Category Archives: Perspective

Rookie Mistake (DOP #14 2015)

I’ve been out of the country about a dozen times now, and most of those trips were what the North American church likes to call “mission trips”.  I’ve been to Germany, Haiti, and Nicaragua on these trips.  If you know anything about me, you know that I hate looking like I don’t know what I am doing.  So when I first started going to Nicaragua and Haiti regularly, I spent a lot of time before I left trying to learn how to be a good “short-term missionary” and not make any rookie mistakes.  Some of the simple tips I remember are: 1.  Talking louder doesn’t help them understand English any better, it just makes you look dumb.  2.  Don’t drink the water.  3.  Don’t rinse your toothbrush in the water.  4.  Don’t assume that you know the best way to do something.  5.  Don’t give handouts.

On my first trip to Nicaragua I did my best to follow all of these rules, except the last one.  I really struggled with that one.  I mean come on, this kid needs help, and giving him $5 isn’t going to ruin my day or his right?  So there I am on the bus after the obligatory hour at the market waiting on the straggling group of women to finish up their purchases and get on board.  I had “met” a young kid in the market who kept following my group around and trying to be helpful.  He did such a good job that I felt like we owed him a bit of a tour guides fee for his help.  Well, they had warned us against giving away money in the market, so my plan was to wait until the bus was just about to pull away and I would toss some cash out of the window at this boy.

I don’t know where all of the kids came from, but as soon as I had dropped some cash to the one kid, it seemed like the bus was surrounded.  They started throwing grasshopper things they had woven out of grass in through the open windows, all of them hoping to get a small piece of the pie.  While the last stragglers struggled through the chaos to get to their seats, the seated team members were all doing their best to throw the grasshopper things back out of the windows.  As I look back at the memory my brain is trying to tell me that the kids outside started rocking the bus to tip it over!  (That last part isn’t true…but it was a pretty traumatic experience…so my brain is exaggerating a bit.)  The driver managed to get through the crowd without hitting any of the kids and we sped off.  I slid down into my seat and refused to acknowledge my role in the chaos.  I’m not sure if anyone else knew that I had started the riot, but if they did know they let me off the hook.

I was pretty embarrassed, and frustrated!  All I had wanted to do was help a kid who looked like he needed help, and it had nearly turned into an international incident.

So I learned from that experience that I was going to follow that rule in the future, because it is a good rule.  For the next 3 years and 6 trips, the rule served me well, keeping me from starting any international incidents on my future trips out of the country.  The idea behind the rule is good, and it kept me out of a certain kind of trouble.  I even began to teach the rule to first-timers, so they would know better and wouldn’t have to learn from their mistakes the way I had.

Overall it was a good rule, until I started to use it as an excuse to ignore the needs around me.  I eventually became so trained in “the rule” that I stopped seeing the needs and responding to them on a case by case basis.   I’m afraid that I’ll never be able to forget the woman who asked for our help on my 4th trip to Nicaragua.  We had just finished eating at “Tip-Top” and we were already late for the next event we were supposed to be at.  I was the only guy in the van, and had taken it upon myself to make sure that all of the women were safely inside the van before I got in.  This left me in charge of closing the door.

The woman saw us getting in the van and moved towards us in a quick shuffle, which I assume was the fastest she could move.  I don’t speak any significant amount of Spanish, but it was obvious she was looking for something to help.  As I think back to the memory, even though I know she was speaking another language, I can hear her pleading for our help, just something, anything, to help her and her family.  The ladies I was with had squeezed into the van by this time, and I had found my seat and was reaching back to close the sliding door, but the woman had put herself in the way of the door.  I slowly slid the door closed an inch at a time, and eventually was able to close the door without hurting the woman.  The van started and we drove away.  We left the woman standing outside the restaurant, with even less than she had when we first met her.  We had taken the small glimmer of hope from her, and drove away with it.

I don’t know who that woman was, or what she really needed.  I don’t know who she went home to that night, or if she even had a home to go to.  The fact is that I will never know.  I gave up my chance to know her in any way when I closed the door in her face.  We didn’t talk about what I had just done in the van, but the silence was enough to know that we were all thinking about it.  We arrived at our event  and quickly got to work, slowly forgetting about the woman we had left behind.

Except I haven’t.

I had $5 in my pocket.  It would have taken 5 seconds to dig it out.  I could have done something, and I didn’t.  I’m crying as I type this, tears rolling down my face crying.  I made a choice to ignore her, to ignore her humanity, and to drive away.  It has been more than two years, and it still hurts me to think of that day.

