Sunday, February 25, 2018

Four Lost Reflections of God


As a college student in the late 90s, I was not passionate about learning.

Sports, friends, girls and fun filled up my schedule, leaving little time for acquiring knowledge. I earned my degree, but did not learn nearly as much as I could have.

In the last several years, however, my curiosity and desire to learn have been sparked by the people around me. I’ve been involved in cross-cultural ministry since the fall of 2014, first in a different country and now in a different city. It has been a journey of having my eyes opened to the beauty of other cultures and realizing how God is already at work among people who are different than me.

Recently I was chosen to participate in a Civil Rights Pilgrimage. I joined two of my co-workers and 16 strangers on a journey to the Alabama cities of Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery and Tuskegee.

The facts

At the corner of 6th Avenue and 16th Street in Birmingham, we found ourselves nearly surrounded by historical sites. On the Southeast is Kelly Ingram Park which is filled with statues commemorating aspects of the Civil Rights movement. The Southwest quadrant is the Civil Rights Institute. On the Northwest corner is the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

Our first stop was the Civil Rights Institute. I discovered many names, faces and events that were new to me. I remember feeling a bit ashamed at my ignorance but felt inspired to study and learn as much as I could.

Eventually I came to the exhibit dedicated to the terrorist attack on the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. This exhibit is strategically placed near windows that allow you to see the actual church across the street. I had heard about this bombing before and how it had killed four young girls. However, several facts surrounding the attack were new to me.

I learned the names and ages of the girls - Addie Mae Collins (top left) was 14; Carole Robertson (bottom right) was 14, Denise McNair (bottom left) was 11 and Cynthia Wesley (top right) was 14.

I also learned the date of the attack - September 15, 1963.

I stared at the date for some time - probably not minutes, but long enough to realize I was staring. My heartbeat and my breathing became noticeable and my mind was reeling.

I was born on September 15, 1976 - a difference of exactly 13 years.

Only 13 years.

While walking through the Civil Rights Institute and seeing black and white photos, I was transported back in time. Even though I knew better, I felt as though the events of the Civil Rights Movement had happened at least 50-75 years before I was born. The years separating me from those four little girls were stretched to twice, three or four times their actual length.

Being hit with the relative proximity of this tragedy shook me.

The Realization

Questions overtook my mind as I stared at the date of the bombing. How did I not know the date of this attack? Was it really just 13 years before I was born? What would Addie Mae, Carole, Denise and Cynthia be doing today if they had not been murdered? How many others were killed during the Civil Rights movement?

I pictured the day of my birth, but not what was happening where I was born. I imagined the homes of the girls’ families. I saw the parents of Addie Mae, Carole, Denise and Cynthia waking up and not wanting to get out of bed. They didn’t want to face another anniversary, another flood of emotions, more questions from reporters and others wanting to memorialize their daughters. They were still devastated because their little girls were gone, and even though more than a decade had passed, the pain was still fresh.

I thought of my own children, my 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son. The 13 years that have passed since my son was born have gone by in a flash. But for the parents of Addie Mae, Carole, Denise and Cynthia, 13 years probably felt like a crushing lifetime and each new day another year added on top of that.

Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t anyone tell me? How is it possible that I have celebrated 41 birthdays on September 15 and never learned the significance of that date?

There are two answers to these questions and each is equally disturbing.

America doesn’t think the deaths of Addie Mae, Carole, Denise and Cynthia at the hands of white supremacists merited mention.

Either that, or my own importance and privilege have made me apathetic to history and blind to the pain of others.

Or maybe it is both.

The Resolution

Addie Mae Collins
Carole Robertson
Denise McNair
Cynthia Wesley

Their names and lives are significant, not just because of how they died but because of how they were created. The Creator of the Universe, the one we call God, created each of them in His image. Those little girls with dark skin were a perfect reflection of our Heavenly Father. God made Addie Mae, Carole, Denise and Cynthia exactly as He intended them to be. He had a purpose in mind for each of those girls. He wanted the rest of the world to know Him better when they met Addie Mae, Carole, Denise and Cynthia.

That’s why their deaths are significant enough to be included in every single historical account. Significant enough to remember September 15, 1963, the same way we remember September 11, 2001.

My birthdays will be different from now on. I’ll still celebrate another year of life because I think that’s what God would want. After all, each day is a gift from Him and it’s a good practice to celebrate regularly. However, my birthday will also include a time of remembrance, mourning and lament as I acknowledge the image of God in Addie Mae, Carole, Denise and Cynthia that was taken away from us by hatred.

