My time, talents and money are monopolized by my selfishness and my own need for comfort, affirmation, and merit-based acceptance. And my non-responsive prayer life and self-interested actions reflect those realities. I say non-responsive because Jesus is saying clearly in scripture and prayer, in solitude and in community just what He would like for me to do for, with and to those who are suffering. Yet, I choose to do otherwise on a daily basis to protect myself, my stuff and stave off the uncomfortable and potential suffering.
#OptOutside was REI's marketing campaign to push people to do something other than "consume" on Black Friday. This was antithetical to Verizon's push to turn Thanksgiving into "Thanksgetting." This, I believe gives a macro picture of my own soul as I notice a profound dissonance for me as the options to choose comfort, stability and whatever I want for me and mine over and against the desires of Christ and needs of others around me are stark and defined.
James 2 says:
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God.Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. 20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[d]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,"[e] and he was called God's friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.
25 In the same way, was not even Rahab considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
So, that's simple right? If someone is in need, give them what you have and make yourself a living testimony of who God is and who we are in Christ. #NotSoSimple
When I was single I made decisions about my time, money and energy that put me in harm's way. I did things regularly that were not "safe"; but as a single Black American male living in New York City and traveling the US extensively on-staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship I thought largely of only the personal consequences of my actions. To respond to the call to love my neighbor as myself was plainly less complex because if "something bad happened it only affected me". It wasn't that I didn't have obligations, responsibilities or culpability, it was that in my mind at the time I fasted, prayed, heard clearly from God and was able to obey by His Grace; and to confess and repent when I did otherwise.
Now, the layers of complexity are growing as my friendships grow closer, my wife and I think of children, and it is easier to choose comfort over generosity and sacrifice; especially when the scriptures above seem to guide the decisions of my christian and non-Christian peers less and less. Here's a true story:
Last month, as I rode my bike to church through our neighborhood on a sunny Sunday morning. I saw a woman being accosted by a man who could have been her "boyfriend". She obviously didn't want to go with him and seeing that her phone screen was shattered I slowed down.
She looked afraid, her eyes were tear-filled and one looked swollen. I yelled over to him from the street to let her go about her business. He ignored me.
I yelled again, this time in spanish and I seemed to get his attention. We made eye contact for a moment, the young woman started to walk away and then he jogged to get back in front of her. I got off of my bike and began to walk towards him, again making clear that if she didn't want to go with him, he should not be making her do so.
I am unsure if someone called the police or if they were simply on patrol but soon they came over. They approached the male and he immediately stepped back from the young woman. At this point I could see that the wound on her eye was fresh. I asked if he had hit her and she said "yes, earlier that morning". The young man was told to leave and he resisted, but after being threatened by the officers with arrest he quickly walked away. The two officers then took the young woman home.
Did I consider my own personal safety in this situation? Not really.
It was broad daylight, the man was smaller than I, and this young woman looked like she was in trouble. I do think it was the right thing to stop and not just because "nothing bad happened" or "I didn't get hurt". I think it was right for me to stop because of I don't want my faith to be dead.
Did I consider that I needed to be on time for my breakfast meeting?
Yes I did. But what kind of person is going to be angry with me after I tell them that I was late because I saw a young woman who had been assaulted by her "boyfriend". Certainly not who I was going to meet!
I left that situation very upset and disturbed that so much domestic violence exists in my neighborhood and fearful that she would simply go back to him when she got a new phone and/or he would seek her out as soon as the authorities were gone. I made it to my meeting and asked to pray before we began. I wanted to do more, but acknowledge and embrace that I am not the Christ. Lord have mercy.
Fast forward to the following Friday where my wife and I are heading home through our neighborhood and the same scene plays out. Except, now it's nighttime. Instead of a well lit street, it's a dark alley. I am not alone, I am with my wife. I stop and shortly after we make a decision not to get physically involved. Seconds later after realizing that we made that decision out of fear and not pausing to ask God what right course of action was, we went back. But we couldn't find them. As we circled the block again to continue home a police car goes racing in the opposite direction where we last think we saw that young man and woman go.
