Friday, December 14, 2012
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
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
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
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
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 Café.” Apparently Bono like the place when he’s in town; I myself was having a beautiful day following granola-crusted French toast!
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.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
In case you haven't heard enough about Kony 2012, I would like to offer a perspective that is truly unique. The thoughts below are brought to you by a friend (Tony) who lived in Africa for over 20 years. You might call him an American-African, someone who grew up in the Northeast and then lived life as an African with his wife and family. After sharing Tony's perspective in this post, I will explain in "part two" why I think we should applaud Invisible Children's efforts.
Tony traveled to Central and Eastern Africa quite frequently, working to empower the indigenous peoples everywhere he went by partnering with them and putting his own agenda aside. He is someone I deeply respect for how he views the African people, gives them dignity and believes in hope for the "dark continent." Here are his thoughts on the Kony 2012 video when I asked him what is helpful and harmful about the viral campaign:
It is helpful in that a whole generation of techno savvy, video watching, FB using, cause-driven young people are being informed about a situation that is thousands of miles away.
It is helpful in that many of those who see the video will be mobilized to want to do something about the LRA and Kony.
It is helpful that there have been those who have traveled to Uganda and helped rebuild schools, it looked like it anyway in the video.
It is not so helpful because it communicates that the USA, or at least this generation of Americans, can cure the world of this ill because we want to and because we can. The underlying belief is that if we just keep pushing the information in front of people, they will respond and they, the US government, will have to send more troops to Uganda. If we just keep up with making Kony famous, the US troops will go in and take care of what the incapable Ugandan army was unable to do themselves. It smacks of paternalism and colonialism.
It is not helpful because there are a lot of groups that are seeking to help and serve the children who are being rescued from Kony's army already working in Uganda. How about if we spent more money giving those organizations food, supplies, clothes, volunteers and more centers to welcome the lost children? Rather than spend thousands on flyers, posters, stickers and t shirts for the April 20 media blitz covering city walls, subways and signs with Stop Kony junk, how about we give it to the folks who are on the ground in Uganda being there for the children? On a side note, who is going to clean up the city after the media blitz the morning of April 21st? Just asking.
It is not helpful because it shows a ton of white young people visiting Uganda to help build a school or meet with the children but who will go on with their lives and forget the relationships. We are such quick fix type of people from the USA. This approach encourages us to get it done by 2012. So, my fear is that many will be involved up front but few will last more than six to eight months after the swell dies down. We will check it off our list of "things done to impact the world" and move on to our self centered living.
It is not that helpful because it portrays Uganda as such a terrible place that only we as young, hip Americans can be mobilized to save the Ugandans from themselves. The African pride is very strong. They are also very wily. We have created a spirit of dependence in many African societies over the years starting with colonialism and even into many years of missionary work by the Catholic church and more social Gospel based groups, unfortunately. While the people of Africa have received from us and do appreciate it, I fear that we risk crushing their spirit again by imposing our way of stopping Kony and bringing him to justice. There are a lot of groups seeking to improve the African society from within. There are a lot of great programs that have reduced AIDS and sexual promiscuity in Uganda. The church is alive there. Why are we not talking about what they are already doing and seeking to come alongside them and help within their framework?
It is not helpful because it seems that it is about this guy's decision to make a difference and it is all about him.
The next blog post will be from my perspective as a new father and my defense of Invisible Children's effort.
Friday, February 10, 2012
Thursday, February 9, 2012
I recently had to answer a question about how "the Lord has impacted my life." I didn't think I could answer such a broad question, but I'm proud of what eventually came out:
When I think about Jesus and his place in my life, what comes to mind is the word “presence.” Even before I trusted in Jesus as Lord and Savior, I can recall moments when the presence of God was very real and even palpable. During the darkest times of my life, especially in those times, Jesus has never stopped chasing me. Through a tumultuous childhood, the death of my Mom, wandering teenage and college years, doubt, fear and depression, Jesus has never let go of me. I have learned the Lord’s presence is sometimes best perceived in our “dark nights of the soul.”
With a diligent love and a persistence that is beyond my understanding, the Lord has met me in my darkest places and then changed me. Jesus has never left me feeling condemned or worthless when he exposes my sin. Instead, the Lord is quick to heal and bring grace to my soul, even in times of painful exposure. Lately I have been doing a lot of reflection on my past and I can see a very real change and saving grace. If it were not for Jesus, I would not take risks, seek adventure, grow in love and trust, be a husband or a father (especially not a good one) or simply enjoy life.
The presence of Jesus in my life has taught me how to be more fully human and let him be more fully God. I experience a great freedom in embracing my humanness because it allows me to receive grace as a created child of God. In this grace I enjoy my life, the world and the people around me more fully—with genuine joy. But most importantly, aside from the many blessings Jesus gives, I am constantly seeking the presence of God. Jesus’ presence in my life has given me a thirst for something beyond, something already here but not yet fully present. Bono sums up this pursuit of presence for me nicely:
You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross, of my shame...You know I believe it
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Blood that trickles down like tears,
racing to get to the bottom of something.
Gravity’s cruel effect on humanity.
When nearness to you feels more like death than life,
your illuminating presence exposes my dark.
Your love forces its way into every corner of my house.
At the bottom of everything is a question, “Can I be loved?”
So that’s where we’ll meet then, at the bottom.
My great crash is where you’ll raise me up,
and in a moment of weakness I will let my guard down,
leaving the door just wide enough to let love in.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
I've been working through some spiritual exercises that are modeled after Ignatius and what he took his followers through. Here's what I'm learning today:
102 (Loved Sinner):
I can’t understand God’s grace or love as a Holy God who would get Himself dirty to love us. It takes grace to understand grace.
It’s hard for me to admit I’m a poor sinner because I’m afraid of 1) being disarmed and unable to control what God sees when he chooses to love me and 2) being rejected for making mistakes. This is mostly why I resist God’s love.
When I resist, I’m like a prostitute who is being loved truly. I resist it, can’t believe it and reject it. I want limited, controlled, somewhat distant love. What I really want, however, is deep love for who I am, but I put my arms out to reject quite often.
God is for me, not ever against me. God is love. He started the reconciliation process between he and I. He also waits on the porch while we are away from home and then jumps off of it to come after us while we are slowly wandering on a road we hope will lead home. He embraces us with a passionate kiss, dirties his own clothes with that embrace and so confounds our understanding of how deep, far, wide and intense love is.