Nature’s Groaning Call

Isaiah 5: 1-7; Philippians 4: 6-9; Matthew 21: 33-43

Finally, some rain.  When I was out walking this week it felt more like walking through a desert it’s been so warm and extremely dry.  You know, more than anything, nature is used in the bible to often mirror to people what’s going on with us.  There’s been such a violent streak in weather the past month or so but also with us.  It’s as if nature is groaning within, letting us know we have a problem.  Now when I say it has something to mirror to us I don’t mean it in a televangelist kind of way, like Pat Robertson who again went off these weeks not only about weather but about the killings in Las Vegas.  It’s a distorted image of God to think that God somehow wants to smite us, which should make us question whether it’s God at all.  We do enough smiting ourselves. 

So if there’s anything that the tenants of the vineyard do wrong it’s that they cut themselves off, distance themselves from the land.  They begin to think that it’s theirs and they are somehow entitled to it, have the right to it, know better than the landowner, possess and control it.  They no longer need the landowner they can do it quite fine themselves, so they think.  They no longer even recognize the landowner in the slaves that are sent or for that matter, the son, who come in the landowner’s image and likeness.  They don’t see it necessary for themselves so they certainly won’t in the others.  Cutting themselves off from the land not only distances themselves in that way, they separate themselves from the landowner themselves.  It’s about them.  It’s about what they want.  And once the son is sent they believe the landowner is out of the picture all together and they finally have the power they want to possess.

Now they’d all be familiar with the story Jesus tells because it’s pretty much given word for word from the reading from Isaiah today.  Everything is going great for Israel, so they think, until it’s not.  They too separate themselves from the land, each other, and their God, the Creator, but they aren’t aware of it until it’s time for harvesting only to find wild grapes.  It would be no surprise to the audience Jesus has today that the story wasn’t going to turn out in their favor.  If you sow wild grapes, take advantage of the land and try to possess it, no longer seeing it as a gift, then expect wild grapes, expect violence, expect separation and war.  We reap what we sow and if we sow violence and hate, then like the Pharisees and elders of the people voice in today’s gospel, it will lead to a wretched death.  They abandon each other, the land, and well, quite honestly, if we go that far then most likely we’ll abandon the Creator, the landowner as well.  It’s inevitable.

Paul too finds himself separated from the community but not by choice.  He’s imprisoned but not even the walls of prison are going to cut him off from his source of life.  Paul speaks of a very different way of life, one rooted in peace and free of anxiety, a life free of violence.  Despite his own difficulties at this point, Paul continues to return to the source of life, the landowner per se, who allows him to persevere and model a different way of life.  For Paul, it’s all about gift.  It’s not about possessing or owning, nor about rights and entitlement.  For Paul all is gift and it shines through in this very poetic verse we hear today from him.  He sees not only his own life but the life of others, the land, and all he has been given as gift and he a mere steward.  It’s a life that doesn’t forget that he’s connected to someone bigger than himself and he keeps returning to be nourished by the Creator but even as he sees the violence that has ensued against him and humanity in his own time and from his own hands.

Nature has a great deal to teach us and for three weeks now we have found ourselves wandering through the vineyard with Jesus, often with some harsh words.  If we fail as tenants to the land and each other, forgetting our truest identity, it will all be taken away and it will feel like a horrific death and letting go, even feeling violent at times.  Violence just seems to be a part of who we are and what we’re capable of in this life.  We’ve seen that violent streak in nature, reminding us of hearts that hurt and that have become arid.  We’ve allowed ourselves to be separated not only from this Earth but from each other, often feeling no need for the landowner anymore.  We can do it ourselves, thank you.  But we also see what happens when we do.  Now more than ever we need the landowner and to remain closely to the Creator to soften our hurting hearts so that they no longer resort to violence, but rather to be filled with the heart of the Creator, one of love, peace, compassion, and reconciliation for all of God’s creation.