For me, the solution to this equation of to help or not to help was somehow changed because my wife was with me and the time of day was different. Why is that? All of a sudden, when the perceived cost becomes too high we shrink back into self-preservation fearing what justice (the disadvantaging of myself for the community) might take from us. Lord have mercy. God, give us courage to take up like Jesus did and not shrink back though it may cost us our very lives and of those we love.
This way of thinking and living is not unique to my wife and I but pervades our society. Particularly in light of the Paris attacks and now San Bernadino for most Americans, this is just becoming a tension. But for Priscilla and I, it's a constant battle. The adoption rates of Black and Latino male children are painfully low, thousands of Central American children are STILL fleeing violence and drug trafficking, black males just like me are under siege in ways that FINALLY warrant attention; and at the same time in the United States literally there are millions of empty bedrooms, billions of pairs of unworn shoes, tons of discarded unused clothing, a sinful amount food thrown away daily and an ever-increasing wealth gap. We have more space, food and money than any civilization in the history of mankind and any population on the planet today.
Yet and still, we sit with all of our stuff, money and free time "praying" for those around the corner and around the world; especially those that we're afraid of. We are begging God to just take care of it so that we can keep on living in our selfishness uninterrupted preaching an untrue anti-gospel of scarcity. It pains me that in response to senseless violence our leaders proclaim - go to parties, restaurants, department stores and bars. Or, kick out undocumented people, shut out our Muslim brothers and sisters and arm yourself with a concealed weapon. Our way of life is threatened and we must not be changed. God, forgive us!
I am part of this. My wife and I, despite our best efforts are part of this. My people (Black Americans) and my wife's people (Korean and Chinese immigrants) are part of this. We as US Citizens are part of this. Lord have mercy. I do not want a "good life" at the expense of others I can't see because they're too far away or too insignificant for the media to cover.
We DO need to change our way of life. Unbridled selfishness, consumption and life in the iWorld needs to change. Financial success and "whatever makes you happy" is actually a shallow and poor way of living life. Instead of shouting racist, xenophobic words at an entire section of the world we must open our extra bedrooms, send our extra food, clothes and money, invest our time and efforts into creating a haven for the tired, weary, worn down and abused. Perhaps it could be said of us that we loved the hate out of those who wished to destroy us instead of being a people marked by obesity, callous ignorance, fear, and violent resolve in defense of our Freedom Tower of Babel.
We want "freedom" and claim to have it yet what that freedom increasingly means is that we are free to do whatever we want at the expense of others and the planet. The roots of our nation on the surface say freedom for all but truly means freedom for some as we are grounded solidly in the wake of de facto and some de juror white supremacist ideology and perceived meritocracy. We are indeed free to look away or over the homeless, black males killed by police, Native Americans in abject poverty on reservations, refugees fleeing violence and war, our family members struggling with addiction or unemployment and ANY other person we deem unworthy of our time, money and resources by misguided personal and social necessity.
God forgive us for being a stiff-necked, selfish, inconsiderate people who live out of fear and not our identities as Children of God. God forgive us for claiming to be Christians while living nothing like Christ actually did. Help us to be generous, kind, just and loving people rooted and established in love and faith in You, for your glory and the sake of all who do not know your name.
I will pray that those who don't have clothing and shoes get what they need. Then I will walk through our apartment and justify all of our possessions - the extra clothes and shoes I have that I have not worn in more than a year and are in great condition. And will make a case to myself for the new ones I need.
I will look at my schedule and bring my fear of failure to Jesus and then sacrifice my time for the neighbor in my midst and the wake of the systemic impact of my existence. I will take up my cross and follow Jesus and give Him my all because He gave His all for me. I will lose my life in His because if I try to save it I will lose it. I am not a child of fear, I am a child of God.
When will you pray and what will you do differently today in response to God's love, grace and truth?