Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Donald Miller on Bullies

Photo Credit: Working Word
Author Donald Miller provides some good advice on how we should filter our relationships with others. Here he comments on bullies:
"The quickest way to identify a bully is to notice what a person laughs at. Bullies do not laugh at themselves, they laugh at others. If somebody makes fun of others but isn’t self deprecating, they’re a taker and not a giver. Ever heard a loud-mouth political talk-show host make a self-deprecating joke? Most likely not. Bullies make great radio-show hosts, for sure. I keep my distance from people who can’t laugh at themselves and have zero friends who aren’t objective about themselves and others. There’s an entire Pandora’s box that goes along with this personality and I’m not interested. If you have friends who are bullies, it may be because they “protect” you in some way. I’d keep my distance all the same. Bullies protect others on the condition that others submit. That’s an unhealthy relationship. Get some strength and learn to protect yourself. You don’t need them to do that for you."
To read more of Donald's thoughts on filtering relationships as it pertains to false victims and the overly religious please click here.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why I Care About The Death of Trayvon Martin

Photo Credit: werthmedia
Trayvon Martin is dead and he should still be alive. He should be experiencing what other kids his age are going through now. Looking to finish high school. Getting prepared to go to college. Spending time with his friends and family.

But he doesn't get to do any of those things because a self-appointed protector of his community felt that Trayvon was "suspicious" and caused an encounter that led to the death of this 17-year-old young man.

first wrote about this story two weeks ago, days before it became a national headline. My home is about a half-hour from where Trayvon's death took place and this tragedy has hit close to home for me, both literally and figuratively.

I'm a Christian who is a white evangelical and those like me have been accused of not caring about the death of Trayvon. But I do care. I haven't remained quiet about this and I won't remain silent about it until Trayvon's killer is brought to justice. If our "Stand Your Ground" law says that a man can ignore the instructions of the police, kill an unarmed young man that was doing nothing wrong and not be arrested, then that law needs to be changed.

I care about the death of Trayvon because I've invested most of my adult life in young men just like Trayvon and I'm sick and tired of black men being targeted as criminals for no other apparent reason than they have brown skin.

I care about the death of Trayvon because I've heard too many horror stories from African American friends of having store employees confront them about stealing merchandise or squad cards surrounding them or guns pulled on them because they "fit the description."

I care about the death of Trayvon because I'm appalled of how black life is devalued in our culture and how the benefit of the doubt is given to the criminal rather than the victim.

I care about the death of Trayvon because I'm weary of my Christian brothers and sisters saying they care about injustice in other parts of the world while ignoring the injustices within our own communities.

I care about the death of Trayvon because of the way our society often assumes that black men are "up to no good" in ways that those that look like me aren't.

I care about the death of Trayvon because "flour bombing" a Reality TV starlet leads to an immediate arrest but killing a kid does not.

I care about the death of Trayvon because I have sons that like Skittles and wear hoodies and a man that killed someone not much older than them is somewhere on the loose in the area in which I live.

I care about the death of Trayvon because although I identify in many ways with the black community, I realize that the color of my skin affords me privileges that I have not earned nor deserve and I am spared from certain realities that I will never have to experience.

I care about the death of Trayvon because I realize that this case is about more than one lost life, as tragic as that is. It represents countless numbers of African Americans who were denied "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in a country that supposedly treats everyone as equals.

I care about the death of Trayvon because those that I love care about the death of Trayvon.

I care about the death of Trayvon because I'm a follower of Jesus and my God cares deeply about injustice -- no matter who is experiencing it.

I care about the death of Trayvon Martin. Will you care, too?

If you want to let your voice be heard, join me and over 1.5 million who have signed the petition asking for justice for Trayvon. You can sign the petition here.

Asians Are Fastest Growing Racial Group in U.S.

Photo Credit: centinel
From Yahoo News:
"Asians are the fastest growing race group in the United States, reflecting a surge in immigration from the entire region over a decade, the US Census Bureau said Tuesday. 
As part of an ongoing analysis of the data it reaped from its 2010 census, the federal agency said those who identified themselves as Asian alone, and not mixed race, grew by 43.3 percent from a decade earlier. 
That was more than four times faster than the rate of growth for the overall US population, which grew 9.7 percent in the same period to 308,745,538. Some 14.7 million people, or 4.8 percent of the total population, identified themselves as Asian alone. Another 2.6 million, or 0.9 percent, said they were Asian in combination with another race group, most commonly white. 
"Net international migration is the biggest component of the change in the Asian population," Elizabeth Hoeffel, a statistician in the Census Bureau's population division, told reporters in a conference call. 
For statistical purposes, the United States defines an Asian as someone "having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent."
Those who identified themselves as either Asian alone or Asian mixed with another race grew by at least 30 percent in all states except Hawaii, where they already made up a majority of the population."
Please click here to read the complete post.

