Friday, February 27, 2015

The Driving Secret You Never Learned in School

Turn signals are counterproductive.

It's happened to everyone. You're stuck in heavy traffic, crawling a few inches an hour. Annoyed at everyone else on the road, you decide it's time to change lanes. Thankfully, the guy next to you seems nice. He left a small gap, basically inviting you to move in front of him. With a grin, you flick the turn signal. Then he quickly crushes all of your faith in humanity by tapping on the accelerator. Gap closed. Opportunity lost. Day ruined.

Don't worry. I've figured out how to solve this problem. Using my innovative strategy, I can freely change lanes in heavy traffic whenever I want. And this has been a closely guarded family secret.

Until now.

So buckle up (both figuratively and literally), and prepare yourself to be amazed:

  • STEP 1: Lower your sunglasses on your nose. Make them look like an old lady wearing reading glasses. Just trust me on this. It increases the effectiveness of what you're about to do.

  • STEP 2: Engage your turn signal. Why? Two reasons. First, it tests the character of the person next to you (Sorry optimists, but I'm basically guaranteeing they won't let you in). Second, it's the law. Cool people obey the law. 

  • STEP 3: Roll down your window. I don't care if it's January in Fargo - just do it. If you don't like the cold air, crank up the heat first. 

    • STEP 4: Increase the space between you and the car in front of you. But don't leave too much room. You wouldn't want to let anyone in front of you. Just leave enough space to safely execute the next few steps. 

      • STEP 5: Turn your head, and stick it slightly out the window. Be sure your sunglasses are still down on your nose. This is the key to making everything work. 

        • STEP 6: Quickly turn back, and look the other driver directly in the eyes. Give them one of those stern "let me in" looks. 

          • STEP 7: Keep staring, with your head slightly tilted down and your eyebrows raised. At this point, you'll notice the other driver pretend they don't see you. Why? They're embarrassed that you caught them intentionally keeping you from changing lanes. The overwhelming shame of this selfish decision is too much to bear. That means it's time to close the deal. 

            • STEP 8: Carefully stick your arm out the window, and point to that tiny space they've left. While your arm is out, quickly glance forward to make sure you're not going to crash. Then, turn back and give one more intense glare. The other driver will immediately act surprised to see you. Miraculously, they'll widen the gap and let you in. Some will even wave you over with a fake smile. 

              • STEP 9: Place your head and arm back inside the vehicle, and take your spot in the next lane. Once you've taken your rightful place, raise your right arm and give them a courtesy wave. This will make them feel like they did something generous.

                • VARIATION: If you've got someone in the passenger seat and need to move to the right, ask them to perform a variation of the above steps. Just have them add a little more emotion. Since they don't have to watch the road, they can afford the extra effort. 

                  • DISCLAIMER: I'm not responsible for any accidents caused by you doing this incorrectly. The technique above is designed for traffic jams only. Lesser variations should be applied to faster moving situations.

                  Your life has now changed for the better. Feel free to thank me in the comment section below. 

                  photo credit: IMG_7629 via photopin (license)

                  Thursday, January 1, 2015

                  Top 5 Blog Posts of 2014

                  Time flies when you're getting old.

                  I mean, we all know I don't look old. Still strikingly handsome and youthful at 35. But time seems to be constantly quickening. 2014 brought me a fifth child, a new job and another trip to Africa. In the midst of this, I managed to carve out the time to do a little writing.

                  And I'm truly grateful to all of you who've taken time out of your busy life to read, discuss and share my posts. Thank you so much! I'm looking forward to interacting with you more in 2015.

                  One of the more interesting exercises at the end of the year in blogging is analyzing which posts garnered the most traffic. With that in mind, here's my top 5 most popular posts of 2014:

                      1) 9 Questions Not to Ask Large Families

                      2) Two Words that Prove Racism Exists in the Church

                      3) An Impossible Choice

                      4) You Might Be Wrong about Ferguson, and Racism

                      5) The Struggle No Father Dares to Discuss

                  photo credit: Leo Reynolds via photopin cc

                  Tuesday, December 16, 2014

                  Ferguson: Think Biblically (A Panel Discussion)

                  It's time for Christians to have productive conversations about racism.

                  Recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York City exposed the open wound of racism in our society. Unfortunately, far too many followers of Jesus have allowed political pundits to dominate their thinking on this issue. And many white evangelicals continue to deny the need to address racism both in America and in the church.

                  In the midst of this, I've been doing my best to speak logically, compassionately and Biblically about the need for Christians to openly discuss racism and racial reconciliation.

