The Pastor’s Pastor

eugene petersonTen years ago, Eugene Peterson was simply the man who wrote The Message paraphrase of the Bible. I had never read any other book by him, I had never known of his starting and pastoring a small church in Maryland, and I never would have imagined the impact that he eventually would have on me and my ministry.

My seminary experience was different from many of my friends and colleagues. I did not “do” seminary in the traditional residential way but instead completed my degree through a distance learning program which involved a few trips a year for intensive classes as well as my traveling up to south Maryland to take traditional classes. I petitioned to take classes outside of my program more than any other student I knew, and one of those classes was an independent study using some of the books of Eugene Peterson.

I honestly can’t remember when I learned of the expansive volume of books that Peterson had written. I imagine that it was when I went into the office of one of my fellow pastors. I’ve been known to simply stand before shelves of books in people’s offices, taking mental snapshots of what I see, comparing and contrasting what’s there, and slowly forming an idea in my head just how the person whose office I am standing in has had their theology and ministry formed by the writers represented on those shelves.

Regardless of how he got there, Peterson became a fixture on my radar. I started with one book, added another, then another, and another, and before I knew it, I had a healthy little portion of the catalogue of books he’s written. And by working the angles on my independent study during seminary, I was able to create a mechanism by which I was required to read some of those very same books.

“Learning from a pastor’s pastor,” that was what I called my independent study. The most significant book among the ones that I focused on was Peterson’s memoir, “The Pastor.” It was interesting to read through this memoir and hear the tales that described the formation of so many of the books that Peterson would write. It was even more fascinating to me since I hadn’t read most of them and it gave me a glimpse behind the curtain before I actually read them.

That book, “The Pastor,” has been the book that I have sent to friends upon their ordination to full-time vocational ministry. It impacted me enough, grounding me in my vocation rather than allowing me to be caught up in an occupation. Having grown up with a father who was a pastor, I was intrigued to read this memoir of a man who wasn’t too much older than my own father and to see just how he approached the vocation of pastor.

I remember when Peterson sat down with Bono, the lead singer of U2, to have a conversation about the Psalms. An unlikely pairing became a fascinating exercise in contemplative thought that was shared through every U2 fan who also happened to be a follower of Jesus. And it wasn’t showy or kitschy, in my opinion it was a little more than 20 minutes of nuggets shared by a pop icon and a spiritual mentor, an honest look at what has become one of my favorite books of the Bible. If you haven’t seen the video, I highly recommend that you click here and take the 22 minutes to watch it.

As I began to read more and more of Peterson, I adopted him as a spiritual mentor, just as I had with Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, and a few others whose transcendent writings have always reminded me that what I do as a pastor and who I am as a pastor is far less defined by culture and people’s opinions and much more defined by the people who I lead and just how God needs me to be used to help them in their own formation. Peterson reminded me of the richness of the Bible, especially some of the books that are often overlooked by some of the superstar megachurch pastors that try to put  the sexy back into the Bible while some of us are wondering how they even thought it was supposed to be sexy to begin with.

Eugene Peterson was a dying breed. In reading his books and watching videos of him, there is nothing glamorous or flashy about him. His humility and quiet spirit seemed evident not only as I listened to him speak but as I read the words he had written. With every book, I pictured myself sitting in a cozy cabin in comfortable chairs nestled in front of a fire, while man who had lived a significant amount of life imparted wisdom upon me in a gentle yet passionate way.

Eugene Peterson will be missed, but the legacy that he has left through his books will allow his voice to continue to mold and shape generations of pastors. I am grateful for that shaping that has occurred in my own life and which continues to occur. I will continue to gift his memoir to others as they step into vocational ministry and I will continue to allow his words to focus me back on the call of God on my life.


Wounds Are Where Light Enters – A Book Review

Wounds Are Where Light EntersWalter Wangerin’s newest book “Wounds Are Where Light Enters” contains personal stories. He shares stories about his family, his childhood, his ministry, and so much more. Wangerin seems to be an artist as much as a writer. Of course, some don’t see the two as mutually exclusive anyway, but Wangerin tells his stories with inspiration and appeal.

This book is full of stories that run the gamut. Some will warm your heart and others will break your heart. Wangerin writes of a widower who has holed himself in his house with little to no contact to the outside world. He writes of his experience as a pastor in an urban setting where a self-appointed neighborhood watch dog questioned him, “Why you walkin’ my streets?” Wangerin had to convince the watch dog that he was indeed a pastor of the church down the street.