(h/t to Holly Sheldon for the link.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

American Churches & Giving

Photo Credit: oblivion9999
Here are some eye-opening numbers about churches in the United States, our current giving patterns and the potential for where our resources could go.

Taken from MagSays:

The Problem That Currently Exists In American Churches
  • Christians are giving at a 2.5% per capita or tithe.  During the Great Depression, they gave at a 3.3% rate.
  • Today, 33-50% of church members, those who claim they have bought in at a deep level to your ministry, give nothing.
  • If we were able to have our people increase their giving from 2.5% to 10% of their annual income, an additional $165 billion would flow into the Kingdom.  
To show the global impact those resources could make, consider the following:
  • $25 billion would relieve global hunger, starvation, and deaths from preventable diseases in 5 years.
  • $12 billion would eliminate illiteracy in 5 years.
  • $15 billion would solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.
  • $1 billion would fully fund the Great Commission.$100 – $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion.
NOTE: the source of these statistics were provided by www.generouschurch.com.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

What The Kony 2012 Video Got Right

Photo Credit: k-ideas
A couple of weeks ago, most of us didn't know who Joseph Kony was, nor were we aware of all that has been going on in Uganda and the surrounding African countries in recent years. But due to a clever marketing effort and a well-made video, tens of millions of people were exposed to a campaign "to end Africa's longest-running armed conflict." (~ from Invisible Children)

The Kony 2012 video, which was uploaded to YouTube on March 5, 2012, has over 81,000,000 YouTube views as of this post. That is a staggering number for a video that has only been up for less than two weeks.

Since this video went viral, there has been a number of concerns raised about the Kony 2012 efforts. Questions have been brought forth concerning the veracity of the facts presented in the video, where the money is going that is raised and whether this approach is the best way to help the people of that region of Africa.

Since I don't know enough about Invisible Children or the current realities in the areas which Kony's reach has spread, I won't attempt to pontificate on this organization or the work being done in Uganda and nearby countries. I will leave that to those that are much more familiar with the situation than I am.

What I would like to do is draw out some principles from the video for those of that serve in the non-profit world and consider how those principles might apply to the work that we do.

Here is what I think the Kony 2012 video got right:
1. A need is exposed. People are being killed. Children are being enlisted to fight in the army at a young age. Terror is ravaging a country. These were the types of things that were highlighted in the video. We live in a world of injustice and sin and surfacing a specific need in a specific place for a specific people captures the heart of those that care about wrongs in the world. 
2. The need is personalized. Filmmaker Jason Russell, who narrated the film, introduces us to his son Gavin and shares some of the story through his eyes. He then lets us meet Jacob, a Ugandan young man whose family has been affected by Kony's army. For those of us on another continent, these brutalities may be too distant to really hit home for us. But realizing that it is children that are suffering and to be able to meet one of those children helps our hearts to become engaged in the story. 
3. A solution is offered. Stop Joseph Kony by letting everyone in the world know who he is and what he has done. The video tells us that if Kony (and others like him) can be stopped from the reigns of terror, than children will stop suffering and the world will be a better place for future generations.  
4. People of influence are invited to become part of the solution. Termed in the video as "Culture Makers" and "Policy Makers", key celebrities and politicians are targeted to use their influence to let the world know about the Kony 2012 campaign. By strategically targeting these influential people, the word spreads rapidly, seemingly overnight. 
5. WE are invited to become part of the solution. Buy an action kit and wear a bracelet. Tell some friends. Give a few bucks. Spread the word in your community. The video doesn't just expose the need and offer a solution, it tells us that we can play a part. It tells us that we can change the world if we all do what we can.
The effectiveness of the Kony 2012 campaign has yet to be determined. Mammoth amounts of YouTube views doesn't necessarily result in changing the world. Piano playing cats and double rainbows can tell us that. And the concerns about the video need to be addressed before many people will engage beyond watching the video or tweeting about the campaign.

However, there's much that can be learned with the approach that has been taken here as it relates to whatever cause we are each a part of. That doesn't necessarily mean that we all need to make a slick 30 minute video. But we can apply some of the principles contained in the video for the causes that we feel most passionately about.

Friday, March 09, 2012

If This Young Man Was White, Would He Still Be Alive?

