We have lots and lots of beggars, if you will, who frequent the main intersections along the highway frontage road near our house. Usually I try to keep a few bucks handy, and if traffic lights and timing allow, I’ll hand it out the window, as I pass by, to the waiting hand on the other side. One day my daughter Shelby and I were sitting at the red light when I said out loud, mostly to myself, “I have no money on me.” I glanced over at Shelby (then 16 years old) who without saying a word, was quietly rummaging through her own wallet, and promptly withdrew $5 of her meager babysitting earnings. I told her that she didn’t have to give that much, but she shrugged her shoulders and gladly passed it over to me. I think her heart was breaking for that guy who asked for money. And if mine wasn’t before we stopped at the traffic light, it certainly was now. Shelby’s generosity and compassion did not require an application, a questionnaire or any prior knowledge of that man’s life situation. Her heart took over, and she acted on it. That’s what a broken heart does. It acts. Maybe that doesn’t always happen by giving money. It could be time, food, talents, coffee, smiles, hugs, or just your availability. But I hope first of all that your heart breaks for something, for someone! And second of all, I hope when it does, you act on it. Sometimes my heart breaks for a friend who is going through a tough time with their child (lots of empathy going on here) and I am compelled to send them a note of encouragement, reminding than that God is their provider and their safety net. Sometimes my heart breaks for teenagers (a lot of the time) who seem to be bent on a path of destruction and often seem to think that a relationship with a boyfriend or a girlfriend is going to solve all of their problems, when really what they crave is a relationship with a parent who takes the time to help them navigate these impressionable years with love and accountability. Sometimes I just look into the faces of students when I am substitute teaching in school or when teaching a college class, and my heart breaks for all the stories in that room to which I am not privy. Sometimes the only way I can “act” on that heartbreak is to treat them with respect and offer them a reassuring smile. Sometimes my heart breaks when I see that same woman at that same intersection with that same sign asking for help. She’s about my age. But she’s much taller. Her hair always seems dirty, and her face always seems to be lined with worry. That face stays with me in my mind’s eye long after I pass by. My heart breaks when I read about young girls abducted into sexual slavery, taken By force from their homes and their mothers. My heart breaks when I visit the nursing home on a local mission with my church, and elderly faces stare up at you with gratitude for taking only 3 hours out of an entire month to listen to their stories. Incredible stories of loss, love, joy, war, heroism, and hard work! Yet they are grateful to me-for what? For taking 2 or 3 measly hours away from the hustle and bustle of my comfy life to visit with them. My heart breaks. If your heart never breaks, you should ask yourself one simple question. “Why not?” Not always, but sometimes this invincible heart is facilitated by one or two overriding factors. The first is “I’m too busy with my own life, to have a broken heart over someone else’s!” And secondly, we pass judgement quickly, and abruptly then bypass our hearts all together. We often act as judge and jury over someone’s life even when we often know very little about them. But when we do, the judgement is pronounced and no mercy is forth given. Common statements to this effect might include, “He asked for that!” “She had it coming!” Regardless of the reason, when our heart fails to break, we fail to act. And regardless of the reasons-in that moment-no one-not anybody is more undeserving than we are of a hot meal, a warm bed, fresh water, protection, a listening ear, hope, inspiration, or help. Being a good steward of our money and our time, while having compassion and generosity for others can indeed coexist. We build big beautiful houses, and then use them only for ourselves. We drive cars that cost as much as a small house, and yet are unwilling to part with either our money OR our time for those less fortunate. Well, perhaps-unless we know a LOT about them and their life situation! There’s more than enough hurt in this world to go around. There is no shortage of opportunities to lend a hand or a dollar. The only way I know how to deal with a broken heart is to help mend someone else’s. Try emptying your mind of all of your preconceived notions about who is and who is not deserving. Free yourself of the self-imposed restrictions hindering you from meeting someone’s need. The end result could be life changing for someone, maybe even you.
