Monday, July 25, 2016

The Opposite of Racism Is Not Passiveness

I recently read a book that encourages readers to think about the present as if it were the past. The premise has proven helpful as a thought experiment. To give just one example, it's simple now to look back at Germany in 1933-1939 and wonder why more good people didn't stand against Nazification. When we wonder such things, perhaps we forget how difficult it is to effect large-scale change as an individual.

Then we turn on the news, and we remember. 

Lately, the news has been nothing but a nonstop juggernaut of awfulness. Aside from political and international concerns, here in the U.S. a sudden uptick in police shootings against unarmed black men has led to cultural upheaval and, in extreme cases of backlash, the execution-style killings of police officers.

Yes, our country was founded on principles of deep racial inequality, the aftershocks of which persist through this day. The magnitude of the problem feels paralyzing. It's hard, as an individual, to know what I can do to address such large-scale issues. 

Unfortunately, from the outside, that paralysis can look like apathy.

I'm not apathetic about this, but I'll admit that for many years, I have been passive. I thought it was enough just not to be a racist. Although the analogy is not perfect, this could be likened to the German citizens of 1933-1939 thinking it was enough just not to be a Nazi. 

If we were to consider the present as if it were the past and look at this season through the eyes of our children's children, what questions would we find them posing? Would they wonder why more people didn't actively effect positive change? 

Passiveness does not effect change. The opposite of racism, therefore, is not passiveness. 

For four good points on active places to start, I defer to Trevor Atwood of City Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee:
1) Pray. Pray for hurting families of victims. Pray for police officers. Pray for God to open up your eyes to injustice and to beg him to take away your hard heart.
2) Weep with those who weep. If you are numb to this, then find someone who isn’t and have a conversation. 
3) [Put] yourself out of your comfort zone to start a relationship with someone of [another] race. Its hard to stereotype and hate when you know someone by name and you know their story. Start [in your] church. Start in your neighborhood. When is the last time someone of a different race or culture was around your dinner table? 
4) Stop talking about this on Facebook and start talking about it at your home. If you have posted about this on social media but haven’t brought your kids into the conversation, see if your priorities are more about preaching to our culture than showing the next generation the beauty God has created in our diversity. 
To that list, I would add three more points: 

5) Attend an ethnically-diverse church. A church should be a reflection of its community. If you live in a diverse area but attend a monoethnic church, you're cut off from the full Body of Christ. (This is also true if you're a minority who attends a monoethnic minority church.) If your area does not have a single multiethnic fellowship, ask yourself why. If you're already rooted in a monoethnic church, pray for grace to effect change from the inside out. 
6) Actively and vocally condemn all forms of racism as anti-gospel. Throughout American history, self-proclaimed "Christians" have actively participated in racist speech and actions while misappropriating Scripture to defend their sin. This is heretical to the true gospel of Christ and should be condemned as such.  
7) Pay heed to your ministry. In 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds believers that we have been charged with the ministry of reconciliation. As the Holy Spirit uses our gospel witness to draw people to Christ, their lives (and ours) are progressively changed from the inside out. When women and men are reconciled to God, they also become reconciled to one another. Therefore, we are charged not only with participating in the reconciliation of the world to Christ but also in the reconciliation of brothers and sisters in Christ to one another. 

That would include racial reconciliation. 

If we can't show the world what that looks like, we're not really Christ's church.
From now on, then, we do not know anyone in a purely human way. Even if we have known Christ in a purely human way, yet now we no longer know Him in this way. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:16-21, emphasis mine).


I abbreviated Trevor Atwood's points due to length/time considerations.
If you desire to read his thoughts in full, click the link in this post.

Photo Credit: 
By Macaaa (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, July 18, 2016

When Authors Are Athletes: The Writing/Running Connection

Over the past few years, I've taken up both writing and running. If you've never done either, then the connection may not seem immediately apparent. There are, however, strong parallels between the two.

Music Motivates

Runners fill their devices with playlists designed to pump them up and keep a specific pace. Sometimes the perfect song at the perfect moment inspires a new burst of energy (lately for me, it's been the praise song "Jailbreak").

Writers also find motivation in music. Because I can't listen to anything with lyrics while I write (or even instrumental versions of songs with lyrics I know), I tend to play wordless pattern music instead (Zoe Keating, Philip Glass, Johann Sebastian Bach, and the Yoshida Brothers are constants). Every once in a while, however, my brain becomes obsessive and only one song will do. (I wrote my entire play Enter Macbeth while playing "Scotland the Brave" on a loop. With Happily Ever After Hours, it was the "Overland Blues.")

Friends Push Further 

I would never have started running without the help of my friend Alissa. Correction: I would have started and then quickly quit. Alissa never criticized me for being weak, frail, and defeatist; instead, she praised me for small victories and jogged along beside me as I figured it out.

Likewise, I wouldn't have finished many projects without encouragement from family and friends. Although they aren't the strongest critics, that doesn't matter: I have editors for that! Just as having a cheering section kept me from throwing my running shoes into the backyard fire pit, so it also kept me from taking a blowtorch to my laptop.