Photo Credit: hsivonen
In a central Florida community not far from where I live, a young African American man was killed apparently for WWB (Walking While Black). Trayvon Martin, who was in from south Florida visiting his father's fiancée and her family, was killed by a man who is head of the neighborhood watch group in the community in which Trayvon was visiting.

The Orlando Sentinel shares some of the story:
"At the news conference, the family's lawyers said Trayvon was simply walking back to the apartment he was visiting when Zimmerman, a man with no legal authority to detain him, confronted and killed him. 
[Family lawyer Benjamin] Crump called Zimmerman a "loose cannon" and accused him of shooting Martin in "cold blood." Zimmerman, who is white, had spotted Trayvon, who is black, in his gated community about 7:15 p.m. and called Sanford police on a non-emergency number, saying he'd just seen a suspicious person, both sides agreed. 
That call then ended and police dispatched an officer. Before the officer arrived, the department received several other 911 calls from people complaining about two men fighting and a gunshot. Both sides agree that Trayvon and Zimmerman scuffled before the shooting, and there is evidence to corroborate Zimmerman's self defense claims, the chief said. 
When police arrived, an officer overheard Zimmerman complain, "'I was yelling for someone to help me but no one would help me,'" according to an incident report released Thursday. It also noted that, the back of Zimmerman's shirt was wet and had grass clippings on it, as if he'd been on his back on the ground. On one recorded 911 call, the police chief said, "You can hear the struggle and the gunshot." 
At the news conference, the family's attorneys said there was nothing suspicious about Trayvon and no reason for Zimmerman to follow him. Martin was an invited guest, visiting his father's fiancée and her family for a few days, they said. He had visited before, and it was a community with black and minority residents."
As much progress as we've made in this country in regard to race relations, there are still reminders like the tragic loss of this young man that demonstrate that we have yet to arrive. We don't know yet exactly what happened in this situation but if initial indications prove true, then this may turn out to be yet another example of an innocent young man losing his life for no apparent reason.

To read more of the Sentinel's report on this developing story please click here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Christianity, Truth & Having an Open Mind

Photo Credit: kurichan+
From Morgan Guyton:
"Epistemic closure is a recently defined philosophical term that describes someone who is so thoroughly encased in the echo chamber of their own ideology that they are completely immune to considering other viewpoints. The term is derived from the Greek word pistis which means faith or trust. When people live in epistemic closure, they are immune to integrity because they only trust people who already agree with their ideology. They scan potential sources of information for the presence of code words that indicate whether or not the speaker can be trusted as a member of their own ideological tribe. As a pastor communicating in our “post-truth” environment of ideological tribalism, I try to be very attuned to both the code words that make me trustworthy and those that instantaneously discredit everything I have to say.

Part of the reason that many people today live in epistemic closure is because we no longer have a Walter Cronkite or Tom Brokaw whom everybody trusts to give us the facts without taking sides. Objectivity is no longer considered a possibility; thus the world becomes “post-truth.” There are only ideologies that must be defended or deconstructed. There is only FOX and MSNBC; every other source of information is a more or less subtle version of one or the other. Underlying today’s anti-truthful world, Christianity paradoxically provides both the source of epistemic closure as well as the means by which people can transcend it. 
There are two things about the way that Christianity defines itself that can contribute to the phenomenon of epistemic closure. First, Christianity is a religion of people who expected to be persecuted: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). 
Second, Christianity is based upon a paradoxical wisdom that appears foolish to the wisdom of the world: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). 
These two passages happen to be two of my favorites in the Bible. They are immensely empowering and comforting to people who actually suffer persecution (which is different than people who proclaim their own persecution as part of a political strategy). Christianity is without a question supposed to be a home for outsiders — people who are foolish, weak, and hated by the world. But we should not turn around and make these words of comfort into a prescription for anti-social behavior. These verses are not saying that discipleship is measured by the degree to which we strive to provoke the world’s hatred, like the Westboro Baptist Church that pickets soldiers’ funerals with their strange, awful signs. 
It is easy to turn these words of comfort which are part of the legitimate core of Christianity into the justification for epistemic closure. If the world is supposed to hate us, then any criticism or ideological conflict we encounter is redefined as “persecution,” which means that we don’t have to take it seriously. The world simply hates us; we don’t have to consider why. If Christian truth is supposed to be “foolishness” to the world, then the measure of how bold a person is in embracing Christian truth is how anti-intellectual that person is willing to be. When you think you are supposed to feel persecuted and foolish, it’s easy to embrace epistemic closure and immunize yourself against the possibility of considering other perspectives."
To read the rest of the post please click here