I haven’t forgotten.
When I was in Haiti this year, we found ourselves in a little boutique that served cold soda and ice cream along with souvenirs and keepsakes.  It’s one little 45 minute stop in a week full of heat and hard work.  It has a balcony that looks over the roadway, and a little courtyard in front.   I bought a coke, and stood outside on the balcony, straining my eyes towards the horizon looking for something new and interesting.  A voice called up from the courtyard.  A little boy had found his way in and was asking for something.  I turned away and walked back inside.  I knew the rule.  Then I remembered the woman in Nicaragua that I had left, and I turned my retreat into a charge towards the counter.  I bought another coke, and returned to the balcony.  The kid had given up on  me and wasn’t looking up anymore, but after I checked to make sure the rest of the team wasn’t watching, I got his attention and threw him the coke.  He caught it with a smile and disappeared out of the courtyard door.  I smiled and congratulated myself on not causing a scene.

If you're ever in the area, stop by!

It was probably 3 minutes later that I noticed the boy had found his way to the top of the stairs, and he wasn’t alone anymore.  As I looked into the faces of the 3 boys at the top of the stairs, I knew I had done it again.  I had made a rookie mistake.  I was tempted to retreat into an inner room and pretend I hadn’t seen them, but I knew I couldn’t.  So I walked over to the doorway, crouched down and started asking them questions in the little bit of Creole I knew.  “Mwen rele Josh.  Rele?  Kilajou?”  Having exhausted my relevant Creole I asked in English if they went to school.  We chatted as best we could for a few minutes, and after they asked for help that I honestly couldn’t give them, and I said that I was sorry I couldn’t help, we chatted a bit for a few more minutes, and then it was time to go.

I will never get a chance to talk to that woman.

At least those boys knew I cared.

“Go in peace, be warm and filled” is so easy to say, but actually bringing that kind of peace is so very difficult.  The least we can do is acknowledge other people.  We can at least give them the dignity they deserve.
If you get the chance, make the rookie mistakes.

"Peace"

“Peace”

Go Ye (DOP #6 2015)

This particular meme really angers me.  Every time I see it.   I find it quite offensive.  Forgive me for including it in this post.

qmeme_1447853754067_971

So let me briefly break down why it makes me want to start a shouting match with the people I see sharing it.  Please bear with me.

In the top photo, we see rattlesnakes.  In the bottom photo we see people.  I think it is fair to say that the poster is comparing the refugees to snakes.  The poster then implies that just like that pile of rattlesnakes, refugees could kill us if they choose to attack.  The ultimate argument being made is that the refugees should not be allowed into “our homeland” because they might hurt us, and we have no idea how to tell good apart from bad.

Yes.  You are right meme creator, some of the people “fleeing” are really “infiltrating” our borders.  I can not argue with that.  In fact this post bothered me for quite a while because of it’s seemingly unassailable logic.  Obviously since we can’t tell good people from bad people we shouldn’t let ANY people inside of our borders.   It is just too dangerous.  Thank goodness we don’t have people who already live here who occasionally blow things up, or shooting up a school.  If we had anyone like that here we would have to kick everyone out of the United States.

Oh wait…it turns out people get killed by violence everyday in the United States.  It also turns out that most of the daily violence isn’t caused by people born somewhere else.

So I agree.  Since we can’t tell good people from bad people, it is no longer safe to stay here in the United States.   If we are good people, we should all leave to go somewhere else.   I guess you could call us refugees and we could start looking for a country that will take us in where we can be safe.

Here’s an idea.

What if we all went to Syria?  If all the bad guys are leaving to come over here, I bet we would be safe in Syria!  We all know there really isn’t anything dangerous happening there to justify the departure of the “refugees”.

The sarcasm pouring through my fingers is starting to make me nauseous.  So I’ll have to stop.

If we are comparing people to dangerous snakes, we can’t just give the citizens of the United States a pass because “we know them” and they are “good for it”.  We have to consider each other just as dangerous as anyone else.  Most of us will not murder anyone this year (unless you hold yourself to the the standards of Jesus found in Matthew 5:21-22…then we are all guilty) but some citizens of the United States WILL murder someone this year.   By the logic of the meme, we can’t trust anyone because we can’t trust everyone.

Now, if we consider the religion of the refugees, maybe we can make things a bit more clear.  Perhaps we could narrow down who is safe and who isn’t?  There seem to be verses in the Quran that condone violence against those who do not believe in the way Allah puts forth through his prophet Muhammad.  I haven’t personally read them (and I know perhaps only 2 people who personally have)  but I think it is probably possible to make a factual argument that Islam according to the Quran is not the most peaceful religion in the world.  Neither is Judaism for that matter (but I digress).

What people who post memes like the ones above are really saying is that because many of these refugees are Muslims, we can expect many of them to be dangerous to us, a “christian nation”.   I don’t deny that many people commit murder in the name of Islam.  There are also people who commit murder in the name of upholding the ten commandments (Here’s looking at you LRA).  Many of those in the IRA during “The Troubles” were at least loosely connected to Roman Catholicism.  Violence and religion are well acquainted.
I would like to leave us all with some of the words of Jesus found in Mark 16.