The Questions

This pilgrimage has left me with more questions than answers.

What happened to the image of God in those who killed Addie Mae, Carole, Denise and Cynthia? Those men were also created as a reflection of our Heavenly Father. How did hatred and white supremacy so fill them that they couldn’t see God’s image in black people?

Do we see the image of God in people of color? In immigrants and refugees? In anyone who is different from us?

Has hatred, pride, greed or comfort so filled us that we can no longer see the image of God in ourselves?

We are all created in the image of God. We all display unique parts of our Heavenly Father and without those unique parts we can’t possibly know God. We were intended to complement each other in order to reflect who God is. It’s not enough to see each other as valuable; we must start to see each other as necessary.

Today Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley would be 68, and Denise McNair would be 66. I wish I could have known them because through them, I would better know God.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Will you accept the gift? [2017:7/52]

If you've grown up in church like I did, the title of this post, "Will you accept the gift?" is not unfamiliar. It usually refers to salvation - a free gift given by God.

But this isn't about that.

The gift I'm talking about could be any gift, any act of kindness or form of service that one person can give to another.

Almost all people like to get gifts, but have you ever thought about the circumstances under which we will happily accept a gift?

- Birthdays
- Anniversaries
- Christmas
- Graduations
- Weddings
- Baby Showers

It seems like there must be some special occasion in order to willingly accept a gift.

What about a gift that is given, "just because?" And what about a gift that is given to meet a perceived need - something we can't provide for ourselves? That's the kind of gift I'm talking about, and it is often difficult to accept.

I've got some friends who were in a serious car accident. The didn't suffer any major injuries but needed a few days of rest to let the bumps and bruises heal. I wanted to bring them a meal one night just so they didn't have to cook or go out for food.

When I offered the gift I was prepared for the reaction I'm accustomed to hearing: "Oh that's OK. We can manage. Don't worry about us. We're fine."

I was prepared to offer a little more forcefully until they relented.

However, my friends surprised me with their response. "Thank you. We accept your love offering."

At first the response seemed odd to me, but I quickly realized what a beautiful response it was.

Where I come from, people are used to being the giver and not the receiver. Self-sufficiency is a virtue right up there with honesty, hard work, strong moral character and patriotism. Receiving help is not a regular activity. And if the time ever comes when help is needed, it is customary to put on a self-sufficient show, making a big production of how you can manage and others shouldn't inconvenience themselves for your sake. Then, after a sufficient amount of resistance, it is allowable to accept the gift ... begrudgingly.

It was common for me growing up to see two grown men arguing over who would pay for the meal at a restaurant. I never understood it.

Having spent time with people from different cultures and different walks of life, I'm starting to see that not everyone puts such high value on being self-sufficient. And not everyone makes such a big show of being able to fend for themselves.

Some people happily accept gifts given "just because" or gifts given to help meet needs.

Jesus gives us an example of being willing to accept a gift. Remember, in John 12, when Mary poured perfume on His feet and wiped them with her hair? One of the disciples objected, but Jesus defended her actions and embraced the act of kindness.

Mary's was an uncommon act of kindness intended to bless the receiver. But many times we forget about the blessing received by the giver ... unless the giver is us!

Acts 20:35 quotes Jesus: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." This is a well-known phrase. We teach it to our children so they will be generous as they grow up. Most of us try to live out this truth by being generous ourselves - especially when those around us need help.

But, if giving is the MORE BLESSED position, why are we so hesitant to allow others to give to us?

Think about the feeling you get when you give a good gift to someone. It's way better than receiving the gift. After all, being the receiver can often imply need. So, to meet someone else's need feels great. But it also puts the giver in a position of power, self-sufficiency and greater blessing.

What if we allowed others - maybe even those we consider needy - to occupy the position of giver once in a while? What if they could hold the power, the feeling of self-sufficiency and the greater blessing.

Being generous isn't always about giving, sometimes we must receive as well.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What if ... [2017:6/52]


What if we are on the verge of the next Great Awakening?

What if we are blind to the injustices we are guilty of?

What if I acknowledge my many privileges and wield them to enact justice?

What if we’re missing out on part of the Gospel because we avoid discomfort?

What if we’re missing out on part of the Gospel because we avoid suffering?

What if we’re missing out on part of the Gospel because we avoid people who are different from us?

What if we’re spending the majority of our time and effort on things that won’t matter in eternity?