 

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A Full-Hearted Love

Jeremiah 20: 10-13; Romans 5: 12-15; Matt 10: 26-33

When I’m doing weddings, I have all my couples fill out a questionnaire and of course one of the questions is what marriage means for them.  Working with young couples you get used to a lot of idealistic views and expectations that we know aren’t always the reality in our lives, no matter where we find ourselves committed.  The wedding I had yesterday, though, the groom had written something different and I then commented on it at the wedding.  He said something along the lines that it’s about giving 100%.  I’ve met many that enter into this commitment thinking it’s 50-50.  There’s two of us and we’ll somehow make it work.  But those in committed relationships for awhile know it doesn’t work that way.  As a matter of fact, it’s often what ends relationships.  No matter the case, the call is to give yourself 100%, full heart, often to someone or something bigger than yourself, to live the mission given.

I believe it’s the same message we hear from Jeremiah and Jesus in today’s first reading and gospel.  Jeremiah is probably the greatest example we have in Hebrew Scripture of the real struggle of moving to the place of fully committing to what God is asking.  He’s young, naïve, and quite idealistic, and feels as if God has somehow deceived him into this whole gig he’s got as a prophet.  He sees war, destruction, violence, and injustice, and no one wants to listen to him, and just finds himself tormented by the whole thing.  It’s not until Jeremiah begins to make the pivot in his life and see that all the injustice that is going on in the world is also happening within himself and that is preventing him from giving it his all.  He can’t fully commit to this God when his own heart remains divided, holding onto his own illusions and expectations of what it was supposed to be.  He will learn to let go and surrender to love in order to be transformed into this prophetic voice.  He will go on and give thanks to go but only after giving himself the space to struggle, and rub up against his own injustice before he can taste the freedom this God is offering him to send him on this mission.  As Paul tells us today, it’s this grace that will push us through, even when we’re not feeling 100%.  Otherwise, as he says, we’ll hold onto death and sin and our own injustice. 

The same is true for the disciples as they are sent out on mission in today’s gospel.  We jump ahead a few chapters from where we left off in ordinary time in February.  The last we heard was from the Sermon on the Mount but today the message is still practically the same.  The beatitudes end with the message that you will face persecution and today the first line is to fear no one.  Jesus is fully aware of the human condition and what it is that the disciples will face in their own lives and this commitment that they are being called to in life.  At first they are like Jeremiah, young and somewhat idealistic, but eventually the illusions start to fall away and they will find their own commitment being tested.  They will be lured by fear, the threat of losing their own lives, persecution, and great darkness.  They will witness it before their eyes and will be challenged to make the same pivot at Jeremiah to see it within themselves.  If their mission is to be agents of peace and reconciliation and a more just society, they will first have to confront their own illusions and what they hold onto for self-preservation.  Of course, we know that the twelve will move to that place and make that pivot to committing themselves with their whole heart to the mission that is being asked of them.  As we hear from Jeremiah, it’s hard but it the demand of not only the gospel and the committed relationships that we’re in, whether marriage, priesthood, or however we commit ourselves, but also the demand of being a disciple for each of us.

We all know that we can never be 100%.  It’s nearly impossible as humans and the human condition that we are all a part of, but it remains a process that we are invited into in our lives when it comes to not only our relationship with others but with God.  It’s a struggle and something we must wrestle with ourselves, a constant letting go and surrendering to find that 100% within ourselves.  More often than not, whatever we let go of or allow to die wasn’t necessary anyway.  It’s something that has offered us security or even fed into our own fears, our own way of self-preservation.  What are the fears we hold onto, our own ways of preserving ourselves?  What holds us back, knowing full well that the way we see the world around us is the world within us?  Where is the terror and injustice within our own hearts, keeping us from experiencing the freedom necessary to respond to God 100%?    Our mission is to be agents of peace and reconciliation, agents of that grace and love and we do that when we allow ourselves to become just that, especially allowing ourselves to become the love that changes our hearts forever.

Getting UnStuck

Exodus 34: 4-6, 8-9; II Cor 13: 11-13; John 3: 16-18

Despite the passage of centuries, I do believe that to this day Moses, people Israel, and the whole experience of the exodus and exile has something to teach us about our own lives.  Their story really is our story.  We know what it feels like to live in exile from others at times, even from God.  It so often seems, in such contentious times with Moses and the people, that they lose their ability to relate to one another and to God and move towards cutting themselves off, moving into this tribal mentality of winners and losers, where, in the end, everyone ends up losing.

The same is true for ourselves and the climate in which we live these days.  On many levels we’ve lost the ability to relate to anyone different than ourselves and have really exiled ourselves from one another or at least from people that we have deemed the losers, the ones that think differently, creating this divide, and like people Israel, we have become stuck.  We can’t relate to others and then for that matter, with God.

