The past few weeks we’ve been hearing about many tragedies around the world, something that isn’t really new, but seems to have taken on another level of activity again recently. As humans we struggle to understand how people can be that violent and inconsiderate of human life. As spiritual people we struggle to understand how anyone could kill another person, or could live with the hate that’s being slung around at people regardless of whether they deserve it or not.
I know that until Jesus comes back we will continue to have wars and violence, that’s part of the sin experience. But I believe we can do a lot more to heal our country and world, and it starts with having faith that the people we share this planet with are worth working towards a better future for and are just as human as you or I.
It starts with not believing we’re just defined by our race, religion beliefs, political opinions or social status. Yes, those things do define us, but they should not be our bottom line. Using a very publicized example that means that just because you’re black not everyone is out to get you. You have to take the first step to see yourself as something other than what someone could define you as.
Why? Because many people are capable of treating each other as average/ordinary human beings without a specific label, but some people escalate and force them to profile them that way. For example if a police officer pulls you over and you get all angry and curse at them saying that they pulled you over because you’re black, when the reality is the police officer may have had no idea what race you were, but pulled you over because you had a taillight out or were on your cell phone or you were speeding. If you pull the stereotype card that’s how others will often treat you.
However, we’ve got a choice to begin our lives, our days, and our attitudes in a different way. We can choose to make fewer assumptions, choose healing and love rather than hate and judgement, and choose to listen and learn before reacting. Unfortunately there will always be people who stereotype others and treat them based on some factor like race or religion that really may have very little to do with who that person is. But for the many people who don’t see you and me specifically or only as our race or religion, working on treating them better and making fewer assumptions could really go a long way to healing many of the issues in our world.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave for the next generation? One of perpetuated hate or one of healing, growth and opportunities?
Lately I’ve been thinking (again) about the rush that most of us live our lives being and doing. We’re so busy, trying to pack something into every second it seems. And in some ways I can understand because there’s a lot of life to be lived and lots of things to do and we’ll never be able to complete them all in our (short) life time. But I think that pressure and decision to say yes to so many things has had a negative impact on our relationships. I don’t think that we take the time often enough to really think about what we say or how we talk to people. Sometimes we’re so focused on being right or doing something our way that we’re not able to see the value in doing it another way, and we’re certainly not willing to admit that we don’t know everything.
I believe we can all learn something from everyone on the planet. Maybe it’s just one or two things, but those things can have great value. But when we go into a conversation or relationship with our minds already made up in how a conversation will go or how smart we are (and they’re not) or making a decision without really listening or getting all the facts, it’s not only hurtful to them, but can have a negative impact on us as well.
Just because someone is younger than you, is older than you, is from another country, went through a divorce, went through bankruptcy, doesn’t like pets, or likes your favorite sports team’s biggest rivals doesn’t mean that they can’t have good ideas, can’t teach you something and aren’t worth a few minutes of your time really listening to what they have to say. The same is true for advice, just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s bad or because it costs a lot it’s good.
I don’t think it’s (just) about trying to pack every minute of every day full, it’s about making sure to use your time wisely and make the most of your life. Some of the best moments of your life will be with other people. Some of those great moments will only happen if you slow down and take the time to meet someone new, take the time to build up existing relationships or make amends in one that you’ve damaged. I encourage you to take time to slow down this weekend and really watch where you’re going, listen to the full explanation or conversation before making decisions, and suspend judgment a bit longer than you do normally. What will you experience with an open mind this weekend?
One of the things I’m always talking with my clients about is the importance of checking how you say things. If I walked up to you in the middle of the sidewalk and said “do you like Italian food?” you would think I’m crazy or at the very least weird. I don’t know you, we don’t live near each other, we haven’t talked online, we’re not social media connections, we don’t work together: there’s no relationship that could be conceived of between us. If however I said “Hi, I’ve got a coupon for a free dinner for a couple at this excellent Italian restaurant down the road, no strings attached, would you like it?” That would make a big difference and you would think I’m being generous and not rude or weird (which would be my goal). The way you phrase things can make a big difference.
A more typical example would be someone saying “What are you doing here?” at the local bar to you. It’s not quite rude, but it’s not exactly friendly. A better way to say it would be “Hey! It’s good to see you! How have you been? I didn’t know you liked this bar! Are you here with or meeting anyone or would you like to come hang out with my friends and I?” (with appropriate breaks for responses of course). Another common example would be “Why didn’t you take the garbage out?” when you could say “Could you please take out the garbage tonight.”
When you start these conversations as I have proposed initially you’re basically asking for a fight, for someone to be offended or for lots of misconceptions and misunderstandings to take place. Yes, I know that sometimes the words that fly out of our mouth happen because we’re surprised by something or we’re tired or we’re just not thinking. But if we all took 5 seconds to think about our words before they flew out of our mouths and used our ears more proactively, we would be in a lot better shape personally and with our relationships.
If you take a moment and remember that last time that your words offended someone even if you didn’t mean for it to happen, and the guilty and horrible feeling that (should have) followed, I think you’ll find sufficient motivation for taking those few extra seconds to think about your words before you have to apologize for hurting someone.
April 1 is also known as April Fool’s Day. It’s never been a holiday I’ve enjoyed, I’m not the type to play pranks on others or find any enjoyment when they’re played on me. It’s not that I don’t enjoy having fun, I just don’t enjoy any malicious types of humor. Yet there are people who even make careers out of playing pranks and doing things that aren’t really helpful or friendly. Jokes can be funny, sarcasm has a place, and there’s never too much laughter in the world. But I believe in helping, not hurting, and the scars that are caused by pranks can leave very lasting results.