“The crowd protesting Saturday recited the pledge of allegiance, and many offered prayers. Others waved placards reading, “This land is your land,” and “We teach our children not to bully. How do we teach our government not to be big bullies?” according to ABC News. Let me get this straight, you wield weapons, intimidating and threatening the lives of federal agents carrying out their sworn duties, and you say THIS is a lesson for your kids on how NOT to bully, as you (the parent) epitomize and define the very essence of bullying in your protest. And THEN YOU are going to suggest that this was a peaceful first amendment protest? How do you reconcile the freedom of speech and to assemble protected in the first amendment, with bringing mass numbers of semi automatic weapons to the protest? Can the two coexist at one event? Or wouldn’t it be true that as a protester you are threatening the sacredness of the first amendment by combining it with your second amendment? Is it really a peaceful assembly at that point? I don’t think so. And when you are there NOT for the set purpose of protesting, BUT RATHER, the purpose of preventing the government from carrying out their sworn duties? That’s-well-illegal. The right to free assembly and freedom of speech does not in ANY way, give Americans the right to “obstruct justice” or interfere with an ongoinig investigation. When we do, we are subject to arrest and jail time. Period. And when a Republican governor has this to say, it is a sad commentary on his unwillingness to denounce the illegal and gross misconduct taken by his Nevada citizens: “The safety of all individuals involved in this matter has been my highest priority. Given the circumstances, today’s outcome is the best we could have hoped for. I appreciate that the Department of the Interior and the BLM were willing to listen to the concerns of the people of Nevada.” Really? He says that as if “the people of Nevada” had been in diplomatic discussions all day in a meeting with coffee and donuts. But that’s not true. The “Nevada people” were out brandishing their weapons, breaking the law-obstructing justice. Not to mention, making blatant and flagrant claims that they were willing to use those weapons against innocent employees of the government if they didn’t get their way. Well, get their way they DID. Furthermore, ZERO admonishing on the part of Governor Sandoval for his state’s citizens to go home and leave the federal agents to do their job was forthcoming. In this country we have an adversarial system. It’s named, in short and in simple terms, the American legal process. What that means, is if you are an American citizen you always have a way to appeal decisions by the government, a right that is unheard of in many many countries around the world. Mr. Bundy and his militia friends have chosen not to pursue this legal course of action that is available to them and what has been used successfully for hundreds of years to impact and change multiple political and social issues. Instead, they have chosen to stage a coup more or less and overthrow the Bureau of Land management. Was there a moral basis for this act of violence and rebellion? Had the BLM been threatening lives of citizens? No. Had they been accepting bribes and practicing open corruption? Not by any reports or accounts! Were they doing ANYTHING that might demand such interference and bullying on the part of concerned citizens? No, they were just carrying out their sworn duties under the umbrella of the same adversarial system that grants the defendant the right of appeal. No indeed. The federal government first ordered Cliven Bundy to remove his cattle in 1998. They have made repeated efforts, seeking his legal and peaceful compliance with the law for over 16 long years! But apparently, unlike other ranchers in the area, Cliven Bundy is above the law. “This is a matter of fairness and equity, and we remain disappointed that Cliven Bundy continues to not comply with the same laws that 16,000 public-lands ranchers do every year. After 20 years and multiple court orders to remove the trespass cattle, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million. The BLM will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially,” BLM Chief Kornze. I think Governor Sandoval is an embarrassment to the Republican party as much as Vance McAllister and his staffer affair could ever hope to be. When a governor (as well as state congressmen) give their blessing to the grossly inappropriate actions of red neck bullies, (think two year olds with weapons) it’s embarrassing to his political party. This whole event and public display of insolence should be embarrassing and mortifying to all of us as citizens. If you are a Christian, it should be equally mortifying every time one of the militia men recites a prayer!
If you are a proponent of prayer in school, but never pray at home or with your children, don’t talk to me. If you believe the bible should be taught in school, but never read the bible at home, don’t talk to me. If you think the bible should be the guiding principles in our country, but you never apply timeless biblical principles to your own life, or that of your children’s’ lives, don’t talk to me. You have heard it said, “some talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.” This directly applies here. If you have a bumper sticker that says “Abortion kills! What part of kill don’t you understand?” your ability to be a loving and caring Christ-like example to an unwed pregnant girl, could be in question. If you have a Christian fish on your car, and then speed through a parking lot while honking wildly at the elderly lady trying to park her vehicle, lose the fish! We live in a culture that easily disconnects their actions and words from what they proclaim to believe! It’s easy for all of us to talk more than we listen. Not only is this true of us individually, but it is also true of our political representation. Unfortunately, we are very keen on pointing out this shortcoming when it comes to our elected officials, but much less likely to see the truth of it in our own lives. Finally, it is especially sad and misleading when Christians choose to talk a talk that they just don’t walk. So back to the beginning of this messy blog. Issues like prayer in school, teaching from the bible, and the public display of the Ten commandments are all issues that in the last 20 or so years have often been at the forefront of town hall meetings, school board agendas and congressional lobbying. Many well-meaning and well-intentioned Christians have carried the torch on such issues as getting prayer back in school, creationism taught in the science curriculum and often feel insulted when they feel like Christianity is not accommodated either in politics or policy, or in the public venue in a way they think it should be. We have an organization/club at our junior high called “Cats for Christ.” This group conducts seemingly wonderful events like public “prayer at the flag pole.” My girls (the two who attended this school) never chose to participate in this club in spite of their own Christian faith. We were discussing it one day, and they were very frank in saying, “the kids we know who are members of this group,” commonly drop expletives in the hallways, treat others rudely, and have a general display of behavior that is absolutely contrary to the principles outlined in “Cats for Christ!” Of course no one is perfect, but consistent patterns of negative behavior with no appearance of regret or apology-let’s face it-probably isn’t who you want representing an organization that is supposed to point people to Christ, NOT confuse his message and mar his image.