15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.

We could be missing the greatest chance in our generation to reach the lost for Jesus.  They want to come to our doorstep.  They want to escape the violence they are finding around them.  Will we be willing to share the gospel?
Here…I fixed it.

fixed it

Little Sleepy Steps (DOP #2 2015)

Well…I got off work today at 11:56pm after leaving for work at 7am this morning.  SO…I apologize for this being just a bit late.  Frankly I am exhausted, it has been a long day of work, and I didn’t get a ton of sleep last night.  I’ll be up again at 6 to do it all over again tomorrow.

My feet hurt, my back is tired, and I can barely type straight (yeah…turns out that’s a thing…).  I thought about just posting a video and calling it a night.   I could snuggle up into my bed and drift away in just a moment.  My pillow is seductively whispering my name from just over my right shoulder, promising rest, promising comfort.  I’ll find my way there soon, but I recognize that part of this commitment to exploring peace involves giving up a bit of the comfort I have.

It is such a small sacrifice to make, seemingly meaningless really.

It is easy to point at someone like Mother Theresa who worked tirelessly to serve others and say “I’ll never be able to do as much as her”.  The truth is that the sum of her life of service is made up of tiny little decisions to pursue peace for herself and others.

I know that it is cliche to say, but even with very small steps, you can still go a long way.

So this is my small step for the night.  With just a little under 300 words, I encourage you to take your own small steps towards peace, by sacrificing a small amount of your own comfort.

Now off I go to lay down my head, a few minutes later than I wish, but with my task for the day done.

Fear (DOP #1 2015)

It is December, and I have again undertaken the challenge of focusing on Peace, and writing something about it each day during the Christmas season.  For the next 25 days I’ll do everything in my power to post a daily reflection of my thoughts.  Perhaps more importantly however, 5 other fabulous people are joining me in my quest!  You won’t find their posts on my site, so head on over to Facebook and like the 25 days for Peace page (we are considering a website to collect the posts with as well…more on that later).  While you are here, I wanted to say thanks for stopping by, and I really do appreciate you taking the time to read (and maybe even subscribe to) my thoughts.  I’d love to hear what you are thinking as well, so leave a comment below and I’ll get it approved as soon as I can! Merry Christmas, and I hope you find peace in this season.    


I keep reading posts on Facebook that say things like “all Muslims are bad” or “all refugees are terrorists”.  I have seen people post similar statements about Democrats and Republicans, those who are Pro-Life and those who are Pro-Choice, and even about police officers and other public servants.  Everyone seems to have a group of people they don’t like, or that they feel can’t be trusted.  Everyone has someone they fear.

I used to be afraid of loud noises, like fireworks or airplanes flying by at airshows.  The loud noises filled me with fear.

IMG_5187

In skimming the Wikipedia article about fear, I notice that there are lots of little sub-categories and niches that fear falls into.  There are irrational fears, learned fears, taught fears, and phobias, to name just a few.  The article discusses them in depth (far deeper than I chose to go) and mentions possible causes for each.  When you ask google the definition of fear, it describes fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

Wikipedia points out (and I agree) that all fear is not bad. The learned fear of pain is what keeps us from touching things we know will burn us.  We know that falling from something 10 feet can hurt us, so we are cautious at great heights.  A person who can not swim, is often afraid of falling into the water.  We justly fear things we know will cause us harm, whether emotionally or physically.  In many cases we are kept alive by fear, it is an essential emotion!

In some situations fear is not a benefit to us, but is rather a hindrance to us.  If I am afraid of rejection I may not be willing to take important calculated risks at my job, or in my personal life, If I am afraid of the people around me, I won’t ask for help when I need it.  If I am afraid of failing at a task I want to pursue, I may never start the task in the first place.  This kind of fear is difficult for us to ignore, because it is an emotions based fear, and emotions can be fickle things.   We often do not have the ability to predict emotional outcomes, so our fear can be justified to ourselves.

When we are afraid, when we are full of fear, we need to seek peace.

I don’t mean a simple “lets hold hands and sing Kumbaya” kind of peace, but a real inner peace.  Wikipedia describes inner peace below:

“Inner peace (or peace of mind) refers to a state of being mentally and spiritually at peace, with enough knowledge and understanding to keep oneself strong in the face of discord or stress. Being “at peace” is considered by many to be healthy homeostasis and the opposite of being stressed or anxious. Peace of mind is generally associated with bliss and happiness. ”

Wikipedia article on Peace

Peace can drive out fear.  We often find peace going hand in hand with knowledge and understanding.  When we understand fireworks (and are expecting them) we are not afraid of the loud noises but can enjoy them for what they are.  By learning that the noise of a firework is part of how the beauty is created, I chose to accept the noise because of the beauty.   A person who learns to swim may find that they have little reason to fear the water anymore.  Knowledge can drive out fear, understanding can bring peace.

