4 Reasons I love public libraries and you should too.

George-peabody-library.jpgFor a long time, I’ve had a pretty serious crush on libraries. Just about every time I see a bookshelf, I tend to stand there a bit and gawk. I distinctly remember visiting a library for the first time after being abroad for a couple of years. It was both overwhelming and exhilarating – to be surrounded by multiple lifetime’s worth of experiences, wisdom and information. We usually take them for granted.

Today I want to outline 4 reasons public libraries in particular are worthy of your patronage and adoration:

  1. einstein and librariesPublic libraries are a respite for the poor. Jesus was unabashedly concerned with those at the margins of society, continually showing unique attention to lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Public libraries often provide a resting place for those most marginalized in our society – a free space to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, surf the internet, and enjoy air conditioning, not to mention limitless information. For someone with mental illness or unable to hold a job, such public spaces are an oasis of relief and an invaluable resource for information and needed connection.
  2. Public libraries (can) facilitate interaction between socio-economic classes. It is rare for the rich and poor to meet. More and more, real estate (and prejudice) push these groups apart. If Christians are serious about being like Jesus, it seems logical to assume we would have at least some interaction with the most marginalized, and the library is a great place to meet folks you normally wouldn’t. There are fears that accompany mental illness and homelessness – the truth is most are friendly, caring, and lonely. Everyone would be blessed by more interaction between these groups, for children and adults. Although their presence can reinforce stigma and fear, police officers are also often around, so it’s probably one of the safest ways to interact. Go regularly and with a little luck, you could build a relationship not centered on giving and receiving.
  3. spring-in-the-desertPublic libraries teach delayed gratification (aka patience). Learning delayed gratification is an important step in the maturity process and yet, we are bombarded with the belief that your desires ought to be satisfied immediately. Think of popular slogans, such as Nike’s “Just do it” or Burger King’s “Have it your way.” Or consider how we usually consume books, movies, and music – instantly streaming, downloading, or two-day shipping them.  You can find almost any book, movie, and even a lot of music through your library and it’s free! It just takes time, a little planning, and some patience. (For the obscure books, try inter-library loan.)
  4. Public libraries epitomize the power of sharing. Think about that bookshelf or collection of movies at home. How often are they being used? If you’re like me, most just sit on the shelf 99% of the time. They often just collect dust and become a monument to your pride. As a general principle, I try to buy books only after I can’t find them somewhere else or I’m sure to read or share them more than twice. Imagine if you and all your friends had an online catalog where you could share your books together, and there was someone to organize, help out, and keep people accountable — you’d have a library! 🙂 Personal property is often idolized. Sharing your things creates community, reduces waste, and can be fun.

Welp – there you have it. Random plug for one of the best institutions I know of.

happy-national-library-week-library-quotes-14-638There are downsides to public libraries, of course. To briefly address a few: 1) They are expensive to run. However, I do feel that for the reasons listed above, the benefits outweigh the financial costs. 2) Libraries are sometimes underutilized, which is a shame. Better marketing might help. And 3) despite the countless ways the internet has affected society, I do believe there is still an important place for books and therefore libraries. How can we undervalue limitless learning possibilities?!

Blessings!

 

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Can we proclaim the gospel today without racial reconciliation?

Today I want to argue that without racial reconciliation we do not have the gospel. 

THE ARGUMENT FROM SCRIPTURE

Ephesians 2 gives a loud and clear proclamation that through Jesus, the racial walls that divide us are torn down, and we are unified through Jesus Christ.

14 For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (NIV)

In this passage Paul is specifically describing the relationship between Jews and Gentiles (aka, anyone who isn’t Jewish). Paul was a Jew. Jesus was a Jew. And for many, many centuries before this, the divide between Jews and everybody else was undeniable and even important.

However, everything changed after Jesus died. This division was reconciled. Elsewhere, Paul proclaims, “There is neither Gentile nor Jew, neither slave or free, nor is there male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:27)” In other words, we can never let race, or socio-economics, or gender separate us. Jesus reconciles our divisions. (For more, see here or here.)

racial recIf racial reconciliation is a core element of the gospel, why is 10am on Sunday morning the most racially divided hour in the United States?! 

Why is it fairly accurate to describe a “white church” or a “black church?!” Do racially divided churches contradict the gospel we proclaim? I think so.