But maybe a fresh look at real statistics of Christian adults and parents, might shed some light on why the actions of Christian junior high students in this particular situation IS what it is. One “Bible Engagement” study of 2900 Protestant Christians, revealed that 90% of those polled, “desire to please God,” but only a mere 19% of them actually admit to reading the bible daily or with any regularity whatsoever. (Christianity Today 9/7/2012). Another similar study concluded that of over 2 billion confessing Christians in this world, less than 30% will ever read through the entire bible. “The fact is over 82% of Christian Americans only read their bibles while in church on Sunday.” (Ponce Foundation 2013) And since in my own church on Sundays, I virtually never see a single parishioner carrying a bible, I am assuming that latter statement means they are either reading the bible from their electronic device in church (great resource) or (what is more likely), they are reading the scriptures on the projection screen referenced there by the pastor.
Another poll of Christians (evangelical and otherwise) reports on average, annual giving of only 2.4% of their income to the church! Some quick and simple math of my own family finances, revealed that just our monthly cable/internet and telephone/cell phones total about 2% of our income. Throw in a few coffee shop splurges, discretionary spending on entertainment and extra curricular activities for our kids, and the percentage of our disposable income DISPOSED on something other than charitable giving, becomes much much higher than the 2.4% donated on average by Christians. Lest you think this is only about church tithing, average charitable contribution By Americans (church giving or otherwise) according to their Federal tax returns filed in 2011 was about 2.1 percent of income. In actual dollars, the average was well less than $1200 per household, a number far far below what the majority of us spend on gourmet coffees, fast food, cable tv and data plans every year! (Urban Institute National Center for Charitable Statistics, November 2013) And what about serving others, sharing Jesus through selfless acts of love and benevolence? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 just a mere 1/4 (25.2%) of ALL Americans (Christians and others) volunteer their time throughout the year in some capacity. While it’s true that a large number of that 25% are “church goers,” it follows that well less than 1/4 of All Americans serving as volunteers in any capacity are actually Christians.
And those are individual statistics. Perhaps you are relying on your government’s efforts to spread the love of Jesus, particularly those of us who live in politically conservative states touting family values as paramount. In Texas, in spite of an often prolific political platform of conservative Christian principles, they still have the 3rd largest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. (Huffington Post March 19, 2014). Recently (2013-2014), Texas lawmakers have attempted to legislate an enormous decrease in the number of abortion clinics in the state. However, the number of state supported pregnancy crisis centers (many of them faith-based) supposedly offering girls and women alternatives to abortion have been riddled with problems. An independent study cited multiple violations ranging from safety to breaching of client privacy, while at the same time, little attention was allocated to the medical or emotional needs of their clients. Subcontractors at these centers often work in “counselor” positions that require no special training or certification. (ThinkProgress.org 2011) In my own beloved Sooner state of Oklahoma, a marriage initiative launched by a very conservative state government to combat divorce and strengthen families in Oklahoma, has, by all perceivable accounts, been an epic fail. After 14 years and 70 million dollars, divorce increased to 13.5% in 2012 up from 11.6% in the year 2000. There is a state contracted company who made a LOT of money from this initiative. However, Oklahoma still has the 3rd highest divorce rate in the country (Oklahoma Watch November 2013) And that-in spite of its geographical position, squarely centered in the middle of the traditional American bible belt!
What’s the answer? The answer has always been the same. It has never changed. Jesus! But how we message that to others, could prove to be either helpful or hateful! Bill Hybels said “The local church is the hope of the world!” I believe that could be your Protestant church, Parrish, synagogue, and most certainly your home. The church is not a building. The English word “church” comes from the Greek word kyriakos, “belonging to the Lord” (kyrios). Its defined as “an assembly, congregation, church; the Church, the whole body of Christian believers.”
Remember the study earlier discussed on “Bible Engagement?” Lifeway Christian Resources concluded that such an engagement with the bible was correlated to “Having been discipled or mentored one-on-one by a more spiritually mature Christian.” It’s authentic relationships and daily spiritual disciplines that are going to compel us to serve others, give our money to the needy, love the unlovely, and give hope to the hopeless. This kind of religion can not be legislated. It cannot be canned into a program or sustained by your school board or town hall. And it cannot, by any measure, be mercilessly hammered into the heads and hearts of the opposition by a Christian who has not applied biblical principles and teaching in his/her own life. LifeWay president Ed Stetzer says “Bible engagement points people toward maturity and maturing Christians have practices that correspond to Bible reading. Almost all churchgoers want to honor God, but more than a third indicate obedience is not something they have done when it is costly to them.”