                  On Tuesday, December 9th, it was my privilege to participate in a panel discussion at the Moody Bible Institute called "Ferguson: Think Biblically". This event was hosted by Moody's African American student group, "Embrace". I shared the stage with Moody Bible Institute professors Clive Craigen, Ernest Gray, and Angela Brown. You can listen to the entire event below (After introductions, the discussion begins at 13:43):

                  Tuesday, December 9, 2014

                  Don't Be Color Blind

                  Under normal circumstances, you wouldn't expect this to happen when 1,500 people gather for worship.

                  It shouldn't be dangerous. But on this particular night, the service ended with the congregation huddled in the basement fearing for their lives. You see, while they were listening to sermons and singing songs, an angry crowd gathered outside. Eventually, 3,000 white residents of Montgomery, Alabama surrounded the church and threatened to burn it down. Why? Among the worshipers were a small group of people known as "Freedom Riders". They tried to peacefully protest segregated Greyhound buses and bus stations throughout the south. They received a violent reception when they arrived in Montgomery by bus the day before.

                  Huddled in the basement, one of the speakers picked-up a telephone to call for help. But he didn't call the police. He didn't call the Governor of Alabama either. They probably wouldn't have responded. As bricks smashed through the basement windows and tear gas drifted in, Martin Luther King Jr. called U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for help. After a night of negotiation with authorities, Kennedy finally secured the safe release of the parishioners and the Freedom Riders around 4AM.

                  You may have slept through history class in high school, but God loves history. Even a casual reading of the Bible reveals the rich history of Israel, the Jewish people and the early church. Clearly God values history, and wants us to learn from it.

                  In order to fully understand the deep racial divide in America today, we must follow God's lead and consider the history behind it. Rather than re-taking high school history, let me give you a few relevant highlights.

                  Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation didn't really end slavery. After almost 250 years, slavery was finally abolished in the United States with the passage of the 13th Amendment on January 31st, 1865. At that moment, approximately 4 million people were suddenly released into a society that didn't want them. To make matters more complicated, 90 percent of the slave population was illiterate. Just imagine the challenge facing these battered families. After almost 10 generations of forced labor in brutal conditions, few had marketable skills outside of farm labor. Due to the color of their skin, none of them would be able to assimilate into an unwelcoming culture. It should come as no surprise that the Ku Klux Klan was launched in 1865 as well.

                  As if that wasn't bad enough, hope was dashed in the form of broken promises. Union General William T. Sherman issued a bold "Field Order" in January of 1865 that would allow freed slaves to occupy up to 40 acres of abandoned farm land on the Atlantic coast. President Andrew Johnson swiftly overturned that order less than a year later.

                  So there they were - 4 million black people with absolutely nothing in a country that viewed them as less than human. If only the justice system would persuade white Americans to accept these former slaves as equals. Unfortunately, it did the opposite.

                  Homer Plessy was a man ahead of his time. 27 years after the slaves were freed, Homer represented a group of individuals in an act of civil disobedience. They attempted to peacefully protest segregated rail cars in Louisiana. After purchasing a first class ticket, Homer walked onto a "whites-only" car and took a seat. His subsequent arrest ultimately resulted in a landmark 1896 Supreme Court decision. Plessy v. Ferguson established the "separate but equal" doctrine for society. It officially legalized the separation of black and white America. And the whole "equal" part was never realized. Instead, a series of Jim Crow laws systematically oppressed African Americans for another 69 years. 

                  So where do we fit into this story? While Martin Luther King Jr. was desperately pleading for Robert Kennedy's help in the basement of that Montgomery church, my dad was a 10 year old kid sleeping peacefully in his Minneapolis bed. When President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, dad was just two months shy of his 14th birthday .

                  Legalized segregation and discrimination simply wasn't that long ago.

                  So isn't it possible, or even probable, that the racial injustice that was woven into the very fabric of our continent for over 340 years could still persist in society today? Of course it is.

                  That's why I cringe whenever I hear someone talk about being "color blind". This seemingly noble proclamation denies the stark historical reality that black and white America developed within the same borders on distinctly different paths. One group established the government and mainstream culture. The other struggled to survive being shut-out of both.

                  This painful story isn't a scar to dwell on. Rather, it's a clear explanation for our current racial divide. And an opportunity for us to make the next chapter redemptive.

                  Progress requires spiritual answers. It also demands the good works described by James, the bold cross-cultural conversations modeled by Jesus, and the defense of the oppressed called for by God through Isaiah. If you choose color blindness, you choose stagnation. You choose historical ignorance. And you deny the culturally diverse reality that God created. Instead, choose to be empowered by history. Only then can you effectively be the Gospel in the midst of our divided culture today.

                  photo credit: *Seth via photopin cc

                  Thursday, December 4, 2014

                  You Might Be Wrong About Ferguson, and Racism

                  Does that title make you uncomfortable? Good.

