What Others Say

We use your column in our Saturday Spiritual Life section, so I always read it. The new one about Rafael is just totally cool. Again, great column. It touched me enough to email you.
- Greg Jaklewicz - Editorial Page Editor, Abilene News Reporter

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dealing with Disaster 1-27-2010

Images of Haiti’s devastation continued to stream into our living rooms. I was tempted to change the channel hoping it would go away. Apparently others felt the same way, since it slipped from the front pages of the paper in less than two weeks and ceased to dominate the nightly news. For those in Haiti there was no option. The channel could not be changed. Not only did the images remain, but the air was filled with the stench of death and the groans of the grieving.

Two stories emerged in the aftermath. One is the story of heroism, sacrifice and miraculous rescue. The other is a story of violence, gangs fighting in the streets with machetes and broken bottles. Disasters peal back the social fa├žade to reveal the true character of individuals and nations, whether self-sacrifice and courage, or selfishness and anger.

As rescue teams from the United States, Britain, Europe, Brazil, China, Jordan, and others work side by side, they are discovering acts of heroism and sacrifice by local Haitians. Sasha Kramer works for SOIL, an organization in Haiti that seeks indigenous solutions to environmental problems. She described Haitians helping one another, sharing food and directing rescue workers to others with worse injuries than their own. She said, “In the darkest of times, Haiti has proven to be a country of brave, resilient and kind people. It is that behavior that is far more prevalent than the isolated incidents of violence.”

We will all experience disaster. It might come in the form of a natural catastrophe like the one that has pummeled Haiti. It might come more quietly and personally as a terminal disease. It could come in a car crash with the sudden smash of glass and metal, towering flames that consume a home with its lifetime of belongings, a pink slip signaling the loss of a job, the betrayal of a spouse, or the death of a child. Disasters come in many forms, but, sooner or later, they come to us all.

Jesus concluded the Sermon On the Mount with a story that reflects this truth. He described one man who built his house on sand. Another established the foundations of his home on rock. When the storm came, the house built on sand collapsed. The house built on rock survived. “Everyone,” Jesus said, “who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24).

When the disaster hits, it is too late to build the foundations. Foundations must be built before the storm comes. We are all building the foundations of our character each and every day, by the little things we do. When we cheat and lie, we are building on sand that will collapse in the tough times. When we practice Jesus’ instructions contained in the Sermon on the Mount (truthfulness, forgiveness, daily acts of compassion, sacrifice and faith) we are building on the rock that will carry us through.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why Haiti 1-15-2010

Images of the destruction in Haiti continue to pour in: grief stricken men and women clawing at the debris to unearth family members, dust covered children wandering bewildered among the rubble, unburied corpses piling up in the streets. This poor nation, ravaged by hurricanes, has been virtually reduced to dust. Why this poor nation? Why here? Why now?

Like most, I was shocked to hear Pat Robertson conclude that Haiti was struck by this catastrophe because it was cursed due to a pact with the devil in its history.

Jesus had a different answer. When a similar disaster leveled buildings in his day he said, “Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower fell in Siloam and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you no.” (Luke 13:4-5). When He encountered a man born blind, his disciples assumed that the man’s blindness was the result of sin. They asked him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that would be born blind?” Jesus responded to them and said, “It was neither that this man sinned nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent me.” (John 9:3-4). Jesus then proceeded to cure the man’s blindness.

Innocent people fall victim to war, natural disaster and disease. Catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti will occur. It is part of the natural condition of the world in which we live. Our task is to respond, as thousands are doing, to help those in need. We must work the works of God by giving, going and praying.

We must work the works of God by giving. I am glad that my home church, Lake Pointe, urged members to give immediately. The day after the earthquake our pastor sent an email offering to channel funds immediately to disaster relief partners with global experience and a proven track record.. Other churches and organizations are doing the same. Unfortunately, there will be scammers and frauds. But trusted organizations with proven track records can help us get the right resources to the right place. A few will give large gifts. But the greatest help will come from all of us giving something. But the rebuilding will take a long time. We need to prepare to give after the crisis has slipped to the back pages of the news. We need to give immediately and we need to continue giving.

We must work the works of God by going. Right now Haiti needs the trained first responders. Too many of us rushing to Haiti with shovel and hammer in hand would only add to the problems. They need medical professionals, fresh water, food and sanitation. Once the first responders clear the debris and establish the systems for recovery, others need to go. Many of us can go and many of us ought to go. The recovery needs will extend for months and years.

We must work the works of God by praying. We need to pray for God’s intervention for the victims. We need to pray for God’s comfort for the grieving. We need to pray that God will use this tragic disaster to change Haiti. We need to pray for a new future for Haitians: for schools and education, for jobs and careers, for hope and a faith. We need to “work the works of God.”