I once heard a preacher describe woundedness like this: When someone hurts you, it’s as if they have shot an arrow into your chest. As it stays there the skin and flesh heal around them. They become a part of us and seemingly aren’t a bother, unless someone bumps your arrow. For deep healing to take place, you must first rip the arrow from your chest.

Racism is an arrow, deeply wounding the people of America, and in particular the church. We have failed to name it, to pull out the arrow of racism because such removal hurts. Terribly so. Yet, we cannot heal from that which remains unacknowledged.

For instance, consider an abusive husband in marriage. How does a couple survive such hurt? What does it mean for the one who has abused to acknowledge their fault? Or for the innocent person to truly forgive? I do not know, but I’m sure it is a difficult, painful, time-consuming process. To heal from such hurt requires leaning into the discomfort.

When white people say “just get over it” or “why are we still talking about this?” it is similar to an abusive husband telling his wife the same thing. 

Which no doubt plays a role in why churches – aka families – remain segregated.

MY STORY

For those who don’t know me, I am a white man, born and raised in Arkansas. I studied ministry at Oklahoma Christian, later spent seven years on the northside of Chicago before moving to downtown Fresno, California, about two years ago. Moving here has been a profound and humbling lesson in learning about race and power.

Downtown Fresno is on the far southern half of the city, and like most large cities in the US, Fresno is divided pretty evenly between rich white folks in the north and poor people of color in the south. (See here.) Obviously there are plenty of examples that contradict this generalization, but the trend holds true.

I say all that to give a little background. Before living here, I had little real exposure to non-white American spaces. Sure, I knew plenty of people of color, many who are immigrants, but every space I experienced was dominated by white majority culture. In other words, white people held power over how the space operated. This is important.

Because we (white people) don’t have to live or be in spaces where we are not in power, we do not understand how race affects us. We are unwittingly (or not) the recipients of power. We are blind to our blindness, yet often remain arrogant. We have a plank in our eye and don’t even realize it.

Consider, for example, if I asked you to describe how it feels to be Tibetan, living under the oppression of the Han Chinese. You might say, “Sheesh, Nate, I got no idea – I’m not Tibetan – never been there.” Your knowledge is relative to your exposure.

Two conclusions:

  1. If we are to truly live out the gospel and find racial reconciliation, we must begin with humility. And as we stumble around in the dark, we must ask for grace and forgiveness when we are insensitive and hurtful.
  2. We cannot deny racism exists – individually and systemically. For many white people, our greatest fear is to be labeled “a racist.” The truth is, however, racism is a spectrum, not a binary. People are not either racist or woke. Racism affects us all in different ways and differing degrees. For those like myself, who were raised in an environment of pervasive whiteness, we have unrealized, latent racist tendencies that we are blind to.

IMPLICATIONS:

How do white and black churches integrate? Or how do we achieve some level of racial reconciliation? I don’t have the answers, but here are some ideas (mostly for white people):

  • Make racial reconciliation a priority. Think about it. Engage in the conversation. Every church planter ought to pursue it.
  • Start a study at church using the book United by Faith. Or Disunity in Christ.
  • Take a break from reading from white authors. How many books by people of color do you read?
  • Visit or join a non-white church and embrace the cultural differences.
  • Listen to Seeing White Podcast.
  • Talk to people of color. Invite someone out for coffee. Have folks over for dinner. Ask them how they have experienced racism, without getting defensive. Or what steps might be taken for racial reconciliation. And don’t be offended if they decline. They do not owe it to us.

I’d love to hear other ideas on how to move toward racial reconciliation?

Ps. We are reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy in our bookclub. It is excellent! Meeting at our place at 7:00 on August 6th. We would love to have more folks join us!

Finally, as I’ve said before, I think as I write, or I write so I will know what I am thinking. Do I have this all figured out? Not at all. Does talking about racism make me uncomfortable? Yes. I think that’s common for white people. Am I living out what I describe? Not like I’d like to. No doubt I’m a hypocrite more than I realize.

Your grace and feedback is appreciated.

 

 

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Two Christian Ideas on Hope that Everyone Appreciates

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. – Martin Luther King, Jr. [1]

A little over nine months ago, I wrote part one – 4 Reasons to Hope – from a secular humanist perspective. The ideas have been simmering on the back-burner since, and the time for part two is long over-due. 🙂  (Ps. I encourage reading part one first.)