Think about their experience, though, in relation to ourselves.  Despite this newfound freedom that people Israel experiences following the exodus, they don’t know quite what to do with themselves.  It’s as if they had become accustomed to being slaves in Israel that they no longer know how to live.  They don’t understand what’s up with Moses and his seemingly strange experiences, but they also don’t understand God.  Keep in mind that this experience has impacted them on a very deep level.  They had gotten used to a God that seemed to abandon them.  They had gotten used to a God that seemed to reject them over and over again, and now as they move to this place of freedom, they don’t know how to act and they certainly don’t know how to relate.  They react to it all and create these false gods for themselves, grouping themselves and finding, at times, a common enemy in Moses for leading them to this place.  It’s simply their experience but so is being stuck as they seem to become in the throws of the desert for years to come.  As Moses tries to lead them to a deeper understanding of this God, a God of mercy and generosity, their hearts remain closed and they become, as he so often refers, the stiff-necked people.  As life changes so does the way we relate to others and especially to God.

This is what we encounter in this snippet we hear from John’s Gospel today.  In its larger context is an interaction with one of the more interesting characters in the gospel, Nicodemus who’s known for coming to Jesus at night.  At this point in John’s community, some fifty years after their formed, there is a great deal of contention and division.  We have certainly heard that during the Lenten and Easter seasons as Jesus often found himself in conflict with the leaders.  Well, Nicodemus was one of them.  He has his own way of relating in the life of the community as a Pharisee and is not yet willing to put that in jeopardy so he comes to Jesus at night.  As much as people Israel didn’t know what to make of a God that wanted to enter into relationship with them, even centuries later they still can’t quite grasp now this God who takes the form of one of them in Jesus.  It causes more tribal thinking, certainly among the Pharisees who had their own way and were stuck in that thinking.  For them there had to be winners and losers.  For Nicodemus, despite being one of them, he finds himself somewhat attracted to this Jesus guy and what he’s all about.  For John it is a process we go through, of letting go and reconciling, allowing ourselves to move forward in life with a fresh take on the way we relate to one another and to God, not in some distant universe, but right here in the midst of our own lives as they unfold.

In the end, it’s probably Paul that sums it up best for us in today’s second reading and provides us the tool to look at our own lives and the way we relate.  Just because we’ve related in one way all our lives doesn’t mean that it’s the best way or even the healthiest way.  Again, we see that on the large scale in our political system and the divides, people moving to the extremes.  Paul reminds us to mend our ways.  Reconcile with one another.  Love stands as the foundation of relationship and community.  Work towards peace.  Among other tidbits of ideas that he shares with us today.  If we continue to cling to a God that rejects, abandons, or shames us, it’s just probably not God.  There’s a better chance that we can relate to people Israel and find ourselves stuck in life, just as we find ourselves politically.  It impacts all of us and the way we relate.

On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, maybe it’s time accept the invitation to be the fourth one at the table and being challenged to change the way we relate.  If we cling to tribal thinking, where we’re right and others are wrong, where truth becomes relative, where there needs to be winners and losers, well, guess what, we all lose and we are all losing because we’re being invited to move beyond our stuck-ness and grow into a deeper relationship that goes beyond ideology and politics, to the deeper reality of a God that continues to pursue a relationship with us from deep within our very being and through all creation we encounter.  Where are we stuck in our own thinking and understanding not only of others but of God?  That’s the place this God pursues us and desires greater and deeper intimacy with us, relating to us in a more profound and deeper way, with others, our community, and with the Mystery that continues to draw us to the place of mercy, generosity, healing, reconciliation, and certainly, love.

 

#holyresistance

Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 12-13;  I Cor 1: 26-31; Matthew 5: 1-12

I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen them all and still believe that the originals from back in the 70’s and 80’s were some of the best. It is mythology at its best and transcends time. But we also often want to reduce it to a battle of good and evil or light and darkness. However, the main characters of the originals were not choosing sides. As a matter of fact, they were the resistant movement, including Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. Now it’s not resistant in the way we want to use it today, in our politics. That’s more oppositional energy being exerted and often spending most of its time fighting rather than resisting, trying to seek another way.