What if we defend and fight for refugees just as strongly as we defend and fight for the unborn?

What if we were more concerned about criminals’ eternal souls than we are about them getting the punishment they deserve?

What if we are just the slightest bit racist?

What if our stereotypes, prejudices and biases are keeping us from loving our neighbors as we do ourselves?

What if inner cities are places of beauty?

What if the next generation looks back on us with disgust for the problems we’ve tried to ignore?

What if our comfort is keeping us from learning all that God wants to teach us?

What if the poor are not just people we should help but people we should learn from?

What if we’ve been doing church wrong?

What if Jesus had really dark skin and hair?

What if money didn’t have such a hold on our priorities?

What if small groups are not the way to build community?

What if community isn’t the answer to our sin issues?

What if our sin issues never go away?

What if safety is an impossible thing to achieve?

What if financial peace is an impossible thing to achieve?

What if God asks us to do something really dangerous and costly?

What if we say no to God when He asks us to do hard things?


What are your “What if” questions?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Image of God [2017:5/52]

Then God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
- Genesis 1:26-27

Lest we forget, here is a very small sampling of those who were created in the image of God:
















Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Confession [2017:4/52]


"Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
'Why have we fasted,' they say,
'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?'

"Yet on the day of your fasting you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord's holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob."

The mouth of the Lord has spoken. 
- Isaiah 58 (emphases added)

This is my confession: I am no better than Israel when these words were spoken by God through the prophet Isaiah.

For a long time I have been talking about justice, about walking alongside the oppressed, about serving others. This past week, however, I was forced to face up to the reality that talk is a lot easier than action.

With all the reaction to President Trump's executive order to ban refugees from entering the United States, I've had to question where I stand on this issue and what my reaction will be.

First of all, I vehemently disagree with turning away people who are seeking refuge. I believe anyone who reads the Bible and takes it seriously cannot dismiss the Lord's desire for us to welcome foreigners and those desperate for help. So the president's ban is disappointing and shameful.

However, when I consider what my reaction will be, things are not so clear. I am not afraid of refugees or muslims or terrorists - the worst any of these people could do is hurt me or my loved ones physically. As a Christian and a disciple of Jesus, I should live expecting such treatment (John 15:18-19). So it is not fear that gives me trouble when considering my reaction - it is comfort.

If I boil this issue down to a very personal level and consider how I may practically help those refugees who are no longer welcome in the United States, my instincts to preserve comfort and convenience kick in. 

Would I welcome a refugee family into my home?I want to say yes, but the truth is that it would be very inconvenient and uncomfortable for me and my family.
Will I write a letter to my congressman and/or other elected officials?I want to say yes, but how would I find the time? What would I say?
Will I donate money to organizations who are helping refugees?I want to say yes, but I've got so many other people and organizations who need my support as well.
Will I pray for refugees?I want to say yes, but my prayer life is a joke. I can't even remember to pray for my own family much of the time, so how can I realistically commit to praying for people who I don't know.

All of these are confessions. I'm not proud of myself. I'm humiliated.

A few years ago I read a book called Overrated by Eugene Cho, pastor and founder of One Day's Wages. The thesis of this book is that our generation is very aware of issues of justice. We are very concerned and quick to respond to injustices in the world. The problem is that we are not quick to act in meaningful ways. Therefore, we risk becoming the most overrated generation in history - one with incredible potential to do good, but without the willingness to enact justice.

I am overrated. I have big ideas and feel strongly about issues of justice - systemic racism, poverty, mass incarceration, immigration, the death penalty, human trafficking, war - and yet, what do I do? I continue living my comfortable life, mostly concerned about myself and my family.

This post is not about where I stand on issues of justice. My stance doesn't matter if I'm not willing to do something about it. This is about my heart and my lack of willingness to do things that are difficult on behalf of the oppressed.

Some people actually believe that if our hearts are in the right place then it doesn't matter what we do. If you read Isaiah 58 above that is clearly not true. God told His chosen people that their religious disciplines were worthless if not accompanied by acts of mercy and justice. I have been so quick to give myself a pass because I've felt that my heart was in the right place - that I was taking the right stand on issues. Now I can see that Isaiah 58 could have been written about me:

For day after day Dan seeks me out;
he seems eager to know my ways,
as if he is a person that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of his God.
He asks me for just decisions
and seems eager for God to come near him. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Comfort [2017:3/52]


"If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair." - C.S. Lewis


Comfort is a slippery thing. It's hard to grab onto. If you can get it in your grasp, it's hard to keep it there. Once you've had it and lost it, your desire to get it back can consume you. If you've got a firm grip on comfort, you are not likely to voluntarily let it go. You'd like to share it with others, but then, if you do there may not be enough of it for both parties.