1. The quote above is one almost everyone loves. It inspires hope and courage to press forward in the fight toward justice.

And yet, I think its rationale is founded on Christian theology.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ, died on a cross, and yet a couple days later came back to life. His followers believed this so deeply, they were willing to sacrifice their own lives in proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection.

This belief that death was defeated and that life and love overcame, I believe, is the foundational thought for any hope that resides outside of human endeavor. Are things going to be okay? Are we moving toward justice? Yes. We know this is true, because Jesus beat death. As John Donne famously put it: “One short sleep past, we wake eternally. And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”[2]

Candle Quote2. The second idea we get from the resurrection deals more with action instead of mere thought.

(Please read this paragraph slowly.) By the power of the resurrection, Jesus overcame death, and thereby our need for recognition and significance. We no longer have to strive to “make a difference” and have influence over others. God saves. I don’t. You don’t. And because God has saved the world through Jesus, I can truly throw off my savior complex and need to fix the world. Therefore I can sacrifice my life, to give it, to those without influence – those who are shallow, dying, stupid, or who will never improve. [3]

In other words, because of the resurrection I can “waste” my life on the “nobodies.” The power of death no longer feeds my desire for approval or “success.” All that is needed is to give love. This is a radical idea, one I am miles from, but core to the gospel and Christian ethics.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

Inconsistently, there are many Christians who waver in hope because we are depending on human endeavor. And I think there are many humanists who assume a sort of hope based on something immaterial.

Finally, I’ve focused almost entirely on thought in parts one and two and little on feeling. I do not think our beliefs always result in hope. Hope is often more a feeling, and belief is more a thought. So, I may believe (or think confidently) that death is defeated but I may feel hopeless about the future.

I plan to answer this in part 3 – how to change our feelings toward hope…. And hopefully it won’t take another 9 months.

If you missed part 1, here it is: 4 Reasons to hope, despite a world that is falling apart.

 

[1] King probably is not the originator of this quote. For a discussion on the quote’s source, see here.

[2] For the whole poem, go here.

[3] For more, read Richard Beck’s Slavery of DeathIt’s fantastic and the source for this idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Victim mentality: how it affects you and what you can do about it.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” ‭‭James‬ ‭1:2-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

image

It’s 102 degrees – first day of official summer, and sweat is running down my back. I had a hard day at work. I’m grumpy.

I came home from work to find the third package delivery slip stuck to our front gate. “This was the final attempt” was checked near the top. Since I live in a 5 unit apartment building, on the previous two, I had written on the slip, “Who is this for?” On this one, they wrote … my name. Which means I have to drive 30 minutes to now pick up a stupid package. ARRGGHH!

After stomping around and yelling a bit, I slowly realize I’m coincidentally experiencing the very thing I’ve been wanting to write about – victim mentality.

WHAT IS VICTIM MENTALITY?

Victim mentality (for the purposes of this thought experiment) is the feeling that “you have been wronged.” You are an innocent martyr suffering because of someone else.

Victim mentality is not an ‘if’ but rather a ‘when.’ In other words, it affects everyone at different times from one degree or another. At some point we all feel wronged or persecuted.

Here are some indicators you have fallen prey to victim mentality:

  • “If they only would have…”
  • “Those people…”
  • “No one listens to me.”
  • “Woe is me.” Or colloquially “FML.”
  • “I forgive you.”

You might question that last one – “I forgive you.” Often this statement assumes a stance of moral superiority and subconsciously says, “I’m better than you.”

When we feel like a martyr (or a savior), we have positioned ourselves as better than someone else.

True forgiveness forces you to release your victimhood mentality and desire for vengeance. Forgiveness requires you to process your pain. You do not need them to apologize.

When deeply hurt, we often respond with anger. Anger protects us, insulates us, from what we actually feel, which is deeply hurt and powerless. And this anger moves toward self-righteous indignation. In other words, when you feel anger, look for a victim mentality.

HOW DOES VICTIM MENTALITY AFFECT YOU?

