Hope That Demands Presence

This post was aided (as all of them are) by many sources and many words of definition, inspiration, clarity. Chief among them are Ta-Nehisi Coates, especially his book Between the World and Me, Austin Channing Brown (check out her website), and Sean Palmer (a great friend and wise author; go to his website, too). As I have prayed and meditated over which direction my life will take this year, these three authors informed me tremendously and I wanted to be sure and thank them (be sure and check out their websites and social media feeds–they are all passionate and informative).

I have struggled to form my word for 2017. The past few years, I have done words instead of resolutions (thank you for this post, Sean Palmer). This year, I had decided I was going to choose one word and from that identify different areas to develop that word more fully.

Then 2016 happened. And I just felt weary. I almost felt as if nothing truly mattered anymore. It was an overwhelming sense of despair. And then I started reading. I started listening. I started praying. And I came to a realization that led me to my word(s) for 2017.

Now is the time to stand firm. Now is the time to work hard. Now is the time to have hope.

Hope that demands presence.

HOPE. I will cling to the hope that I have. The hope that is grounded primarily in Jesus.

There are a number of reasons to feel despair. But all of those reasons are temporary. I have hope that, as Jonathan Martin has written, “God is at work not in the world as it should be but in the world that actually is.” Less than a month ago, we observed the Christian season of Advent—light coming into a dark world. There is a lot of darkness. I acknowledge it. I need to be more aware of it. I need to hear more from the people who are suffering. But the light is stronger than the dark. All of the events and circumstances that are legitimate causes for concern will not bury my hope. For I know there is something greater.

And I have to be honest: I am able to have hope in my current cultural context because of the privilege I have. I have a responsibility to use my voice in places where it will be heard. I have a responsibility to be a voice for people who are cast aside. I have a responsibility to amplify the voices of the people speaking about their experiences and sharing their wisdom. I have a responsibility to make sure I don’t take over, but learn to walk alongside.

DEMANDS. If I have hope that things are going to get better then I must get busy.

Hope is not a flighty feeling of wishing for things to get better. Hope is not a forlorn longing for days gone by when the world was a better place. Hope requires action.

I have hope that people can cross ethnic and class boundaries and form true relationship. So I need to be seeking to cultivate those relationships in my life.

I have hope that people can be treated fairly regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. So I need to be advocating for them and calling my elected officials to vote against discriminatory legislation. I need to be setting an example in my church and my community of how to be loving and welcoming.

I have hope that refugees will be welcomed to our country as they flee theirs at great risk. So I need to be connecting with agencies that promote the well-being of all people regardless of where they come from.

I have hope this world can be a better place. So I better be doing everything I am able to do to make sure that happens.

PRESENCE. I will be present. I will keep my eyes and ears open. I will listen.

Presence takes many forms. In this day and technological age, part of presence means putting my phone down, closing my laptop lid, and turning the TV off so that I can look a person in the eye as they speak to me.

Presence means showing up. To city council meetings and volunteer sign-up drives and candlelight vigils and marches and the ballot box and my local church and the neighborhood clean-up event and anything else that affords me the opportunity to speak and to serve.

Presence means conversations over coffee or at lunch and dinner tables with people who have different opinions and ideas as me. It means that I am willing to listen as well willing to speak. It means I will go out of my way to engage with people face to face and not via social media.

Presence means I will maintain my sobriety—not the absence of alcohol and drugs, but the practice of putting principles before personalities.

Presence means practicing spiritual disciplines: praying, sitting in silence, studying, worshipping, even fasting.

I will be present as much as I am able. I will not run. I will not hide. I will not give up. I will, in the words of President Obama, show up, dive in, and persevere.

My word for 2017 is hope that demands presence. I will need you to hold me accountable. Because I know some days will be easier than others. So let’s work together.

New Year, Same Old You

I hate to break it to you, but nothing magical happened Saturday night at midnight. A ball fell. People kissed. Champagne bottles were popped (or, as in this household, sparkling grape juice bottles). Confetti was thrown. And firecrackers were set off annoying dogs and neighbors for miles.

But let’s face it, it was just another day. We set up our lives by the calendar. We mark time by the passage of months and years. I know why we mark these occasions and celebrate them.

But we must remember: not much changes from December 31 to January 1. (Other than forgetting to change the year you write down on checks leading to a number of crossouts and corrections.)

This is why so many resolutions fizzle out. We are still the same person. So if we make no substantial change in our lives, all the resolutions in the world will not force change. Turning the pages of the calendar from 2016 to 2017 will not make change magically occur.

Now don’t get me wrong: I think because of the ways we measure time, the beginning of a calendar year can be a good time to start something new; or stop something old. Because we think in terms of months and years, we can use that to our advantage. But there are a couple of things we must intentionally do if we are going to make any lasting change.

