Friday, December 14, 2012

Follow Up Story: America, Its Guns and Our Problem

Earlier this week I posted about "America, Its Guns and Our Problem," and this morning I was shocked to find the following news. Please pray for these children and for change in this country's laws, hearts and minds. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

America, Its Guns and Our Problem

For the second time in a year a mass shooting has taken place in a crowded, public place. Another gunman has terrorized defenseless Americans, only this time it happened at a shopping mall. Last night in Clackamas, Oregon, a teenage gunman wearing a mask opened fire on Christmas shoppers. First, it was Aurora, CO and now, this. Something has to change. 

I remember when Columbine took place in '99; it was the first of its kind of news. Sure, shootings took place before Columbine, even at schools, but nothing matched its scale. Two shooters used semi-automatic weapons, shotguns and homemade explosives to kill 13 people and injure 21. Then, like some bad dream that you keep having night after night, shootings appeared all over the news.

Schools of all kinds, shopping malls, workplaces and movie theaters, at one time or another, have all somehow been twisted into fear-filled shooting galleries. So what can we do? We know the problem of mass, public shootings in America isn't getting any better. What will turn the tide against our nation's gun-violence epidimic? Will legislation, counseling or even a mitigation of violent films?

First, politicians and lawmakers must reengage the gun control issue. While Mitt Romney was running for President, he was asked by Brian Williams about his record on gun legislation and what our government should do in the wake of the Aurora, CO shootings (Video - start at about 1:30 min). "I don't happen to believe America needs new gun laws," Romney argued. At this time in our country's history, I couldn't disagree more.  

If the role of the government is to protect its citizens from all threats, foreign and domestic, then we need the government to step up and make it more difficult to purchase semi-automatic weapons, fully automatic weapons and assault weapons. In Mitt Romney's own words, "these guns are not made for recreation or self-defense, they are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people." If not new gun laws, amendments and careful reconsideration of the ones we have are what we need now, more than ever before.

But what about my right to bear arms (the second amendment)? Great question! I'm not arguing for a removal of the second amendment from the constitution or a revoking of private gun licenses. I am calling for stricter measures to be drafted by our lawmakers to make it harder for people to purchase arsenals of weapons that should only be possessed by trained military or law-enforcement personnel. Furthermore, I hardly believe our forefathers envisaged an America where every man, woman and child could purchase an AR-15 at a gun show. We have wrongfully inflated the right to bear arms to be stretched far beyond its intended purpose. 

Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Though this makes a good point about focusing on the people who buy guns, as a matter of fact both guns and people kill people. It's true, as Mitt Romney argues, that we should pursue dangerous people who desire to use guns for taking lives. It's also true that pursuing said personalities alone will not and has not made things better. I would argue for a two-pronged approach: (1) Tougher gun laws (including measures that drastically restrict what's purchased online and at gun shows) and (2) a wake-up call to the American conscious. 

To the latter, we as Americans need to get a clue. We are the most violent nation on the planet and we export it gladly to other countries. Changing a few laws will not curb this violent trend, to that end Mr. Romney and I wholeheartedly agree. The heart must also be pursued and changed. So, how does that happen? 

The first step is to recognize there is a problem. "Hi, I'm the United States of America and I'm addicted to violence." And what is at the heart of all addictions? We are self-medicating through violence, exercising our hate and frustration in the unhealthiest ways. I'll admit it, it feels good to imagine myself laying into the guy who cut me off; it feels good to berate the waiter who ruined my $15 dinner; it feels good when a bully picks on another; it feels good to be angry. The problem is, hate and anger are secondary emotions that don't get at the core of what's going on. 

What's really going on is this: Americans are angry. We Americans need to do some hard thinking and feeling, to dig deep and discover why we love to hate. And this starts on the micro-level, with you and me. Then, we find genuine healing for our hearts and seek restoration for ourselves and with our neighbors. Next, we tell our story of recovery. "Hi, I'm John and I'm a hate-aholic." By sharing our recovery from hate addiction, we invite others to examine their own hearts and minds. At the very least, all of this creates momentum for more conversation.

In the same way Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to convict the American conscious with the gospel of Jesus as it relates to Civil Rights, America needs a catalyst for a conversation about hate and gun rights. You could be that person or I could be that person. Either way, our gun control laws and approaches to addressing hate in this country aren't working. 

