Monday, November 26, 2018

Rushing the Border

Wow. What do you do when hundreds of people rush the U.S. - Mexico border? It almost feels like the serfs storming the castle. Life is so much better inside those walls.

Looking at these families--climbing fences, choking on tear gas--I wonder what could possibly lead them to risk life and limb. How bad could their lives be to storm the gates of America?

I'm afraid that current political debate misses the bigger picture with this immigration crisis. Right now many want America to hold the border with brute force. Shut the gates. Arm the guards. Keep those foreigners out. This is our country. We get to decide who gets in. Deal with it.

But how can a country put that kind of policy into practice? We're already using tear gas. How long before someone gets shot? How long can we sustain such a policy?

Thousands want to flee Central American countries because conditions are so bad there. Whose fault is that? Does it matter whose fault it is?

Here are the big questions:
  • What American policies are harming conditions in Central America?
  • How is the U.S. propping up corrupt Central American governments?
  • What policies can we initiate that will enhance freedom and opportunity in those nations?
  • Can we take action without making things worse?
  • Can we free up the American private sector to bring jobs to Central America?
  • Will it take U.S. government action to improve conditions there?
  • What is our border really for?

These are people at the border. On both sides. These are not props for political object lessons. May we see some glorious, unexpected breakthrough in which love triumphs over hate.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Comparison and Competition

As I was shuttling a car load of 9th graders today, I imagined what they might be thinking. Some might regard themselves as "smart," others as "athletic," others as "shy." They -- because they are human -- see themselves in comparison to others. I found the desire to help them overcome their negative assumptions about themselves. I want them all to perceive themselves as smart. Unfortunately, the pool in which we find ourselves can affect how we feel about ourselves.

I can feel like the "athletic" one, when I'm surrounded by elderly people. I can feel like the "shy" one when surrounded by extroverts. Our feelings are shaped by our context. (I'm probably about average on both athleticism and shyness.)

Here I go, comparing myself to specific groups and types of people.

How can we know who we really are, if we don't compare ourselves to others? Who am I? and What am I like? are almost inseparable questions. And how can I know what I am like without comparing myself to others?

I'm starting to think that mature life begins when I get over comparing myself to others. The life I have is unique. Maybe the greatest challenge is to "be myself." It should not matter how other people's lives are turning out. I need to compare myself to God's ideal for me. Of course I will always fall short of God's ideal. But he transforms every shortcoming and sin into a way to make me better, a way to make me more like my true self.

But it's hard for Americans to get beyond the mindset of comparison. After all, we are competitors, us Americans, and competition is just comparison in the spotlight. Competition shapes everything in America. Headlines bear this out: elections, court decisions, sports, and  stock market reports. What are these but competitions? Even natural disasters are all a form of competition as we compete against nature for control. In the classroom students compete for grades; with the SATs they compete for coveted acceptance at elite or even mediocre schools. On Black Friday we compete to save the most money. What could be more horrific than paying 10% more than necessary for that thing?

I'm not against competition. I think it can bring out the best in us. But I think we let comparison and competition take way too much space in our souls. Comparison may help us improve, but it should not be the way we define ourselves.

Can you imagine God comparing our resum├ęs to see whom he likes best? Does it matter to him who is smartest? who has the most money? who has the most power? He loves us as we are, for who we are. He wants us to become more our true selves, because he wants us to experience fulfillment. We add in that stuff about being better than so-and-so.

So maybe freedom from the weight of comparison brings real life. And it takes traveling some miles and years to accept that freedom. I'm ready for real life and freedom.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Listening on Facebook

I'm preparing a sermon on listening, and I began to wonder, how do we listen these days? Unfortunately social media seems to be less about informing than venting.

Do you ever have your opinion changed because of your friends' posts? We all know people who vent, though. They find every chance to show how stupid other people are, especially those with whom they disagree.

What would happen if we took a deep breath while seeing that FB feed? What if we set aside our prejudices and actually listened to what people are saying?

I know what kinds of comments and articles most of my friends are likely to share. So when I see a post from "so and so," I know what to expect. The same old stuff they always share. I've seen enough of it that I don't need to see any more.

But what if I took another moment to listen to the heart of what is being shared? My friends don't post stuff because they are evil (I hope!). They usually post stuff because they care. By listening, I can come to understand why they care like they do.

Especially when someone is venting, they are showing that they care. Maybe they are misinformed. Maybe they have some less than noble agenda. But often people just want to be heard. They want someone to listen to what they say, and perhaps engage meaningfully with their ideas.

We could use a whole lot more "listeners" in social media.