How many times do we fear a religion, refugees, and people who are of a different race, simply because we do not know them, we do not understand them?  Maybe we do not have enough knowledge to correctly judge between people who are a threat, and people who are threatened.  Perhaps we lack the understanding of the reality of racism in this country, since we have never personally experienced it.

I am not saying that we should blindly risk everything for everyone, but I am saying that we should make an effort to confront our fears by making an effort to understand them.

What if we started with pursuing knowledge and understanding first?  Wouldn’t we know more precisely what we SHOULD fear, and take steps to solve the problems we understand to be there?   Wouldn’t we find ourselves at peace more often than we do now?

Learn about the things that scare you.

Try to understand them.

Give peace a chance.

1 Million

Late Saturday night, something happened that I have been working towards off and on for quite a while. It happened quietly, with very little fanfare, and it could have easily escaped even my notice. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t even that important, but to me it has been an interesting reminder of what lies ahead for me.

I moved to Fort Wayne a little more than a month ago, and after a summer of hotel rooms and long drives back and forth to and from Hicksville, it has been a tremendous relief to have a 5 minute morning commute instead of the hour I had been spending. So far I really love being on my own, with no one to worry about but myself. I have been eating less fast food, and even have found time to read in the evenings again.

I don't miss the early morning drives, but the sunrises were pretty special.

I don’t miss the early morning drives, but the sunrises were pretty special.

One of the reasons I thought I would love it so much is because I would finally have some free time to spend on projects that have been sitting on the back burner. At any given time I have at least 15 different things I want to do. There are fun projects like learning to play the piano, finishing the cello I am repairing, learning to play the cello, filming an artsy project, filming some funny videos with some friends, and reading several book series.

There are also more serious projects I want to work on, like the resurrection of my political website, or preparing for the second year of 25 days of peace. I have a series of fictional blogs I want to write, and hours upon hours of video to edit for NGO’S in Haiti and Nicaragua. I have even started a movie script that needs to be finished.

I have so many side projects and aspirations that I keep lists of my favorite ideas in my phone. Obstensibly so I can remember to work on them when I have time. The notes app I use has ideas scattered all over it, ranging from 3 word phrases to fully developed outlines. Quite possible the most important note in the app is my list of life goals.

ideas

I don’t remember if I have ever let anyone see the whole list, but I am highly confident that I have set the bar unbelievably high. A few of the items I am willing to mention include finishing a 100 mile race, and taking a photograph that changes the world. There are other goals on the list that are even more outlandish, ones that seem even less possible than the ones I mentioned above. Some will take years of slow but steady progress, while others will take 3-4 months of sustained and uninterrupted effort.

The problem is that since I have moved to Fort Wayne, I find myself comfortable. As I think about my list of goals I shake my head with incredulity that any one of them could be accomplished in my lifetime, that any of my goals are realistic. As I sit in my recliner, eating an entire frozen pizza by myself while reading some excellent science fiction, I find that my interest in changing the world wanes. The sense of freedom and independence is overwhelmingly enjoyable. I find that I am happy being simple and comfortable. My affairs are my own, and all I ask is to be left to them in peace. I think I am beginning to understand why people are able to just ignore the problems of the world. It is because we have found ourselves to be comfortable, and it is quite pleasant. If it isn’t happening to me right here and right now, it is so easy to ignore.

Late on Saturday night, something remarkable happened. One of my life goals was completed! In fact, it was the very first goal on my list.

For some reason I thought that having a video online with 1 million views was important. That happened Saturday night. For the first time ever, I get to mark an item off of my list! In fact, it happened with very little effort on my part. I simply edited the video, and waited. Once it was posted the hard work was already finished.

LifeGoals

As I reflect on who I was when I started my list, I question why I chose the things I did. Some of the goals are still something I am passionate about, while others have faded in importance. As I consider the work that lies ahead, I find I am afraid to start it, worried that the effort required may leave me empty in the end, or that I may find the completion of a certain goal is meaningless, as the completion of this goal certainly was. I worry that I will find myself comfortable, and unwilling to do the hard work that is going to be required of me to reach all of my “life goals”.

So tonight as I celebrate the removal of one impossible goal from my collection of impossible goals, I have decided to replace it with another, even more impossible to accomplish. I do so because I do not want to be comfortable. I’ve decided that I want to die with many items marked off of my life goal list as done, but I don’t want to die with an empty list. I’ll use every bit of living I’ve been given.

My new goal?

I wish to be known as a peacemaker.

A goal I will pursue at the cost of comfort.

I begin the pursuit now.


Check out the video that has now crossed 1.6 million views here.