The name of the day itself raises an interesting point if looked at another way. April Fool’s Day is a reminder that each and every one of us have been foolish at some point in time. Maybe we’ve made a silly mistake, maybe we’ve trusted without due diligence, maybe we’ve been swindled or conned, but it’s a reminder that we’re not perfect and shouldn’t judge others for being foolish either. It’s never fun to look back on those mistakes or failures or errors, nor do we want to look back on them again and again. In fact, they hold the most power over us when we don’t take action to not make them again. If you do something wrong once, that’s a mistake, but in repeating the mistake you venture into ‘fool’ territory.
Another April Fool’s Day has passed so you can breathe easier about the tricks being done hopefully for another year. If you were played a trick on this year, maybe it’s the motivation you needed to find a little fun in your life and not take things so seriously. Pranks are often played on those who forget that fun should be had in life and every moment doesn’t have to be serious or productive. It may also be a reminder that you need to get your life on track and take things more seriously if you’ve been the fool of late. And if you played some pranks I’d encourage you to reconsider next year because I know people who have been seriously hurt by what seemed to be a very simple prank, which makes you the fool, not them.
This month we’ve been talking about enjoying life, enjoying each other, enjoying our world and enjoying God. I know that what I enjoy in life may not be what you enjoy in life, and that’s OK. That’s one of the reasons why the world we live in is so diverse. If it wasn’t so diverse neither would we be, in fact we’d all look, sound and act a lot the same, and I can’t believe that our world would be anywhere as awesome as it is if we were so similar.
But as different as we are we also have to have similarities or we wouldn’t be able to live in relative harmony and partnership with each other. Sure, there are wars and disagreements and the like, sometimes because we heard things wrong or don’t know how to communicate effectively using words, sometimes words aren’t effective when it comes to defending yourself, and sometimes people prefer to hate and hurt. But back to our similarities, we all have feelings, have families (in whatever form they may come in), have dreams and goals and gifts and talents.
This week I read a passage that reminded me about the importance of respecting other people and their preferences. It reminded me that just because I enjoy simple things and you may enjoy much more complex and complicated things, neither of our enjoyment should be less joyful than the other, nor should we reject or not be willing to try what other people enjoy simply because it’s different from what we enjoy.
I encourage you this week to be open to the joy of others and trying new things.
“Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” Romans 12:14-16
July 18th was the birthday of one of the great men of the world: Nelson Mandela (celebrated as “Mandela Day”). No one is perfect (Mandela included), but he’s someone who showed throughout his life that he was a true leader. A 2013 article on Mandela called him a “Dissident, Liberator and Statesman.” Those are 3 big titles that all say something important about who he was, but the one I wanted to focus on today is “liberator.”
Mandela knew what it was to be not free, he spent 27 years in prison for his efforts to make South Africa a better place for people. Some people, having had his experience, would throw in the towel and spend the rest of their years quietly, thankful to be free. But Mandela never gave up on his dreams of and plans for a better life for himself and the people he loved, and people around the world too.
We take time each year to remember people like Nelson Mandela and the dreams they had for a reason, a reason that seems more important than ever with the violence over the past few weeks and months around the world. People like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, and countless other men and women who have passed on would not be proud of the people some of us have become. I think they would be happy to see that some thing have changed and are changing for the better, but sad that we are fighting on many of the same things that should have already been addressed, and creating issues that shouldn’t be issues and haven’t been in the past.
What it comes down to is that the world is always in need of more people like Nelson Mandela. You don’t have to be in a traditional position of power to make a difference, you have to decide that you’re going to give your best effort to fixing or alleviating the problem(s) you see in the world. Whether you make that effort in jail, on the street, in your office, in a school, or as a president doesn’t matter. What matters is that you choose to step up and let people know that they too can be liberated and choose what they want to make out of life.
This past Monday Ramadan started. It’s not a holiday I participate in, but it is one that many people around the world care about. Ramadan is a month of fasting by Muslims to celebrate, remember and honor the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. Today though I wanted to talk a bit about the topic of fasting and what it says about Ramadan as well as the other times that people may fast.
Let’s talk about what this type of fasting is all about. It’s really a religious commitment to purify yourself, remember the founders of your faith, return to spiritual beginnings, ask for answers or intervention about something, ask for forgiveness and/or shake off the evil that may have become part of your life. Most spiritual traditions include fasting in one way or another. Depriving yourself of food, sleep, and even sometimes drink can be an effective way of helping you refocus and get reconnected spiritually in a very raw way that isn’t usually something you experience. Other types of fasting can include taking a technology fast, chocolate fast or other type of fast, also with the goal of finding freedom, focus, or practicing sacrifice.
I’ve mentioned fasting before in talking about Ash Wednesday, but it’s not something I talk about much, nor is it something we do as much as maybe we should. What stood out to me as I was thinking about Ramadan is that Muslims give up a LOT to fast for this holiday. They fast for a whole month and not just the food as is typical of most fasting practices, but drinks as well, and they totally alter their days to partake of food before and after the daylight hours. It shows true commitment and even gratitude towards Muhammad and their faith, but not in a way that would harm or be disrespectful to others, it’s a commitment they keep in and of themselves.
What about you? When was the last time you made a sacrifice like that? Maybe you didn’t think about it as a sacrifice or didn’t realize what a big sacrifice it was until you were involved in it. Are you as committed to things in your life as the Muslims are to honoring the Quran and Muhammad? What do you value enough in your life, physical or spiritual, that you would make such a life change for? If there is something that is that important to you, make sure to express your gratitude today and give something back too.