First, make goals that are specific and realistic. Don’t say, “I’m going to lose weight.” You need to have a certain number of pounds in mind that you will lose. You need to have an eating and exercising plan. Likewise, don’t say, “I’m going to lose 100 pounds in the next 3 months.” That’s not realistic. In fact, that’s kinda dangerous. But make goals that you know you can accomplish.

Second, find a group of people to hold you accountable. If you can join a group working towards the same goal, that would be even better. One of the strengths of the 12 Step model is that everyone gathers for a common purpose—sobriety. While the individual journeys make look different, the overall goal of sobriety allows everyone to help hold one another accountable. Many healthy eating and exercise groups exist. Many writing groups and reading clubs are around that can help you write and read more. Or you can begin your own group. But you will be more successful if you surround yourself with people who can check up on you.

A change on the calendar will not lead you to make you change.

Deciding to make a change will lead you to make a change.

You are still (largely) the same person you were last week. The festivities of Saturday night did not change that. While I appreciate the sentiment behind “new year, new you,” it simply isn’t true. Unless you actively seek to make that change.

And remember, you are more than adequate to do the things necessary to change. By January 1, 2018, you may indeed be an entirely new person. I hope I am. But it won’t happen overnight. So let’s get to work.

Happy New Year, everybody.

What Is Your Buy-in?

What is your buy-in?

The idea that people willingly submit themselves to some ideal or authority figure or expert amazes me.

Sports are a great example of this. The people with the talent listen to the people with ideas in order to make both successful. At any point, if the talent decides they no longer wish to follow the ideas, the team is headed for disaster.

It is the same in the workplace. The people who bear the burden of the heavy lifting, so to speak, listen to the people sitting in board rooms making decisions. At any point, the workers can decide they no longer wish to follow the guidelines established around a conference table. When that happens, the employer begins looking for new people to do the heavy lifting.

It is the same in the classroom. The students do the work laid out for them by the teacher in order to attain more knowledge of a given subject. If the student decides the teacher is not worthy of respect (or the student has the incapacity to give respect) education ceases and tension increases.

At FaithWorks of Abilene, I present a well laid-out career counseling curriculum to a group of adults who are seeking skills and confidence necessary for employment. The curriculum is good. The other material we present (7 Habits, Conflict Resolution, Gospel of Matthew, group counseling, individual counseling) is also good. However, regardless of how good the program is, it will not be effective if the students do not buy-in to the fact that the material will benefit them.

I am asking students to trust me when I offer my help to them. And no matter how prepared, educated, informed, and ready I may be if they do not buy-in I cannot be effective.

The buy-in is needed.

So what is your buy-in?

Where are you committed to bring about change? Or to maintain the status quo? Why?

I am committed to God’s idea of justice expressed throughout the Bible that His people should care for the widow, orphan, and foreigner (in other words, the groups of people that are not privileged). As I continue working more and more with people in poverty it is becoming more apparent how our system is flawed. I am becoming more aware that as Christians we should be doing more than we are.

Don’t get me wrong, the system helps a lot of people and a lot of Christian churches and organizations are doing a lot of good. But we need to do more.

We need to acknowledge that people are not pawns for political fodder. We need to admit that at times we have barricaded ourselves behind the doors of our churches to pray about people and raise money to send elsewhere.  All the while, we walk past the people right in front of us who need help hoping they do not make eye contact with us.

I have bought in to the fact that we need to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions: How are we maintaining institutional racism? How are we maintaining gender-based biases? How is our silence perpetuating the evils in the system? How would my life change if I were truly committed to being Christ-like?

These questions do no assume that we are doing anything wrong. They do assume that we could be doing even more that is right.

But only if we buy-in to the fact that we need to. Only if we buy-in to the fact that there are problems we must attempt to fix.

Without the buy-in, our attempts will be ineffective.

So what is your buy-in for 2014?

Looking Forward to 2014

My friend, Sean Palmer, wrote a blog post last year talking about the importance of making goals instead of making New Year’s resolutions.

This year, I am following his advice.

I have made several goals and written them down. I am not going to share all of them with you, but I will share one.

I want to make better use of my blog. My goal is to write and post more consistently.

This is where I would like your help: what would make this blog beneficial for you? What topics would you like me to address? For those of you who have been reading, what can I do better?

My desire for my blog is to address issues focusing on the themes of grace and community. I also wish to address how privilege affects all of us; whether we are among the privileged or the oppressed. Since this last year provided a transition from finishing my Master’s degree to starting my new career, I would like to address issues surrounding the economy and job market—specifically here in Abilene.

January 1 is an arbitrary day for new beginnings, yet it is an arbitrary day recognized by most as the beginning of a new year. I am striving to make this year one in which I can make a difference. I want this year to be one in which I help build up the Kingdom of God.

I want it to be a year of loving and serving others.

I want to share my story with you; and have you share your stories with me.

I look forward to this next chapter of my journey. I appreciate all who walk along with me.

God bless you in 2014!