To give immediately to Haiti relief go to www.lakepointe.org/give or www.redcross.org. Contact Bill Tinsley at bill@tinsleycenter.com.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Blessed 1-11-2010

A few years ago I stopped using the word “blessed” or “blessing.” I thought it seemed shallow and artificially religious, something you say to sound religious when you don’t know what else to say. I wasn’t even sure what it meant. But, as I have grown older, I have changed my mind.

Growing up in Texas, I learned that when someone asked, “How are you?” they rarely wanted an honest answer. Anything other than “Fine,” or “Great,” tended to throw the conversation off course. When I lived in Minnesota, an understated culture, I discovered that the appropriate response to “How are you?” was “Not too bad.” When I tried to use that response in Texas, it raised all kinds of complications. But, whether in Minnesota or Texas, I discovered that African Americans had developed an entirely different response. When I asked my African American friends, “How are you?” they often responded, “I’m blessed.” I like the African American response best.

Jesus used this term when he introduced the Sermon On the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit … blessed are those who mourn … blessed are the meek … blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness … blessed are the merciful … blessed are the pure in heart … blessed are the peacemakers … blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” (Matthew 5:3-10). He used the word makarios which some have translated “happy.” But, I think blessed it the right word.

Being blessed has nothing to do with prosperity, health, comfort or security. It is all about a relationship with God that blesses us whatever our circumstances happen to be. In fact, those who suffer poverty, illness and difficulty are more likely to experience God’s blessing than those who are wealthy and well off.

I grew up listening to Billy Graham each week and looked forward to listening to the Hour of Decision. Dr. Graham’s messages, books and, most of all, his conduct always inspired me. He ended every broadcast by saying, “God bless you real good.” It wasn’t proper grammar, but we all understood what he meant and, when we listened to him we always felt blessed.

Liturgical churches still conclude their worship services with the “benediction,” a blessing of the worshippers as they leave the worship experience. In African American churches the benediction is often the high point of the service. Some churches end with a rush toward the doors to get a jump on parking lot traffic and early seating at nearby restaurants. It feels good to take time to be blessed.

When God called Abraham to follow Him, he promised him He would bless him and make him a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:2). God’s blessing of Abraham and his descendents sometimes resulted in great difficulty. (I like Tevye’s honest response in Fiddler On the Roof as he and his family are displaced from Russia: “Lord, I know we are your chosen people, but sometimes I wish you would choose someone else for awhile.”) Perhaps the secret to following Jesus is discovering how to live life every day with awareness that we are, indeed, blessed, and seeking ways to bless others.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Same Kind of Different 1-6-2010

My son-in-law came home for the holidays engrossed in a new book. Although he enthusiastically joined in our family traditions, whenever he found some quiet moments, he kept returning to his book. So, I downloaded a copy on the new Kindle that my wife gave me and immediately found myself hooked as well. Apparently the book has been out since 2005. But sometimes it takes a book that long to find me.

Same Kind of Different As Me is actually two stories. One, the story of an illiterate black man named Denver who was raised in the cotton fields of Louisiana and ended up homeless on the streets of Fort Worth. The other, an upwardly mobile white man named Ron Hall who graduated from TCU and made a fortune in the art world. They each tell their story, and the remarkable intersection of their journeys.

Maybe I was drawn to the book because Ron Hall spent his childhood summers on a farm near my boyhood home of Corsicana. His descriptions of Corsicana resonated with my memories growing up on Collin Street, one of the signature brick streets that reflect the glory days when the city boasted more millionaires per capita than any other town in Texas. Maybe I was drawn to the book because Ron and Denver intersect in the slums of Fort Worth east of downtown where my wife started her teaching career forty years ago.

But the true stories of Ron Hall and Denver Moore are not the main stories in the book. They represent other stories: the story of our country and its culture. Ron represents those who rise from middle class with professional opportunities that can lead to great wealth. He also represents the dangers of that path that include temptations for greed, materialism, shallow and broken relationships. Denver represents the alarmingly huge segment of our population that falls between the cracks, victims of prejudice, oppression, injustice and neglect. He also represents the dangers of that downward spiral that includes temptations of bitterness, anger, isolation and despair.

But the greatest story underlying and connecting all of these is God’s story. Ron’s wife, Deborah is the entry point for his work, one person who was open, willing and obedient who became the catalyst for connecting these two broken men from different ends of the social spectrum.

In a day when many look to government to heal our wounds and solve our social problems, Same Kind of Different As Me, serves as a reminder that the real solution to our personal and social problems lies within us. It is often buried beneath our own prejudices and fears, but it can be unlocked and released with the keys of acceptance, trust, faith and love, all the things Jesus demonstrated and talked about.

Same Kind of Different as Me is a great book to start the new year and the new decade. God wants to use each of us, whatever our race, whatever our circumstance, whatever our background to make a difference in the world. You can learn more about Ron and Denver’s stories by visiting their website, www.samekindofdifferentasme.com.