The resistance movement were in many ways the wisdom figures. They tried to find truth in all things while what appears to be good and evil continues to fight. The archetypal character becomes Luke Skywalker in his training with Yoda. He wants to fight. He loves to fight! But Yoda keeps pushing him to a different place, to a place within himself and to see that the war he’s fighting the most lies within him, not just beyond him. This is the path to resistance, when he comes to a place where it’s no longer about choosing sides and winning and losing, but a path towards humility when he recognizes his own participation not only in bringing about good but also towards what he’s been fighting. It is the true path of resistance, a holy resistance.

It’s what this great Gospel is about today as we reflect upon the Beatitudes. There is a sense of humiliation in the current times, where there is poverty, there is mourning, war, violence, hunger, and persecution. They are the lived reality of the disciples and the people of Jesus’ time and of course of today. The resistance that Jesus proposes and the tension that lies within, is not to react to all of it and allow ourselves to enter into war after war. Certainly there is a place for opposition in the face of injustice, but the resistance movement of Star Wars is about finding another way. That’s what Christianity was about; it was about following the Way, not about choosing sides and fighting battle after battle. The opposition is typically only what I’m fighting within myself anyway. It will take the Cross before the disciples could begin to make sense of what these beatitudes were really about. The resistance we face is accepting this lived reality as it is but feeling that pull to a more just society, a more just life, an unfolding of the Kingdom.

Paul speaks of that oppositional energy today as he speaks of boasting and how that opposition often comes from our own pride. We want to prove ourselves to be right and the other wrong. Paul knows it because that was Paul. For him the cross becomes the point of resistance and the point when that begins to break down in his own life. He says the weak will shame the strong and the foolish will shame the wise. There is this breaking down and this entering into this interior journey for Paul that awakens him to this reality and to recognize that this battle is first fought within himself. He must face his own humiliation and the fact of how he persecuted, and even despite the good, Paul was still capable of unspeakable darkness towards humanity and to face that head on becomes his cross, becomes his place of transformation. For Paul it was no longer about winning and losing. That’s not the gospel anyway. It becomes about sitting with that resistance in these collision of opposites and finding another way.

It is also the roll of the prophetic voices that we hear throughout the year as it is with Zephaniah in today’s first reading. There is a great deal of opposition towards the new King Josiah at that time. They don’t like him. They don’t like what he’s doing and the reform he is bringing about, but the risk is always to fight and to become just like him. It is the warning of the prophets throughout Scripture. For him he too tries to lead them to this path of humility, by seeking justice and peace. Oppositional energy will eventually begin to fizzle and often cannot be sustained. What we seek is that resistance within ourselves as it was for our ancestors. This holy resistance is an invitation to ask ourselves the questions of our own lives and what it is God is trying to move us to letting go of and opening the door for the breaking in of the Kingdom. If anyone knows the reality of opposition it’s Israel. It’s part of their storied history and the invitation, as it is with Luke Skywalker, is to go within ourselves and look at our own injustice. Look at where we want to oppose and fight rather than seek a more just life, the common good. That is what our faith teaches us.

These are trying times for us individually and as country. Like Paul, our own pride often stands in the way, including our pride of who we think we are supposed to be as a country. It’s not the path of resistance and it certainly isn’t the path of humility that all the readings touch upon today. Whether we can admit it about ourselves or not, we all partake in the humiliation of our present age, we fight, we stand opposed, but we so often want it to end there. It leads to war and violence. It leads to division. It leads to winners and losers. I can’t say it enough; that’s not the gospel. The Gospel, especially the one we hear today, points us to another way. It points us to this holy resistance in our own lives, where it’s not about winning and losing, but a path to justice and peace. When I allow myself to go to that place within and learn to be patient with it, it will transform us. We will tap into that humility and become a more just person so, in turn, can move society to a more just place for all peoples.

It Begins With Me

2 Thes 3: 7-12; Luke 21: 5-19

By now I suppose most have had enough of politics. I’ve stayed out of it as much as I can because I believe as a preacher that it’s not my place to tell people how to vote and to take away their freedom to choose. But it’s over now and we now move towards a new reality, not only with a president but with a mayor of this city. I spent some time reflecting and blogging this week, even down to the point of how hard it was up to the point where I was filling in that oval square as to how I would vote. But I also reflected upon who are the losers in all of this. You know, I think the greatest losers in all of this are the two political parties with religious institutions a close third. It gets more and more obvious as to how politics influences religion much more than the other way around. We can tell simply by our reaction to it and we ask ourselves where it is we place our faith.