Simply legislating more won't change our predicament. Simply pursuing people to change their hearts won't resolve it either--not on a nationwide scale. We need a two-pronged approach, each with its own scope. Law is terrible for changing hearts, but great for ensuring justice and safety. More introspection and counseling won't stop all people from breaking the law, but it will help them understand why they desire to do so. Politicians should do the hard work of legislation for our safety; counselors, pastors, educators and parents should do the hard work of reconciliation within and without. We're all in this together. We  need all hands on deck because the holes in our hull are many and it's going to take a monumental effort to ensure we don't go under. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What did you lose last night?

I knew it would happen. I woke up this morning and had a feeling Facebook would explode with both love and hate. However, since I didn't stay up to see who won the Presidential Election, I didn't know which emotion would dominate my news feed? 

I do live in Texas, so it was safe to suppose that if Romney won I would see posts of joy and jubilation. If Obama won, which I now know he did, then I would see frustration, despair and hatred. There are times when Facebook newsfeeds are boring and lifeless; I had a feeling this morning would be anything but. And when I finally had a break from work at 10 am, Facebook didn't disappoint. 

There have been angry, rhetorical remarks, "How could our country be so stupid?" And insults, "Those poor idiots who voted for Obama don't know what's coming." And finally, appeals to the absurd, "Stupid people shouldn't be allowed to vote." Regrettably, I've also seen long-time friends turn against each other, trading comments as if they were jabs and uppercuts. Why?

So much rides on our Presidential Elections. It seems each year America breaks records for the inordinate amounts of time, money and energy both candidates and their supporters pour into each contest. And that is partly what excites me about democracy: people mobilize for change. It's no surprise, then, when people feel angry because their candidate didn't win. 

The trouble, however, comes when people face loss and then feel like losers. Anger and hatred are really secondary emotions, they speak to something deeper, a cause for rage and outbursts of anger. In the case of last night's election, I am certain of the cause for most people's anger: insecurity. 

If you are a Romney fan who is inexplicably angry this morning, then you may not like what I'm about to say. The good news is, both Democrats and Republicans need to hear this because both are human (though even that is contested on Facebook). Most Republicans who are pissed this morning feel that way because they feel uncertain about the future. They put a lot of hope and trust in Romney to change the country, economy and even their lives. "Now that Obama has been reelected, who knows what will happen?" This is called insecurity and if you feel this way, you are not alone. 

As one who has always wrestled with insecurity, let me reassure you that what you lost last night was not anything you needed anyway. If you are angry and feeling uncertain today, all you lost was a sense of security that was not real, or safe. Because no matter who is elected or who loses, all of us will face hardships in the next four years - it's inevitable. Unfortunately, some of us believe (including me, at one time) that the President of the United States will fix all of that. 

If I'm describing you, then I must say I'm not sorry for your loss. If anything, this is an opportunity to find out what you really trust in? Where does your hope really lie? Over what issues are you willing to lose a friend, and why? If your identity and security are so inseparably bound to a political party, sports team or another human being, you will always be disappointed. You will continue to be angry and your emotions will be continually tossed like flag in the wind. You won't be much fun to be around, either. But if you are willing to take a chance, step out into the unknown and search for security, the anger and fear will eventually fade and be replaced by something called "life." The choice is yours, but not because we live in a democracy, because we are human. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Struggling In Between (Part 1)

A month ago I watched a documentary about the making of U2’s hit album, Achtung Baby. The film is called From the Sky Down; it chronicles the band's fierce struggle to find unity, creativity and light at a dim point in their career. U2’s fight to keep pushing, despite conflict within and without, has inspired me during my own season of transition, struggle and rebuilding.

At the close of the 80's and dawn of the 90's, you might not have guessed U2 was on the verge of implosion. The album Joshua Tree had been a huge success and the boys from Dublin had more worldwide appeal than ever. Even so, the band's creative and personal lives were in disarray. Sky Down depicts the band as a collection of aching individuals, walled into their own spaces both musically and emotionally.