I know the way I started this blog, seemed harsh, but I am inclined to end it the same way. If you have fish on your car or a cross on your wall, or a bumper sticker that confuses Christianity with condemnation, and yet you don’t feel the need to seek God with your family inside the very confounds of your home or in serving your own community, don’t talk to me about your right to pray at the football game on Friday night. At some point, we have divorced ourselves from common sense Christianity, from grace and mercy- and instead have aligned ourselves with politics inside and outside of the church. I don’t really care if you pray out loud at school. But I do care if you pray at home with your family. It’s time as Christians we lead the charge in applying the scripture to our own life. Get a mentor. Be a mentor. Start practicing in your own daily life, in your marriage, and with your children what you claim you believe.
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” Ecclesiastes 4:9
My best friends aren’t my best friends because they make me feel good about myself-at least not all the time. Over the years I’ve been told by my best friends: “You really are kind of hard on your kids.” “He’s your husband Judy. His needs are as important as yours.” “You might want to pick your battles and decide if that’s a hill you really want to die on.”(parenting and marriage) “You need to be quiet and listen sometime.” “You should think about the concequences of your actions if you take that route.” In a world of very confusing messages on the expectations of motherhood, marriage, and the workplace, it’s often difficult to glean the good from the garbage; the cream from the crop; or the truth from the fiction. So that being said, it follows that surrounding yourself with one, two, or three well rounded, wise, imperfect but learned women, is unequivocally important for separating the truth in our lives from the lies which we can otherwise easily believe about ourselves and our present circumstances. On its face, this sounds like a plausible concept. Yes, cultivate a few close BFF’s so I can receive my daily affirmation. But the flip side of this storied union of gal pals, is the pervading question: Can you take it when they are not necessarily “affirming” you? Can you accept constructive criticism from someone you know and trust? True acceptance of critism is illustrated by a subsequent response of serious deliberation, and if neccesay, action taken as a result of the criticism. When my sister expressed her veiw, over a perceived lack of respect on my part for my husband’s feelings and position on a matter in our marriage, it wasn’t at all what I beleived she would say or what I wanted to hear. But as I mulled it over in my mind, this is what I did know about the source of the criticism: 1 This person has no hidden agendas. 2 This person cares for me unconditionally.
3 This person has my best interests at heart. 4 This person isn’t trying to fortify her own position in my life or in the given situation. (a personal agenda) In fact, if anything, when a true “best friend” meets the 1st three criteria of this “measuring stick,” it’s highly likely that she knows she’s risking her relationship with you. She is taking a chance and trusting that you will, in turn, trust what you know about her, and therefore listen to her with that credibility in mind. So the next time you have a friend say something critical to you, first make a conscious decision to explore the truth in the criticism. Apply the measuring stick above. If you know or believe in your heart that the advice giver has an ulterior motive for taking this opposite stance, then glean what you can from her observations. Don’t respond in kind, meaning don’t respond to what you perceive as ill intent on her part. But consider this: while she may not be the person in whom you can put your trust for sound advice when the road is tough, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something about yourself from what she said. But on the other hand, if your friend really does meet all three criteria on our measuring stick of credibility, and you Still choose to NOT listen to her, much less act on anything she says, then you might consider the possibility that you are unteachable. That is a strong word I know. However, over the years of my single, married, parenting life, and in the workplace, I have had my own share of unteachable moments.
Finally, if all you ever hear from your “besties,” is how much they totally agree with you, how wonderful you are as a parent, employee or spouse, then you might consider diversifying your relationship investments so to speak. Maybe you should invest some time cultivating a relationship with someone who has a proven track record of making mistakes and learning from them-someone who is full of humility and grace. These women can teach me a lot.
Okay, the truth is my best friends do hold me accountable. I fully trust and know if I left my husband, or dropped the proverbial ball drastically in parenting, they would be the first to call me (or tackle me) look me in the eye, and say “What the heck is going on?” And it’s highly unlikely that would be in a text message! Furthermore, if they knew something about my kid that I did not know, i.e inappropriate posting on social networking, or inexcusable behavior away from home, I would fully expect them to fill me in! BUT they are also the very first to comfort and affirm me. Remember the measuring stick? People who love us hold us accountable. So it just goes without saying, they will affirm and validate me as well.
None of us are an island unto ourselves. As much as I think I want to be sometimes, it’s not how God created me. I need my friends, and my friends need me. My family needs then to be in my life as well. And I need then to speak into the lives of my daughters with both their words and their actions. I am a better person-not perfect by any measuring stick-but better mom, wife, employee, thanks to their input. My best friends are made up of equal doses of love and truth, the two ingredients needed to make a great friend. They challenge me to be a better human being.