I thought of the losers coupled up against this gospel we hear today. If you ask me, the major parties as they stand have to lose. They have lost touch with people and in particular people who are truly suffering for a variety of reasons. Jesus makes the point at the beginning of the gospel today about the people that have become distracted by “costly stones and votive offerings”. It’s like the shiny object over here that distracts us from the real issues going on in people’s lives. It’s this facade that both of these parties have projected outwards that distract us and even worse yet, we begin to think that they are identity. I am red or I am blue. But you know what, it simply becomes another way for us to judge and distract. We not only judge by skin color, by sexuality, by religion, we can now judge by the color of our vote and because one votes one way I am somehow better than. We can keep going down this road, but the parties are going to destroy us as they continue to divide and even manipulate in a way that benefits them. Yet, all along, there’s war, famine, poverty, destruction, and great suffering going on over here being ignored.

We cannot keep dividing ourselves in these ways that continues to separate. Even the way we look at poverty. Sure there is great poverty in this city of Baltimore alone, but we even make judgements about that. We think somehow our poverty is greater than the poverty in rural America and we cast judgments upon them. You don’t need to drive very far to see it all around us. So yes, our politics has influenced our religion much more than the other way around because we’re called to something more and we hear that from Paul this morning in our second reading. He understands quite well in these communities how there can be divisions. He would understand our reds and blues. But Paul makes a point to lead people to their deeper identity, that there is something more than the color of my vote, there is the very fact that we are to model Christ, and Christ crucified at that. That is who we really are despite what these parties want to tell us. They want to convince that we are these parties and our lives depend on it. You know what, Christ crucified. That’s who we are and no one can tell us otherwise.

Of course, people even ask what Pope Francis has to say. He says he’ll certainly pray for the president but he says what matters most is what’s happening with the poor, the migrant, the immigrant, and the list goes on. We must continue to work for peace and justice but not because red or blue tells us to but rather because our faith demands it of us. However, in order to do that we must begin with ourselves. If we want peace we must first find it within ourselves. If we want to work for justice, we must first work to identity the injustice of our own lives, that’s me and you. I have judgements, I have stereotypes, I have all this going on in myself and I get easily distracted by the shiny object just as much as the rest, but this is a time to come back to center and come back to our truest identity. We cannot become what it is we hate. We cannot continue to blame others for the problems of the world. We must first begin with us, with me and with you. I must recognize my own injustice and my participation in the injustice of the world before I can begin to bring about justice in the world. We are more than all of it. If we want to be love and forgiveness and mercy, we must reconnect with our deepest identity in Christ and detach ourselves from our attachment to red and blue. It will destroy us because it’s not even real and we know deep down that we are more than it all.

This is a time of reflection for all of us, individually and collectively, to ask ourselves where we have become distracted and attached ourselves to something other than we really are and move towards oneness. We have to stop believing that we are this facade when we know deep down we are something much more. As Jesus says, it will all pass anyway. There’s no point holding onto it. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. It never is to let go of something we believe to be our identity. He speaks about how it does turn family and against family and against friend. But we must keep our eye on all who are suffering, including those beyond the bubbles we live in. We must keep our eye on the poor, the suffering, the fearful, the hurting, all suffering from famine. We don’t like to keep our eyes there and would prefer to be distracted, but that’s where we find our truest selves in Christ crucified and it is Christ that we are called to model to the world. We work for peace and we work for justice, but let it first begin with me.

Family Trials

Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10; Hebrews 12: 1-4; Luke 12: 49-53

There are no mincing words in today’s gospel. It seems as if there’s no good news as Jesus speaks of division among family, if you believe good news is simply keeping the peace. We must, though, put it in context. For the past several weeks, probably back to the Good Samaritan in mid-July, Jesus has been, in one way or another, attacking different institutions. He doesn’t always do it by judgment directly, but rather through these rather provocative statements and stories which keep inviting the disciples into deeper understanding. He goes after the political authorities. He certainly goes after the religious institution of his day. So why not go down to the most basic of institutions that we all are a part of, family.