                  Human nature leads us to people we trust for information. We all tend to create a small circle filled with experts that share our worldview. They think, act, and vote like us. They probably look like us too. This mutual admiration society feels good, because we agree on most things.

                  Unfortunately, this is a dangerous environment. It breeds an "us vs. them" mentality, and promotes a limited intellectual approach to life. Those truly interested in pursuing wisdom and knowledge will deliberately examine diverse perspectives before drawing conclusions.

                  Nowhere is this more prevalent than in partisan political discourse. And Christians should never fall into this trap. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with favoring political parties or positions. But all too often in America today, white evangelicals view society first and foremost through a political lens. I'm pretty sure I don't need to remind you that Republicans and Democrats aren't in the Bible. Neither is America.

                  This cultural flaw among my fellow white Christians has been highlighted by what started in Ferguson, and is spreading around the country. I've been shocked and disheartened to watch many of my white Christian friends clinging to conservative political pundits for Ferguson analysis. They repeat rhetoric on social media that they heard spouted on radio stations and websites that depend upon their energized base to generate revenue. Basically, these pundits are telling you what you want to hear so you'll keep reading, and they'll keep making money.

                  Followers of Jesus, we cannot succumb to this flawed thinking! Instead, we must lean on Biblical truth and seek wisdom from our diverse community of believers. Let's do both here.

                  While many Bible passages could be shared related to the spark that ignited in Ferguson, let's just focus on the Greatest Commandment: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Instead of pretending that I know more than you about this portion of Scripture, I'll just ask you to consider a few questions:

                  • Are you loving your African American neighbor if you dismiss their concerns about racism in America? 
                  • Have you asked your African American Christian friends how they feel about Ferguson? If not, why not? 
                  • If you don't have any African American friends, are you falling short of what Jesus expects of us in the Greatest Commandment?
                  • Have you asked your Pastor what the Bible teaches about racism and justice? 
                  • Have you taken the time to understand an African American perspective about Ferguson by reading any blog posts or articles from African American pastors?

                  My prayer isn't that you would agree with me about racism, or about Ferguson. It's not about me. My prayer is simply that you would open your heart and your mind to loving your African American neighbor. What's the first step? Listening. Did you realize that many attorneys and African Americans are legitimately questioning whether the grand jury proceedings were just? Have you heard that many prominent white Christian leaders are calling for the church to acknowledge and address racism? Did you know that many of the statistics about black families and violence are incomplete and often misrepresented?

                  I'll do my best to help you find these thoughts. I've complied a short reading list of some thought provoking articles about Ferguson written by Christians. I challenge you to read them with the Greatest Commandment in mind:

                  photo credit: Mike Licht, via photopin cc

                  Wednesday, December 3, 2014

                  Bloggers, Keep Writing

                  "I wish all of those bloggers would stop writing about Ferguson and actually start doing something to make a difference."

                  I've heard complaints about bloggers before. But this one made my skin crawl.

                  For whatever reason, some find it annoying that the internet created a platform for average people. Sure, there's lots of noise out there. But I celebrate the fact that publishers and periodicals are no longer necessary for ideas to be exchanged. I've found that some of the most impactful pieces come from those who don't have a resume that includes formal publication. What could be more American than empowering the individual to have a voice in society?

                  But the idea that writing doesn't constitute action is misguided, historically inaccurate and just plain wrong.

                  Sure, a solider could easily destroy most writers in a fist fight. Great speakers could energize a crowd more quickly than an author. But writers armed with ideas have sparked revolutions, established governments, captured hearts and changed the world. 

                  Let's not forget the influence of Homer's Illiad and Odyssey. Imagine a church without Martin Luther's 95 Theses. Then there's that little pamphlet by Thomas Paine that fueled the flames of revolution in America. And our Constitution probably wouldn't have been ratified without a series of essays known as The Federalist Papers. Or how about that brilliant letter scribbled on scraps of paper by Martin Luther King Jr. in a Birmingham jail. It motivated an entire nation to seek justice for the oppressed. And were it not for the inspired words of Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles, I might not be a follower of Jesus.

                  I could keep going, but you get the point. 

                  So bloggers, keep writing. I need your commentaries and thoughts to better understand the cultural tensions behind Ferguson. Your words enable me to leave my circle of friends and learn from diverse perspectives. And your efforts propel all of us toward a better society.

                  photo credit: campra via photopin cc

                  Friday, October 17, 2014

                  What NOT to Say to People with Adopted Children

                  Filters make life better for everyone. Particularly when they're applied to your thoughts.