I, too, know what it means to give off the appearance of success, while inwardly in shambles. After six years of vocational ministry, two of which were spent serving in Budapest, Hungary, I learned how to earmark my success within ministry. In recent years you might have described me as a gifted teacher, experienced leader, knowledgeable student of the Bible and innovative missionary. My Greek professors once called me their “star student.” Despite all this outside support and promise, I eventually became exhausted, disenchanted and frustrated with all-things-ministry. So, what happened?

When Bono and the gang arrived in Berlin on October 3rd, 1990 to record a new album, they found a city they could relate to. Germany had officially been reunited on the exact day of the band’s arrival in the capital. Since Berlin was the epicenter of such a monumental historical shift (de Wende), U2 saw and felt the identity crisis the city was undergoing.

Berlin had been divided by an ominous, concrete wall for 30 years. All of a sudden the German capital entered the 90’s and became a unified metropolis. U2 wondered if their own walls might come down? Would the 90’s also be a time of reunification for this band with so much promise and talent? Or would they remain in isolation, moving towards desolation and short of redemption?

Budapest was my Berlin. Allie and I moved there in 2010, seeking to serve and experience God in new ways. I didn’t know it at the time, but this city that had seen so much darkness, depression and loneliness would create the ideal backdrop for confronting these very qualities in my own being. And, like U2, I was not only stepping into a new city and culture, I was also stepping foot into a decade of uncertainty. Would I survive this overseas adventure and return home with a refreshed sense of God's presence? Or would I leave Hungary with a full passport and an empty heart? 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


What are birthdays like in your late twenties? If you don't already know, it's much different from the confetti-filled, balloon-popping, sugar-enhanced celebrations of your youth. My past few birthdays--when I turned 26, 27, 28--have taken a turn for the existential. Outside of sharing a few drinks with friends, you would have found me taking long walks, hands behind my back, contemplating life itself. Today has been no different. 

I'm inching closer to 30. It's not as depressing as people make it sound. Jokes about getting old are just as common and equally as annoying as marriage jokes; they usually incorporate death, frailty, and sexual under-performance in the punch line. However, with a six-month old and a beautiful wife at home, a heart full of friendships and experiences, and a genuine sense that my life is shaping into something beautiful, I can't complain. 

Today I've been especially aware of how precious life is. A colleague of mine was making a presentation when a G-Chat window popped up, it was his wife checking in. "I felt the baby moving again, so don't worry...everything's fine." It was a sobering reminder of what really matters: Powerpoint slides about upcoming change or the beating of the tiniest heart? The accidental eavesdropping reminded me of when I first learned the answer to that question.  

In March of 2011 we suffered through a miscarriage. After so much anticipation and excitement, telling our friends and family we would soon be parents, everything stopped. A little heart stopped and so did ours. We were left desolate, wondering "Where do we go from here?" Doubts, anger, frustration, and fear filled the air. And through that deep sorrow we began to shuffle along this mortal coil in a different way altogether.

I remember riding subways in Budapest and as I looked around at each passenger I would think, "You're a miracle, you made it here because of a miracle, you made it here for a reason..." I suddenly appreciated the people around me because I realized how hard it can be to travel from the womb to life outside of it. Today I've had the same revelations. 

I'm thankful to be alive. Though I've faced many crushing trials, I am happy to be alive. More than that, I'm thankful to be surrounded by life. To have a wife and son who God has entrusted to me, to have friends who care for me, to breathe with others is a gift. I'm thankful to know my God, my Father who has never given up on me, even in my mess. 

So, I don't know how your Wednesday is going, but just know that you are reading this because you have had life breathed into you. I pray you take it in deeply and pass it along with grace, love, and hope.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

America, I Love/Hate You

In an effort to better process my re-entry into American culture, I thought I’d put together a list of things I like and dislike, or "enjoy" and "could do without," as I think about settling back into my homeland. 

Friendly Faces—People smile at you here, a lot! Not only are people generally warmer in the US than in Hungary, Americans can also be really kind and caring. If I can brag on my parents a bit, most recently they visited Dallas and came across a homeless man begging on a street corner. My parents saw the man, had compassion for him, rolled down their window and offered the man $10 to help him on his way. The man looked at my parents, looked at the bill, looked back at my parents and said, "Holy Shit!" My parents took that response as a "thank you" and wished him well. Even the homeless in the US are not out of reach from American kindness. 