The time of Jesus was no different than our own. Institutions, including family, are about keeping the peace rather than seeking peace. Now we all know what that means. It’s about avoiding problems out of fear. There always seems to be the “elephant in the room” that no one is allowed to talk about out of fear how it is going to be seen by the rest of the world. It’s about avoiding these conflicts to grow and become more integrated people; it’s about keeping the peace as we have determined and anyone that tries to disrupt that is so often ostracized.

It should be no surprise to any of us that it would filter up into these larger institutions that we are a part of in this world. We have seen it in the Church over the years and the abuse scandal. It became about protecting the institution rather than the people. We certainly see it with our political parties. You even hear them say it that it’s for the party and not about the good of the country. Institution first before the people that are being impacted by it all. Even if you read any of the DOJ report on Baltimore this week you would have seen more of the same. It’s about protecting the institution rather than the good of the people. These realities are the same realities of the time of Jesus, but over these weeks he’s trying to move the disciples to see differently and hear differently. Today, he takes it to the core, the family, where so much of it begins and we learn our learned responses to dealing with life that we so often have to let go of in order to grow and become the prophetic voices of the disciples.

No one does it better than Jeremiah that we hear in today’s first reading. Who’s he up against? Political class. He’s facing the princes of his day who want him dead. Jeremiah has the conscience the size of the earth and doesn’t always know what to do with it. He struggles greatly trying to be faithful to the word of God in his life. He allows the word to change his heart and then struggles when he finds himself in these situations where he has to speak truth and raise consciousness of the leaders. So what do they do with him? He’s thrown into the cistern. He too is ostracized. They don’t try to reconcile the problems and seek the good. Rather, they blame him and try to get rid of what they think is the problem. King Zedekiah is thrown in the middle of it and is left with a choice. Is he going to keep the peace with the princes or side with Jeremiah. It’s so often advocates for the prophets that frees them and that’s the case for Jeremiah. He’s freed despite the danger that he poses to these institutions because of the interior freedom that Jeremiah continues to seek. That’s the peace that Jesus seeks for his disciples and us.

But there is a great price for living differently in that way. The writer of Hebrews speaks of the suffering that one must undergo in life with Jesus being the model for his disciples. He really isn’t about keeping the peace as we have come to know. Rather, he desires a deeper peace. It’s messy. It’s hard. It comes with great suffering and great cost with the possibility about being thrown into the cistern, sinking in the mud. But when we allow our hearts to be changed by the word and we grow as adults it comes with great freedom as it does for Jeremiah.

Unfortunately, we too continue to live at a time when prophetic voices are silenced. We don’t want to hear it on all levels of institution. We live in great fear so often and sell fear because it becomes the norm. Rather than confronting the real problems that this city faces, this country faces, and this world faces, we try rather to keep the peace and protect something that isn’t even real in the first place! We strive for our own interest rather than seeking a more just society by entering into the messiness of our lives, just as Jesus does for us.

As we continue in prayer today, we pray not only for families that do face great divisions but the divisions that exist on all levels of our lives. Rather than seeking to keep the peace we must enter into the difficult conversations to seek reconciliation in our lives and world. It begins at the most basic level of our lives, the family. We can’t expect change on greater levels if we’re not willing to do it in our own lives. Otherwise we simply blame and continue this cycle of victimhood all at the price of human lives. We pray for peace, not in the way we have come to know, but in the peace that Jesus desires for us; that our hearts may be opened to these words and change the way we see, hear, and love so that the kingdom that Jesus preaches may become a reality, a kingdom of eternal peace.

[Not] Black Like Me

It was 1990 and I was heading off to Bloomsburg University, not really knowing what I would experience or the people who would somehow touch my life in many different facets. As I was graduating from high school and preparing for college that summer, one expectation that the university had of new students was to do summer reading, a foreign concept to me at the time. One of the books on the list of readings, which obviously had some kind of impact on me since I can still recall it these years later, was Black Like Me by journalist, John Howard Griffin. As a young man who grew up in a town in Pennsylvania that was nothing less than white, the whole idea was hard to grasp. I couldn’t imagine why I would need to read such a book, and yet, of the books I had to read, it was the only one I had read in its entirety. Somehow, of which I wouldn’t begin to grasp until years later, touched me on a very deep and profound level.

