support their view of events – regardless of whether those things are based in truth. No fact checking. No hesitation to hit “share” even if the post might be offensive, or a lie. And for those who profess to be Christian, I have to wonder, where is spiritual discernment?

I’ve said before [see prior post], and will continue to say, the biggest challenge in finding the truth in the Ferguson situation will be that many do not really want truth. They just want to support their agendas.

I’m all for working for causes, promoting change, and letting our voices be heard. But for Christians this simply cannot be done at the expense of truth.

When Christians have blinders on that prevent them from even considering possible truths in the perspectives of “opponents” – or worse yet, when we willingly align ourselves with those spreading lies – it is imperative to lay our hearts before the Lord, yet again, and ask him to reveal the sins we hold in our “hidden parts.”

If you’re willing to challenge yourself in this way, here are a few Scriptures to guide your prayer time:

Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being. And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. (Psalm 51:6, NASB).

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. (John 3:19, NASB)

And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit. (Matthew 15:14, NASB)

Dancing for Peace

As I was trying to gain focus for a Facebook prayer group I’ve started to unite people in prayer for Ferguson today, I kept thinking of dancing. Yeah, it sounded strange to me, too, so I moved on to try to think of more spiritual things. I decided I’d like to find a quote by Nelson Mandela. When I found this quote, I realized the earlier prompt regarding dancing just might have been Spirit led after all.

“It is music and dancing that makes me at peace with the world, and at peace with myself.”
— Nelson Mandela

I’ve been using the phrase a lot lately, “putting feet to our prayers.” Today, I’m saying, “Let’s put dancing feet to our prayers.” Dance alone to be at peace with yourself so you can then bring that peaceful spirit to others. Dance with someone in solidarity. Dance with someone you have not yet found a way to engage with relationally. Dance with someone as a first step to dialogue.

As for me, I’m declaring tonight at The Merge Coffeehouse a night for dancing together. If you’re in the area, come dance with me. If you don’t live nearby, create a dance party of your own. Let’s dance to set our hearts free. Let’s dance for peace.

And for a more philosophical look at the effects of Mandela’s dancing, and the power of dance in general …

A Prayer Prompt As We Continue to Pray for Ferguson

Notes/disclaimers/ground-rules before you read this prayer prompt:

1) This kept coming to mind yesterday, but I hesitated to post because I really want it to spark personal prayer and not discussion or debate. So, please, know the purpose is NOT to have you post your responses here, but to ponder your response before the Lord today.
2) Despite yesterday’s hesitations, it continues to come to mind, so I’m posting despite the fact that I’m not really sure about it.
3) This is not meant to promote any one position over another. It is meant as a prompt for each of us to lay our own hearts bare before the Lord.

So, with all that said, here’s the prayer prompt:

If it was actually possible for the truth of what happened in the Michael Brown shooting to be revealed with absolute certainty, but the truth was contrary to what you have been prone to believe … if that were the case, how would you FEEL? I’m not asking whether you would doubt the outcome. Remember, in this hypothetical scenario, the truth has been proven without a shadow of a doubt. I’m asking how you would feel if the truth was contrary to your current presuppositions.

Would you feel glad and relieved that truth was found and justice served? Would you be disappointed that this case no longer served an agenda you promote? How might your heart be changed? Could your heart be changed? How would you feel towards the people “on the other side” of the issue? Would you desire to tag on a “yeah, but …”?

Wondering if maybe this prayer approach will let us know if our hearts are truly seeking truth and justice … or something else.

Holy Spirit, please guide us into all truth (John 16:1-15) – especially to the truth in our own hearts.

Initial Prayer Thoughts after a Walk in Ferguson

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While participating in a march in Ferguson last night, I talked with five or six different young people. I asked two quick questions: 1) What do I need to know? and 2) What do I need to do?

Here are their responses:

1) What I need to know –

“We’re living in prison.”

“We’re all in this together.”

2) What I need to do –

“Speak”

“Pray”

“You’re doin’ it.”

“Walk with us.”

My mind and heart are stirring following this event, and I will be writing more on this later. But for now, I want just give some thoughts for those who are praying with us here and in our Facebook prayer group.

As you pray, you might want to think about these things:

  • How will you help continue Christ’s mission to free the captives?
  • How will you show that we are all in this together? If you don’t believe this to be true, put that before the Lord in prayer.
  • Will you obey Proverbs 31:8-9 and “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy”? If you’re not sure how you can do this, pray for direction.
  • What can you DO? How can you walk with others in their struggles?

And for a more positive look at Ferguson, Missouri …

And for a more positive look at Ferguson, Missouri …

Amidst the chaos of recent events in Ferguson, MO, it is good to remember that this is occurring in a community filled with wonderful people. Please continue to pray that peace will be restored, justice will be served, and that we will come out of this a stronger community.

To join our Facebook prayer group, click here.

If you would like to join us in prayer for St. Louis …

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(image source)

I have started a Facebook page for those would like to join us in prayer for St. Louis, specifically regarding the recent events surrounding the death of Michael Brown. To see more details on this tragic event and the aftermath, see my earlier post or this recent news story. To join the Facebook prayer page, click here. I very much appreciate your prayers for this city that I love.

Justice AND Mercy, Truth AND Love

Justice AND Mercy, Truth AND Love

This video was a perfect backdrop to the prayer I shared earlier in regards to the issues we are facing here in North County, St. Louis in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown. So often we want only one component of God’s plan. We separate out things that should go together – Justice AND Mercy, Truth AND Love. We also separate ourselves from others based on which end of the spectrum we want to align ourselves with, but the ultimate answer lies in alignment with the fullness of God’s commands. Micah 6:8 follows the instructions to “do justice and love mercy” with “walk humbly with your God.” It is difficult for us to find the balance between extremes. That is why we must humbly acknowledge that God’s ways are better than our ways and seek His guidance in these times. The two sides will only come together when both acknowledge the need for both justice and mercy, both truth and love.