There are many things in life like comfort - or maybe they are subcategories of comfort:

  • Power
  • Wealth
  • Safety


Comfort also has some cousins:

  • Status Quo
  • Freedom
  • Control


Comfort, along with its subcategories and cousins, has become the biggest idol that stops us from becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is true for me, and I'm sure it's true for many of you.

Stop and think about your life. If someone who doesn't know anything about you took a look at the way you live, what could they assume was the most important thing in your life? Take it a step further and imagine if someone who has grown up in a third world country examined your life. What would they conclude about your priorities? 

If we read about the life of Jesus, there were some clear indications of what was most important to Him. Even as a boy He chose the Temple of God over time with His own family. As an adult Jesus spent His days teaching, healing, comforting and confronting - all in an effort to show the world who God really is. He poured Himself into a group of young men so that they could do the same once He was gone. 

As you read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John you will not find Jesus seeking comfort. He did not put down roots in any one place, instead He said, "The Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He was homeless! As someone who was constantly on the move, we can safely assume He did not have a large wardrobe that He had to carry with Him. 

Jesus was shown great hospitality and did not turn down acts of kindness, sometimes in comfortable settings. However, He did not seek comfort and was not preoccupied with His own power, wealth or safety. He surely did not seek to maintain the status quo of the day. He willingly laid down His freedom and allowed others to take or maintain control in certain situations.

I wish I could say I was more like Jesus than I am. I do so many things to preserve or achieve comfort. Comfort has become an idol in my life.

Part of my problem is I've had a firm grip on comfort for so long that I'm afraid to let it go. I don't know how to live any other way. I've seen what life looks like without comfort and it scares me.

I grew up in the United States of America - a wealthy nation.
I grew up as a white male - a very powerful set of traits.
I grew up in the country - a safe place to live.
I grew up with a good education - something that allowed me to control my future.
I grew up in a stable, loving family - the status quo was rarely threatened.
I grew up as a Christian - a state of complete freedom.

All of those things above are incredible blessings. The problem is, I've grown so accustomed to them that they've become something I find myself fighting to protect.

Power

I have learned that the most powerful group of people in this country is one that I became a part of the moment I was born. I didn't earn my way into this group. I didn't ask to be in this group. I didn't even know I was in this group at first.

Being a white male equals power in the United States. I'm not saying every white male has authority over others. I am saying that being a white male has granted me privileges that no other group in this country has.

In general, people do not make negative assumptions about me because of my race or gender. In fact, most of the time people will assume positive things about me because of my race and gender.

When I get pulled over for a traffic violation - something that has happened too many times in my life - I don't spend much time thinking about my body language or tone of voice. I feel safe, even when the officer walks up to my window with his hand on his gun. 

If I'm uncomfortable in multicultural settings, especially settings in which I'm the only white guy, I can usually choose a different setting that makes me more comfortable (i.e. a room full of other white people). 

This is a power that not everyone has.

Wealth

We all know that the Bible says, "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil." Very few of us would say that we love money, and therefore, don't worry about its evils. However, if we compare our thoughts and interactions with money to those of Jesus, we are not likely to see many similarities.

When Jesus tells the rich young man to sell all he has and give to the poor, then follow Jesus, I tend to start interpreting Scripture in a way that absolves me of Jesus' words, even though I am very much like that rich young man.

When Jesus tells a large crowd, "Do not store up treasures on earth ... store up treasures in heaven," I'm quick to think logically about the need to be prepared in case of an emergency. I'm not trying to store up a treasure, just to be wise and take care of my family. That's what a good husband and father does, right? But if I've got an emergency fund stored up and disaster hits, why would I need to rely on God for help.

I don't want to take care of myself or my family, I want all of us to be in God's care. I'm so unqualified to be the provider and He's the creator of everything and gives us everything we need if we just trust Him!

Safety

Every night I pray before going to bed and I ask God to keep my family safe. When we leave on a road trip we ask God to protect us. Any time my kids are away from home, or I'm away from them for the night, I pray for their safety.

Do you see the common thread?

In the moments when I don't feel like I'm in control - that's when I look to God for protection. Any other time I feel pretty confident that I can keep myself and my family safe.