Wangerin tells the story of Diane who was sexually abused by her father. It’s one of the stories in this book that kept me riveted and broke my heart at the same time. Wangerin has a way of drawing his reader in, making them part of the story as he tells it from his vantage point. His ability to translate emotion and communicate in a way that connects and moves his read is impressive.

He tells the story of Junie Piper whom he visits in prison. After numerous visits where it doesn’t seem as if Wangerin is getting through to him, he receives a collect phone call. On the other end of that phone call is Piper who simply says, “I love you” to Wangerin. After hanging up the phone, Wangerin wept and knew that he had encountered Jesus in that man.

If someone were to ask me what this book was about or how to categorize it, I would have a hard time. Wisdom literature is probably what I would say, my best descriptor. But it felt like so much more than that. It was inspiration. It was wisdom. It was conviction. It was preaching. It was evangelizing. It was all of these things and more, in the best way possible.

Wangerin doesn’t convey a distorted image of himself, only showing the good. He is honest and transparent, even about his faults and mistakes. Some of the stories he shares about his own parenting were, to me, among the most powerful in this book considering the stage of life in which I find myself. Knowing that others have gone before me and made similar mistakes to my own is a comfort.

While I had heard of Walter Wangerin, Jr. before, this was the first of his books that I read. I’ve had his books “The Book of God” and “The Book of the Dun Cow” for about a year. I expect that they will be moved to the top of my reading pile now that I’ve experienced him as a writer.

If you want inspiration and stories with heart, consider “Wounds Are Where Light Enters.”

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The Tech-Wise Family – A Book Review

techwise familyUnless you’re living in a bubble, you’re aware of the vast influence of technology on our society and culture (and if you’re living in a bubble, you’re most likely not reading this review). Like so many other tools, technology can simplify our tasks and make things easier for us, but it can also present challenges and pitfalls that we need to be aware of and for which we need to create boundaries. As Andy Crouch says, “If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about technology, it’s that it doesn’t stay in its proper place on its own…”

In his book “The Tech-Wise Family,” Andy Crouch lays out his top ten tech-wise commitments for families. He divides them, more practically, into three separate sections: the three key decision of a tech-wise family, daily life, and what matters most. Crouch leads the reader through each section, pointing to data from the Barna Group to bring some levity and reality to just how serious the technological situation is among families in our culture.

Crouch doesn’t call for a straight boycott and abandonment of technology, just a means and method by which it can be held in check. Either we get it under control or it will control us. Technology has a way of creating a culture where we see “easy everywhere.” In other words, we’ve simplified tasks and other things to the point that all that is required is a screen swipe or a button push, tasks that once required much more brainpower than they now require.

Andy Crouch pushes for creating spaces where we live “tech-free,” once a day, once a week, and once a year. How do we create Sabbath from everything, including technology? The challenge that this presents to families is that our kids might try to lead an uprising and a revolution, but Crouch suggests that, like his family, we need to make sure that the phrase “our family is different” becomes a regular part of our vocabulary.

Crouch pushes for the need to build family who are about wisdom and courage, which is not always easy, but so worth it. Are we instilling good values into our kids? Though he doesn’t explicitly say it, he certainly implies that if we aren’t instilling good values in our kids, values will come at them by whatever is at arm length, like their devices. I don’t think that’s an alternative that many of us who are parents would gladly choose.

While the tendency for parents might be to overreact at the potential pitfalls and dangers of technology, Crouch doesn’t advocate for isolating our children, just doing things differently with them. He writes, – “The path to health is not encasing our children in some kind of germ-free sterile environment that they will inevitably try to flee; rather, it is having healthy immune systems that equip us to resist and reject things that do not lead to health.” Using technology wisely isn’t an abandonment of it but a call to be more strategic in just how we use it.

At the end of each chapter, Crouch includes a “Reality Check” section where he talks about his family’s experience with the tech-wise commitment covered within that chapter. He is honest, not candy-coating the struggles that he and his family have had with some of these commitments. The honesty and candor here is a draw, especially for those families who will have to implement guidelines and commitments after having little to no boundaries around technology.