Victim mentality does three things:

  1. It blinds you to your own faults. You cannot honestly hear needed critiques. That plank is still stuck in your eye (Matt. 7).
  2. It paralyzes you from accomplishing your goals. Victim mentality diverts our attention from what can be done – how I will respond – to what’s been done to me. Victimhood prevents us from learning and growing.
  3. It causes you to blame others. Something is wrong and I gotta sacrifice a scapegoat! In the introductory example, I was mad at my landlord for not having a better mailbox. I was mad at the mail carrier for not responding to my note. I was mad at the company for using Fedex instead of USPS and mailing to my home instead of work. Irrational silliness.

HOW CAN WE PREVENT VICTIM MENTALITY?

I was once told: “Nate, don’t be such a martyr!”Victim Mentality Tolle Quote

I was definitely put off by the comment. Nevertheless, they were right. I felt like a victim, and subconsciously I was self-righteous.

I’ve got three ideas:

  1. Ask those closest to you for feedback. “Are there times I fall prey to a victim mentality?”
  2. Be mindful of your emotions. When you feel anger or powerlessness flare up, notice it and get to the source of that belief. Journal on it.
  3. Reframe troubles and suffering as learning experiences. As the passage above says, “Consider it joy when you encounter trials” because it leads to maturity and wisdom. It seems then, for James, that the road to wisdom and maturity passes through suffering.

Buckley quoteIf we can see our pain and persecution as possible learning experiences, we will deepen in our wisdom and maturity. Rather than focus on how crappy an experience is, if we can reframe it as: “What can I learn from this?” we will continually grow rather than stagnate in our brokenness.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

Does this idea apply to all experiences of victimhood? I don’t think so. Deep trauma requires time and processing. That part of you that has been deeply hurt needs space to scream, and hurt, and be angry. There is a difference between what I’m describing and trauma. To quickly sweep it under the rug pretending to “learn from the experience” is a terrible mistake.

Can I – someone mostly protected from victimhood and trauma – actually speak to this? Hesitantly. And with open hands. I write as if I confidently know what I’m talking about, but the truth is, I don’t really have anything figured out. I’m verbally processing. And I’d love your feedback, thoughts, and pushbacks.

As a final observation, like a typical American, I’m speaking mostly to the individual and ignoring the corporate aspect of a victim mentality. I would love to hear a woman’s perspective on victimhood under patriarchy or a person of color’s understanding of victimhood under the oppression of racism. Or a gay person’s perspective of victimhood regarding homophobia.

 

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The Habit of Love

John13.35Jesus was explicitly clear: Christians are to be known by their love for one another. If we fail to love one another well, we fail at being followers of Jesus. (John 13)

The question we must return to again and again is this: “How do we grow in love?” Or “how do we love well?”

Aristotle has said:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

I think he’s right. Habit formation ought to be front and center on understanding what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We strive to love excellently – to make sacrificial love a habit.

A few thoughts on how we can love well:

1. Reframe frustrations as learning moments.

You know those times where you have to put up with that ridiculous dumb dumb who drives you crazy? That might be your boss, who disrespects you, your spouse who “forgets” the trash again, or your bratty teenager who continually talks back. If we can see our discomforts and frustrations as learning moments, they can be transformed into lessons on loving well. Rather than think of them merely as inconveniences, be thankful for the struggle, for it is struggling that we grow to love as we are called to.

2. Habits are best formed in community.

I regularly read James Clear. On his blog, he often gives concise, research-based advice on how to best form habits – it is fantastic and totally recommended. However, almost everything he says is directed to individuals. Makes sense – who ever markets to communities? We live in a world focused almost exclusively on the individual and forget the importance of community in being disciplined.

Two quick examples: in general I like to run. For the last few years, I’ve been using an app to track my running times, distances, and routes. On that app, I’m “friends” with my sister, brother-in-law, dad and wife. I know that they will get a notification when I finish, telling them how fast and far I went. Often someone will say, “Good job!” Or “Nice pace.” Or “haven’t seen you running lately…” Without a doubt, I run faster, farther, and more frequently because I know they will see how I’m doing.

Row team

Another example – for years I’ve wanted to memorize the Sermon on the Mount. This year I invited my youth group to do it with me, and four took on the challenge. Together we memorized it, while alone I’m sure we would not have.

I think of habit formation like like being in a boat. If you are rowing alone, sure, you will get somewhere. But when you are in a boat on a rowing team, you will go way faster!