And so there I was, baby steps outside of my hometown, a mere forty-five minutes West on Interstate 80, embarking on an environment that I knew nothing about. If you didn’t look like me or someone like me, you were often only known by something that I would now call derogatory. I was having a difficult time trying to reconcile what it was that I had experienced in the years leading up to college and the reality of the people I would eat with, drink and party with, take classes with, socialize with, and so on. I can look back now and only begin to imagine the confusion of people different than myself. Yet, the words of Griffin’s book continued to stick with me and wrestle within me, but only led to greater division within myself. It was as if I were living in two different worlds, trying to literally, talk out of both sides of my mouth, only leading to a deeper loneliness because I knew deep down that what I had learned really wasn’t the reality, but rather what I was experiencing in relationship began to change who I was and am today.

As years went by and I began to travel on mission trips to places like Haiti and several Latin American countries, I always returned to what I had read in that book. The experiences I had, flipped the table on me, not just through the relationships, but the lived experience of being the minority in countries where “gringo’s” were outnumbered by natives, and somehow that made sense and I could begin to feel my insides shaking, trembling, needing to break free, that somehow God was providing an opportunity to know what it’s like on the other side and how I would want to be treated. I remember living with some fear and anxiety as I walked through the streets and alleys of Haiti, a feeling that I have experienced just in my time living in the city of Baltimore. How does a guy who’s skin color is white live in a world and neighborhood where that’s not the majority? I didn’t know an answer, but if I were to live here, and I do, then I’d have to allow myself to live with that struggle as I have in the past and in these many different situations; somehow God is once again leading to greater depths, deeper conversion, and an expansion of the soul. The difference, in the past, the experiences ended in just a week or two, but this is now a way of life.

As I have watched events unfold in Ferguson these past few months, and simply sit with them in prayer, I often can’t help but to reflect on some of my own struggles that I have had to face within myself. It saddens me and has brought me to tears at times watching it all unfold. Violence is never an answer, and I do believe that with my whole heart. Yet, I understand it. I understand it because I’ve had that within myself, and all too often, have taken it out on myself, rather than direct it outward as some choose to do. All too often it is an outward sign of what is experienced on the inside of one’s heart and soul. I also understand, though, that we live in a time in this country when tension is already high as we are so often pulled into the extremes of politics, power, and money. We live with a constant mistrust of many systems that no longer function in a healthy manner, from politics, the justice system, and unfortunately, religious institutions. It’s nothing against any one individual. People like Michael Brown and Darren Wilson so often become the scapegoats to the dysfunction, distracting us from the real issues on inequality, human rights, and most especially, from the very foundation of our biblical roots, the dignity of the human person being violated and the reality and fact that we are all brothers and sisters and sons and daughters of a God of love and mercy.

I’m still of the mindset, and I do hope I’m proven wrong at some point, that there is more to come. There will be more violence that people will choose to act upon rather than sitting with their own discomfort and anger. There will be more protest, even if it is tamped down and squashed in order that we can go on with our lives and continue to live with the illusion as if nothing is wrong in our communities and most definitely, in our country. All of us can only, for a time, repress and suppress what it is that is wrong before it begins to rear its ugly head. Rather than seeing it as something to fear and continue to bury, maybe it’s simply an invitation for us to finally grow up and accept parts of ourselves that have put us on the defense in our lives or have made us feel less than, a minority in one way or another.

Black Like Me may end up being one of the most influential books I have read in my life and it came at a time when it challenged everything that I had led myself to believe about others and only to be proven wrong, over and over again. I will never forget the experiences I’ve had in life that have put, or better yet, where God had led, me into places within myself that turned me upside down. I do know, though, that the only way to peace and change is to turn the mirror on oneself and see myself from the Other’s view. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. It’s downright hard work and a difficult journey, but it’s the only way to be able to walk in the others shoes, be changed and transformed, and to come to a greater and deeper understanding of the plight of humanity and one that we all share in. Sure, we often continue to have our judgments of others, but we begin to reconcile that with who and whose we are, of a God who sees beyond it all and is ever so gently, and albeit it, painful at times, moving us towards understanding and not one or the other, but a new order and a new way of life free from what binds and separates. All these years later, maybe it’s time to pull out a copy of that book and allow it once again to speak to me and others of the challenges of being deemed different and rather than see it as an obstacle, reconcile with it and allow it to be the gift God created it to be, God created you and me to be.