It turns out, safety is harder to get ahold of than comfort! It's an illusion really. We've all known people who have suddenly and tragically died. Most of them probably felt quite safe moments before tragedy struck.

When we offer our lives to God as His disciples, we must also lay down our desire and need for safety. The Apostle Paul wrote, "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain." He knew safety wasn't going to always be with him as he served the Lord. Paul was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked and more. He longed for death to come so he could be in heaven, and yet he served God while he was alive.

How many of us live that way? How many of us really believe there's something better awaiting us when we die?

Status Quo, Freedom, Control

These three cousins of comfort have been on my mind a lot in the past year. The Presidential Election brought these three things to the forefront in many ways.

Status Quo is something both major parties fought for - their own versions of status quo. Although change is a buzzword during any election, the real goal is to get things back to the way they feel they should be. 

Freedom is another hot topic during campaigns. We all want the freedoms that matter to us - religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom to vote, freedom to choose, freedom from tyranny.

Control is the ultimate goal in an election. Whether it's control of the Oval Office or control of the Senate, everybody is fighting for control of the government in one way or another. There are even issues around the idea of control - gun control, border control, etc.

The problem with pursuing any and all of these things is that they never live up to the expectations. Status quo inevitably changes. Freedom is limited. Control is temporary.

In the end, our American Dream really amounts to nothing. We end up with piles of money, guns, houses, laws and aspirations for a better future. None of it really makes us happy or gives us fulfillment, although they may make us slightly more comfortable.

Jesus asks us to give up everything - all we have - so that nothing will distract us from following Him. When we hold on to the pursuit of comfort, in any of its forms, we cannot possibly become all that He wants us to be. That only happens when we've got nothing.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Words [2017:2/52]


I graduated from Bethel College in 1999 with a degree in Communication. Back then you could choose from three different tracks within the Communication major and I chose print media. My aim was to be a journalist.

When I was in high school I discovered a love of writing. I enjoyed both creative writing and journalism. I found more freedom in creative writing but I enjoyed being able to recount events concisely and accurately through journalism.

I held three different positions at two different newspapers for the first eight years that I was out of college. I did a lot of writing and designing during those years.

There were some unforeseen side effects to working in journalism. First, being required to write every day made it less appealing to spend time writing outside of working hours. Second, there is a constant challenge to keep your writing fresh. It's easy to get into a rhythm and pretty soon that rhythm can change into a rut where you use many of the same words, phrases, sentence and paragraph structures. Editors will let it slide for a while, but sooner or later they'll push you to change things up.

Avoiding the use of cliches is one of the biggest challenges I experienced as a journalist. Cliches exist for a reason - they provide accurate descriptions in an easily recognizable way. They also get overused and can even lose their original meaning eventually.

The need to keep things fresh and avoid cliches drove me to keep learning new words. I've developed a love of words over the years and I'm always ready to look up definitions when I hear words that I'm not familiar with. I normally don't use a great variety of words in conversations but I enjoy trying to effectively use new words in my writing.

Here are some of the words and phrases I've been learning or re-learning lately:

Conservative
Definitions: 1. Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change; 2. Cautiously moderate or purposefully low; 3. Traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness

Sometimes the meaning of a word differs depending on the arena in which it's being used. I believe this is the case with the word conservative.

In last week's post I ended by saying I no longer fit into the political categories of Conservative, Evangelical or Republican. In many ways I still consider myself conservative and evangelical. However, as descriptors of political preferences they do not describe me.

Just as cliches can lose their original meaning with overuse, words can also take on different meanings over time. I believe the meaning of conservative when talking about someone's political bent is different than the definition above.

Rather than describing a person's political strategy or ideals, the word conservative is most often used to categorize people. The words evangelical, liberal, moderate and progressive are used the same way. Each word has a dictionary definition that is still valid, but it also has a commonly applied use, which may or may not agree fully with the definition.

Part of the reason I've tried to separate myself from the political distinction of conservative is because it is often associated with narrow-mindedness, racism, war, lack of concern for the vulnerable and religious extremism. Correct or not, when using the word conservative in a political conversation, those are the characteristics assumed.

"Conservatism always positions itself as a return to a better era. The data tends to indicate that better era never existed." - Mike McHargue, The Liturgists

Going back to the good old days isn't always the best thing for everyone. In the world of politics many people want our country to go back to the values and principles of our founding fathers. I can understand this sentiment but I disagree with it because their values and principles weren't all that great for everyone.