Generosity—Americans are very generous. Though we consume more than any other nation, we also give, give, give and give some more. I have an American-Vietnamese friend named Thai, who upon learning that we didn’t have cable TV because it’s outrageously expensive shared his Netflix account with us. Now we can catch up on two years of movies we missed while overseas, all for free. I have dozens of other stories like this one, or the one with my parents, where kindness and generosity go hand-in-hand. 

Dinner and a Movie—Living in Dallas, we have found ourselves in the restaurant capital of the world (Dallas has more restaurants per capita than any other city). We have top-notch Tex-Mex, cafes, burger joints and, what’s quickly becoming my favorite, Indian restaurants. A colleague of mine took me to a breakfast spot called, “The Dream CafĂ©.” Apparently Bono like the place when he’s in town; I myself was having a beautiful day following granola-crusted French toast!

Dallas also boasts some outstanding movie theaters. Here you’ll find everything from state-of-the-art IMAX screens to low-key, artsy movie houses. When we first came back from Budapest, I was desperate to see Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The British-made film was shot partially in Budapest and we wanted to see our old stomping grounds on the big screen! We had an impossible time finding a screening of the movie at first, but then one of the art-movie houses—The Angelika—began showing the film and we had a blast revisiting our favorite European city while being in Texas.  

Could Do Without
Here in my Car—Life happens in the American car, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Road trips are a blast and Wayne’s World moments are even better. However, for two years I had been living with and loving public transportation. I am not such a fan of traffic, countless auto expenses and angry-as-hell drivers. We live on a street corner where many people mistakenly believe they have a stop sign, when actually they could keep cruising through. This has led to many near-misses and one street fight I witnessed from our balcony. Some dude got so mad about almost being hit that parked his car in the intersection, moved ferociously towards the other car and began cursing while threatening to pull the other driver out of the car. There is no shortage of enraged Americans on the roadways.

Busy-ness—The pace of life in the US is often overwhelming. In Hungary we ate meals over the span of at least two hours. Our Magyar friends would sometimes apologize for leaving a coffee date after two and a half hours of conversation. Back here in the States, our waiters rush us through our meal in 45 minutes, Starbucks has drive-thru coffee and we all rush from here to there. So I swore to myself that I wouldn’t rush so much when I returned. I said I would never again eat and drive when I got back to Texas. I thought, “I will make time to eat and enjoy my food.” On the contrary, I have already eaten my fair share of hamburgers or other forms of food in the car so that I wouldn’t be late to work or some meeting. Slowing down to enjoy life, and food, is going to be harder than I thought.

Fear—I’ve never been in a culture that operates under fear like that of America. Especially when it comes to consumer purchases, fear is a motivator unlike any other—even sex. Our home or car must be protected from malicious intruders, our bodies from harmful foods or chemicals, our future from financial uncertainty and the list goes on. I even get tired of people telling me to “Be careful” whenever I’m leaving a restaurant or someone else’s home.

I was on Facebook and someone had posted a picture of a gun where the caption read, “Welcome to my home…That door you just kicked in was locked for your protection, not mine.” I can remember living in irrational fear like this once before, where I was constantly afraid of someone breaking into our house. After living overseas, travelling a lot and learning to trust God in thick and thin, I’ve changed. I’ve seen there is an entire world to explore out there and people to be enjoyed. I’ve learned that not everyone is out to get you. Fear is paralyzing, it distorts reality and robs our lives of adventure; I pray that I can overcome my fears while facing them here in America.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A poem a day keeps the devil away


Grace is a ghost.
She climbs through my window, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,
She floats across my room, and darkness finds no place to hide.
Oh, elusive grace.
Come back and haunt me a few more times,
Scare away all the wretched demons who against me testify.

Because when you call on me, I hear my name
When you touch my face, I’m not the same
When you call on me, I hear my name
When you touch my face, I feel no shame

Grace, I’m hot on your trail.
Stumbling down alleys and through moonlit streets,
You know I’m barely able to stay on my feet.
Pick me up grace.
Carry me home and change my clothes,
Put me to bed so these eyes can close, and I can finally rest.

Cause I need you to breathe,
I need you to see
I need you to wipe away my hate and fear, and help me be free
Be free.