Discipline Required 

Most days, I don't feel like running. I wake up stiff, groggy, and unmotivated. But if I'm ever going to keep in shape, improve my speed/distance, and complete in races to bring home medals, then I must put in time to train.

It's no different with writing. I sit down to the computer feeling mentally stiff and singularly non-creative. But if I'm ever going to improve my skills and complete my current work-in-progress, then I must put in the time and do the intellectual grunt work.

Confidence Needed    

Running in public -- especially if you're not very good at it -- requires setting aside your pride. You will be seen flailing up streets and down sidewalks, thrashing like a beached porpoise, panting and gasping, your face seemingly stuck in rictus as sweat streams from your head and pools in embarrassing places. Running in public also leaves you open for public comment, with everything from shouts of encouragement to catcalls headed your way. Like it or not, this is what happens. Love it or hate it, you must handle it.

Writing for the public (or creating any sort of public art, really) requires that you set your pride aside and open yourself and your work to public comment. Not everyone will like everything you create. That's actually okay: enjoyment in art is subjective. But once you publish, your work belongs to your audience, and they reserve the right to tell you what they think. Like it or not, this is what happens. Love it or hate it, you must handle it.

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

When I first start a new project, it's not uncommon to feel overwhelmed. I can't believe I actually have to write the whole thing--a task which, frankly, often seems impossible. That's why I have to pace myself. First, I tell myself, I just have to write an outline. That's not too scary. Then I break the project down into daily goals that are challenging and yet achievable. Eventually (after much weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, and guzzling of coffee) the project is complete.

It always feels like a miracle.

It's the same with running. I haven't run a full marathon yet, but each time I lengthen my distance or register for a longer race, even the idea seems daunting. I don't know how I'm ever going to make it the whole distance. So I set up a plan and break the training down into challenging and yet manageable segments. Eventually (after much weeping, flailing, gnashing of teeth, and guzzling of water) the race is complete.

This also feels like a miracle.

The Struggle Is Real

I'm not going to lie. Both disciplines are a struggle. While I'm pleased to have accomplished a measure of success in both areas, I know that the struggle isn't over. While the medals on my wall and the scripts (and soon-to-be actual books) on my shelf aren't going anywhere, the ability to produce such results will disappear if I don't keep after them.

So here's to all my fellow writing-runners and running-writers out there, and to those who aspire to become either one.

May God grant you the health, strength, and self-discipline to achieve for his glory.

* * *
Image Attributions:

By User Gflores on en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, July 11, 2016

15 Ways to Annoy Your English Friends

  • Pronounce literally any word the American way
  • Use the terms English and British interchangeably
  • Claim you don't watch Wimbledon because you "don't care for golf"
  • Confuse football with American football 
  • Get lost in a traffic circle 
  • Call it a traffic circle
  • Mimic the accent and get it wrong
  • Mimic the accent and get it right
  • Give measurements in Imperial
  • Prove yourself incapable of converting Imperial into Metric in your head on command
  • Fail to recognize "proper" butter, bacon, sausages, traffic patterns, etc.
  • "Misspell" cheque 
  • Express concern over how many flags England has
  • Fail to understand which flag would be the best choice for the header of this list
  • Write this list 
* * *
Thank you, Pam, for being my friend. I'm sure you're already correcting this list in your head. 
Also, h/t to Wikimedia for the flag: 
Public Domain,

Monday, July 4, 2016

Should We Still Be Traveling?

In the past, whenever I discussed upcoming travel plans, I'd be met with enthusiastic questions about who I'd be traveling with and what we planned to see and do. This year as I've planned my travels, I've noticed a shift. Instead of being greeted with enthusiasm, I've been met with concerns, warnings, and questions regarding whether this whole travel thing is still a good idea.

Am I not concerned with the threat of international terrorism? Have I considered just staying Stateside until some of the global upheaval has died down?

These are valid concerns, and I don't mind addressing them. 

Here's how I see it.

The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are 1 in 9.3 million, whereas the odds of dying in a car accident are only 1 in 18,585, and the odds that I'll be murdered are just 1 in 18,000.  I'm more likely to be killed by a freak fireworks accident (1 in 1,000,000) than by a terrorist. Given my questionable history with ladders, the odds that I'll fall from one and die are probably even shorter than what's reported (1 in 2,300,000).

So international travel is not the most dangerous thing I do. 

Furthermore, considering the fact that just a few weeks ago, a man pledging allegiance to the Islamic State carried out a mass shooting just two hours from my home, and that he planned the attack while living in my town, I'm not sure how I can reasonably believe that staying home will increase my safety.

Our world is not safe.

We have always known this.

Even before our awareness of global terrorism, danger has stalked us. If we want reasons to fear, we need not look far to find them. I once had a rattlesnake fall on my head out of nowhere. So I know the unpredictability of danger better than anybody.

Ultimately, I'm not afraid to travel because I know that whether at home or abroad, my times are in my Father's hands. While that doesn't free me to make brainless moves or take unreasonable risks, it does free me to face potential dangers without fear. 

Whenever Jesus chooses to call me home, I'll be happy to go. Until then, I'm going to enjoy this amazing world as I wait for the great Shalom ushered in by the Prince of Peace.