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Myth Of Black Beauty

Photo Credit: mp3waxx.com
From Allison Samuels:
"Skin color and its importance around the world—and particularly in the African-American community—has been a hot-button issue for generations. The debate over skin color and its painful origins dates back to the days of slavery, when lighter skin often equaled a better overall quality of life. With more pronounced European features, bearers of a lighter complexion were also considered more attractive than their darker-skinned peers. Possessing this trait was believed to open the cracked doors of opportunity ever wider. 
Attitudes haven’t veered very far from that notion, says noted character actor (Predator, American Gigolo) and film producer Bill Duke. The veteran Hollywood actor recently produced and directed the haunting documentary Dark Girls, which examines the lives of African American women whose dark skin tones often have no “true match” when they approach the cosmetics counters. 
“In the 1960s they did a test on young black girls by showing them dolls of all colors,’’ says Duke. “Each time they were shown the dolls and asked which wasn’t pretty or smart, they pointed to the black doll—the one that looked most like them. They did that same test recently and the results were the same. What does that tell you?’’ 
The documentary features heartbreaking personal accounts by women dismissed as unattractive and unworthy based on mainstream ideals of beauty. One young woman painfully describes her own mother’s suggestion that she’d be even prettier with a lighter skin tone. Another discusses being bathed by her grandmother as a child with lye soap in an effort to lighten her complexion. 
Duke stresses the African American community’s continued confusion and denial of a bias toward darker-skinned African Americans by other African Americans. He suggests that the community’s message will only foster feelings of low self-esteem and rejection among future generations. 
“I’m a dark-skin man, so I know the mean and ugly things said to me by other black people,’’ says Duke. “Then I had to watch my sister and now my young nieces face the same thing. We shouldn’t be here, but we are. We have to practice a self love with being black, no matter what that black may look like."
To read the complete article please click here.

Friday, March 02, 2012

A Missionary Call For All Christians

Photo Credit: rimabek
Robert Speer was a leader of The Student Volunteer Movement that began in the late 1800's and continued onto the mid 1900's. Speer's commitment to world missions and his faithful calling of others to this noble pursuit is admirable.

He had the following to say when asked how someone could know they had a special call from God to go to the mission field:
"What constitutes a missionary call? It is a good sign that men ask this question. First, because it suggests that they think of the missionary enterprise as singularly related to the will of God. Second, because it indicates that they believe their lives are owned by a Person who has a right to direct them and whose call they must await. But when we have said these two things, I think we have said everything that can be said in favor of the question because, far too often, it is asked for thoroughly un-Christian reasons. 
For instance, Christians will pursue a profession here in the United States having demanded far less positive assurance that this is God's will than it is for them to go out into the mission field. But by what right do they make such distinctions? Christianity contends that the whole of life and all services are to be consecrated; no man should dare to do anything but the will of God. And before he adopts a course of action, a man should know nothing less nor more than that it is God's will for him to pursue it. 
If men are going to draw lines of division between different kinds of service, what preposterous reasoning leads them to think that it requires less divine sanction for a man to spend his life easily among Christians than it requires for him to go out as a missionary to the [lost]? If men are to have special calls for anything, they ought to have special calls to go about their own business, to have a nice time all their lives, to choose the soft places, to make money, and to gratify their own ambitions. 
How can any honest Christian say he must have a special call not to do that sort of thing? How can he say that, unless he gets some specific call of God to preach the Gospel to the [lost], he has a perfect right to spend his life lining his pockets with money? Is it not absurd to suggest that a special call is necessary to become a missionary, but no call is required to gratify his own will or personal ambitions? 
There is a general obligation resting upon Christians to see that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached to the world. You and I need no special call to apply that general call of God to our lives. We do need a special call to exempt us from its application to our lives. In other words, every one of us stands under a presumptive obligation to give his life to the world unless we have some special exemption. 
This whole business of asking for special calls to missionary work does violence to the Bible. There is the command, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." We say, "That means other people." There is the promise, "Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." We say, "That means me." We must have a special divine indication that we fall under the command; we do not ask any special divine indication that we fall under the blessing. By what right do we draw this line of distinction between the obligations of Christianity and its privileges? By what right do we accept the privileges as applying to every Christian and relegate its obligations to the conscience of the few?"
Of course, if all of us went to the mission field there would be no one left to help missionaries get to the field. So the question we have to ask ourselves as Christ-followers and as it pertains to world missions is this: Does God want me to go or does he want me to be someone that helps send others? May all those who call Christ Lord consider the role that He desires for them in the advancement of His kingdom.