                  Just think about all of the outrageous things you almost said. The jokes that seemed funny in your mind. The questions you thought were appropriate. The ideas that didn't seem so stupid at first. Gratefully, that invisible filter in your brain prevented these outlandish things from actually making it to your lips.

                  But, have you ever noticed how many people don't seem to have any filter at all?

                  My wife and I discovered this uncomfortable epidemic after having a bunch of kids. I shared some of the hilarious and outrageous questions we've been asked in a recent post on the subject. And it was a blast laughing along with others who shared similar experiences in the comment stream. However, in the midst of this, I discovered that there's another type of family that has it worse than we do. Who is it?

                  Families that adopt children.

                  Even though my wife and I haven't adopted any kids (yet), I'll gladly dive head-first into this one. Consider my list below a public service announcement on behalf of those who adopt. Oh, and special thanks to Pastor Jason and Sue Kreider, and blogger Jeni Flaa for their contributions to this list of things not to say to those with adopted children:  

                  • "Can't you have your own babies?" Yes, you read that correctly. Not only is this question hurtful and offensive, it's just plain weird. I mean, do you really want to know about another person's ability to conceive? You know, all the intimate details about sperm, eggs, and a uterus. I didn't think so. 
                  • "Everyone I know who adopted, got pregnant." The last time I checked, there's only one way to get pregnant. You'll also be hard pressed to find anyone who chose adoption as a fertility strategy. Of course, God has worked some amazing miracles for couples who were previously unable to have kids. But let's not forget that adoption is an intentional choice. For some, it's a calling. Reducing adoption to a superstitious child bearing strategy devalues kids, and the families that adopt them. 
                  • "Are they your real kids?" Nope. The real kids are locked in the basement. But don't worry. I see what you're doing here. You're trying to ask whether the kids you're looking at are biologically related to the parents. Fair enough. Just remember that in adoptive families, kids aren't divided into "real" and "adopted" categories. They're all just "my kids". 
                  • "His birth mom must have been on drugs or really young." Sadly, our culture has created a strange caricature of parents who make an adoption plan for their child. Sure, some choose adoption due to addictions or young age. But not everyone. Many people make mature decisions for the future of their children. Bottom line - any assumptions about motives will be hurtful. Don't forget that in open adoptions, kids have a relationship with their birth parents. So your premature conclusion about their parents would be offensive at best. 
                  • "Where did you get him? How much did he cost?" Walmart had this great deal on kids. Really cheap. Want one? Anyway, you've clearly got some legitimate questions about adoption, and this child. First, I'd suggest consulting this resource for some better vocabulary choices. Then, take some time to consider personal boundaries. It's typically considered abnormal to ask complete strangers about their personal finances or ethnic background.  
                  • "Are the birth parents going to try to get them back?" Again, this question firmly fits into the "off limits" category for strangers and casual acquaintances. But, it represents a legitimate fear for those who don't know much about adoption. The media loves to share heart wrenching stories about birth parents returning to demand custody of their kids. While these situations are tragic, they're actually quite rare. When it happens, the agency and/or lawyers that made the adoption happen didn't do their jobs correctly. That's why it's so important for those seriously considering adoption to know adoption law. And spend time investigating agencies and attorneys.  
                  • "Did you cheat on your husband?" Yes, a real human being actually asked this question. Out loud. To a complete stranger. Why? Because the race of the child didn't visibly match the race of the parent. There's really nothing else that can be said here. Just let all of the awful ignorance soak in, and move on to the next point. 
                  • "Are you raising them white?" Even though my wife and I haven't adopted any kids, adoption is closely connected to our family story. My mom was adopted. At that time, interracial adoption was virtually unheard of. Today, we've gratefully reached a point where interracial adoption is both acceptable and commonplace. However, this bluntly stated question is jarring to some. Confusing to others. Ultimately, the intent is to determine whether a child's ethnic and cultural background will be honored. The good news is that many families who adopt are sensitive to this issue, and take time to instill a proper sense of ethnic identity. But, we'd all benefit from some more sophisticated and sensitive language when asking this particular question. 
                  • "How will she learn to speak English?" Wow. There's so many layers of ignorance here. Keep in mind that someone said this to a white couple with a Korean infant. Sadly, it appears that some people think language is assigned genetically by race. And that adopted babies acquire language differently than biological babies. Wow. 

                  Sometimes, the best thing we can do is laugh about questions like these. At the same time, it's blatantly clear that our society has a warped view of adoption. It's my prayer that posts like this will creatively raise awareness, and motivate Christians to take orphan care more seriously. When that happens, more kids will get the love and support they deserve. And the rest of us will be spared from hearing these weird questions.

                  photo credit: Phae via photopin cc