3. Love is like playing the violin.

If we want to excel at the craft of loving well, it takes time, dedication, and intentionality. Love isn’t something we will into being by desire, it’s a muscle we have to exercise. Only in practicing regularly, intentionally, for long periods of time and sacrificing that time in pursuit of the craft can someone have the freedom to perform their craft well. Think of a professional violinist. They have the freedom and ability to play music that is impossible for everyone else because they practice again and again and again. In other words, your skill is dependent on practice. In a similar way, if we are to be skilled in loving deeply, it must be honed and practiced.

“Only two kinds of people think that love is easy: saints, who through long years of self-sacrifice have made a habit of virtue, and naïve persons who don’t know what they’re talking about.” – Jacques Maritain

Concluding Implication:

I am convinced, loving one another well is at the very core of what it means to follow Jesus. It is the starting point when we think about being the church. For that reason, we must structure our churches and church gatherings to facilitate loving well. It is a vital lens for seeing how to do life together.

What do you think? What would you add? Or push back on? How do we learn to love well?

 

 

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“What Would Jesus Do?” Revisited

I believe one of the most important questions we need to be asking as Christians is the cliché one we’ve heard all too many times: What would Jesus do?

WWJDIf you’re like me, it was the cool thing to get a WWJD bracelet in middle school, not to mention the T-shirts… Nevertheless, despite pop culture diluting the potency of this question, it is vital, central even, for striving to be a disciple and follower of Jesus.

For instance, as I went through divorce, I asked the ironic question: How would Jesus go through divorce? No doubt an unusual scenario for Jesus, but there are good and bad ways of going through divorce. How would Jesus choose a job? What would Jesus eat? How would Jesus engage in social media? Or in consuming the news? Or in saving for retirement? Quickly, our ideas of Jesus become central to how we live.

This question – What would Jesus do? – was popularized around 1896 by Charles Sheldon in the classic Christian novel In His Steps. In it, he tells the fictional story of how this question dramatically impacted families and towns as people took up the challenge to not do anything for a whole year without first asking: “What Would Jesus Do?” I can only imagine and dream of what that might look like.

This phrase “in his steps” comes from 1 Peter 2:21, which reads:

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21

I think this is important. Our calling as Christians – to be a Christian – means that we suffer as Christ suffered. We are supposed to follow in Jesus’ steps, to mimic his example and suffer as he did. The verse before goes further:

“How is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.” – 1 Peter 2:20

Suffer for doing good – that’s what it means to follow Jesus. Wow. Who likes to suffer?

Imagine going through divorce, willing to suffer in love, giving up your right to fight it out in court. Imagine choosing a job, not for the paycheck, but being willing to suffer others in love. Imagine eating food as Jesus might, willing to suffer in love, and eating the cheaper, less tasty stuff in solidarity with the poor with the hope of giving more to others. Imagine how Jesus might save for retirement, investing in people instead of merely profits.

What would Jesus do? How would he live out your decisions? How might he be calling you to suffer in love, following in his steps?

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6 Reasons Everyone Should Have a Garden

  1. Planting-Strawberries-in-GardenGardening teaches patience. When instant gratification is not only the norm, but worshiped, some forced delayed gratification does the heart and mind well, says someone who needs more patience. 🙂
  2. Gardening helps us to grow in wonder at nature and God’s creation. I’m more and more convinced that life-sustaining joy is forged in the ordinary moments when we pause and appreciate the beauty around us. What better way to grow in wonder than to watch a seed grow!!
  3. Gardening instills appreciation for farmers and fieldworkers. It ain’t easy. Plants die. And the work can be tedious.
  4. Gardening forces us back into sync with nature (on some level). We have lights and electricity – no need to sleep if we don’t want to. We have food from anywhere, anytime – the seasons affect us minimally. We have HVAC, so temperatures remain relatively constant. In a world quarantined from natural cycles and limitations, it’s good to remember we are deeply connected to nature.
  5. The food we grow is as ethical as it comes. It’s hard to know the process of how we get our food, and a lot of the time it’s questionable at best.
  6. Gardening can be a therapeutic, relaxing hobby.  Or at least it’s better than Facebook or Netflix.

Needless to say, we’ve started a garden, and I’m loving it. Wish they would grow faster… 🙂

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