About two months ago I read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States for the first time. While much of those two documents is admirable and worth protecting, there are a few small phrases and caveats that shouldn't be ignored. In the original documents, the rights that were supposedly given to all men were really only given to white men. Africans, Native Americans and women were not given the full array of rights. 

I realize people who want to return to those days aren't trying to take away people's rights, but the founding fathers' view of and discrimination against minorities must not be ignored. It was part of their character.

The reason I've spent so much time writing about this one word is because I've always considered myself conservative. The current meaning of the word, however, is not something I am comfortable applying to myself. It's a part of my ongoing deconstruction and it's causing me to deeply examine both the word and my own heart.

Evangelical
Definitions: 1. Pertaining to or in keeping with the gospel and its teachings; 2. belonging to or designating the Christian churches that emphasize the teachings and authority of the Scriptures, especially of the New Testament, in opposition to the institutional authority of the church itself, and that stress as paramount the tenet that salvation is achieved by personal conversion to faith in the atonement of Christ

Again, the political use and the common use of the word evangelical have taken on two different meanings. If you're talking about my religious beliefs then I am clearly an Evangelical. But if you're trying to fit me into a political category, I don't want anything to do with the term Evangelical.

Evangelical and conservative seem to go hand in hand in the world of politics. Therefore, Christians who claim to be Evangelical quickly get lumped in with all the stereotypes about conservatives. 

I don't think it's ever a good idea to try to categorize people. We were made by a very complex Creator who created us in His image, so that means we are complex as well. We shouldn't try to fit every person into a box, or even a set of boxes. It makes it too easy to minimize each person's uniqueness.

Empathy
Definition: the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

Personality tests are meant to explain people, but sometimes they are used to categorize people. For that reason, I'm not a big fan of personality tests. However, there is one personality test I've taken twice and my results have caused me to embrace and use my strengths much more effectively. The Clifton StrengthsFinder says my top two strengths are adaptability and empathy.

I was aware of my adaptability long before I took the test. Working in the newspaper business, with its constant tight deadlines, almost requires adaptability.

Empathy, however, was not something I was very familiar with. Honestly, I couldn't have told you the difference between empathy and sympathy until about five years ago.

I was very close to my mom growing up and I've always thought of her as a very kind and loving person. It turns out that she is also very empathetic. She identifies with the feelings of others and has compassion for them.

My mom's influence must have passed on this trait to me. I always knew I could identify with others, probably a little more easily than most people, but I didn't know there was a word for it. I also didn't know it would become a strength in my life.

As I've spent time living and working in different cultures, empathy has been a great asset. It has helped me identify with the struggles of those who are different from me. I have been especially grateful for this ability when I've spent time with people groups who have been historically oppressed or marginalized.

I'm not saying I know what it's like to be oppressed, or that I completely understand the experience of all people. I am saying that empathy has allowed me a deeper glimpse into the lives of people and that has caused me to deconstruct many of the things I took for granted growing up.

One of the knocks against conservatives and Evangelicals is that they lack compassion toward the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. I think this alleged lack of compassion comes from a lack of empathy. 

Many people outside the Church feel only judgment and condemnation from those inside the Church. The Church should be the most empathetic, the most compassionate and the most accepting group of people in the world. After all, those of us who claim to follow Jesus know that if it wasn't for His love, His grace, His atoning sacrifice for our sins, we would all be doomed. And yet, as we look out into the world outside of the Church, we are quick to cast judgment and retreat into the safety and comfort of being surrounded by people who think, act, dress, talk and worship like us.

The people of God's Church have been called to care for the orphans, the widows and the foreigners - the least of these even. So, where is our empathy? Where is our compassion?

Sadly, I believe the Church has become so consumed with being right, with being comfortable, with power and with racism that it can't see past its own doorstep and into a world full of people in need.

"Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it." - Gregory Boyle

There are so many more words I want to discuss, but this post has already gotten very long. Maybe I'll do more "Words" posts throughout the year. Some of the words I wanted to address are privilege, gentrification, justice, equality and unity. Those will have to wait for another day.

It's important to me that I use words accurately and in the correct context. My co-workers and I joke a lot with each other about words. We laugh and call out each other's mistakes, but it's because we really want to communicate clearly. We talk about a lot of very important topics and so we want to be careful in the way we speak about them. We also want to be honest about how words apply or don't apply to us.

My love of words has caused me to carefully examine their meanings - literal or practical - and that has led me to know myself and the people around me better.