As I look at technology and its development, it seems that it might be easily compared to a high-speed train. Parents can’t simply sit back and hope for the best, there needs to be intentionality in a family’s approach to technology. Andy Crouch offers a clear, thoughtful, and thorough approach. He never claims that it’s easy, but he does say that it’s effective. For any parent wanting to navigate these waters for their family, “The Tech-Wise Family” is a helpful resource. It’s not foolproof but it offers a good place to start.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Why Am I Talking?

don't talkI’ve always considered myself a fairly decent listener and have even been told that in the past, but as I get older and gaze at the list of responsibilities that lie before me, I find myself rushing through things and multi-tasking to get everything done. Sometimes I’ve made cursory reads of emails and missed key and important points in them. Sometimes I’ve read through things with action items and proceeded to forget all about those items. Sometimes I’ve had a conversation with someone and as soon as I hang up the phone or walk away from the table, I’ve left whatever meaningful pieces were to go with me right there on the table or hanging on the telephone line.

Now, this isn’t an every day, all the time thing. It’s happened enough for me to see it as unacceptable. I haven’t found myself in trouble because of my lack of attentiveness to things, but I don’t ever want that to be the case. As I’ve assessed the situation, I’ve realized my own need to be mentally present wherever I am. If I am reading an email, be present. If I am on the phone, be present. If I am talking over a meal, be present.

During my sabbatical, I went through some training to become a Strengths Communicator. If you aren’t familiar with StrengthsFinders, I would highly recommend checking it out. It has been a very helpful tool for me and for others to find out the areas in which strengths lie so as to focus energy on those areas. Like any assessment, it’s not foolproof or perfect, but I have seen its impact on many people, not the least of whom is myself.

One of the principles that we talked about during my training had to do with listening. The instructor said a good acronym to remember is “W.A.I.T.” which stands for “Why Am I Talking?” It’s hard to say just how many times that has popped into my head since the first time I heard it nearly two months ago. Over and over again, as I find myself in conversations, the urge within me is to start talking, to fix a problem, to fill the space, but sometimes, that space doesn’t need to be filled, sometimes that problem doesn’t need to be fixed, at least at that moment. Sometimes, all someone really wants you to do is listen.

It’s too easy for me to be in the midst of a conversation and be thinking about what’s next. I can too easily find myself planning out the rest of my day and slowly tuning out the person sitting across from me. But the act of listening is not just about physical presence, it’s about mental awareness and intuitiveness as well. Listening is an act of the ears and act of the brain, we need to process what we hear, which is virtually impossible when we’re moving on to other things in our minds.

I’m a talker too. One of my strengths is communication and part of the way that I process information is by communicating. But I am finding that there are other ways to communicate than simply speaking. I’ve kept a handwritten journal during my sabbatical and have filled nearly the entire thing in those three months that I was away. It’s proving a training ground for me, a mental gym, if you will, where I can practice my thinking and communicating without having to burden anyone else.

I’m not there, I haven’t arrived, this is still an area of growth for me, but I’m conscious of it and I’m working on it. I need to do a better job of listening, to my friends, to my wife, to my children, to the people in my church, to all of those with whom I connect. I’m a work in progress, but I’m grateful for this insight to set my eyes on and move forward.

Get Wise – A Book Review

get wiseSolomon was the wisest man who ever lived, so it should follow that anything he said should be paid some mind. Despite his imperfections and some of his major mistakes, Bob Merritt still believes that there is a lot to be gained by heeding the advice that Solomon readily doled out within the wisdom books which he wrote, primarily Proverbs. In “Get Wise,” Merritt shares some of his own gleanings from both what Solomon wrote and from his own experience.

Merritt believes that decisions can be detrimental to the direction which our lives take. In fact, he says that there are two pain streams in which we can live: learning from our own pain or learning from the pain of others. Wouldn’t it be so much better if we learned from the mistakes of others rather than having to make our own mistakes?

If we make good decisions, we are likely to head in a good direction. If we make bad decisions, we are more likely to head in a bad direction. If we use the wisdom that God gives us and learn from our experiences and the experiences of others, we can make great decisions every day. Bob Merritt shares on such topics as work ethics, friendships, money, parenting, anger, sex, marriage, and other topics as well. His sharing comes from a place of humility and from his own experiences. He never claims to be an expert but shares the things that he learned from both his successes and failures.

Merritt shares pointers and helpful hints, listing out some things to try in some of these various areas to have success. He shares the importance of relationships and how important it is to surround yourself with people of character who will help you to grow and rise to their level. Merritt offers some great nuggets to be treasured and used.

My one struggle with the book was that even in the midst of his mostly humble approach, Merritt seems to make countless references to his church and the staff there. I appreciate that he counts himself fortunate and grateful for what God has done through him and his church, but at times, the references seem excessive, making it seem as though Eagle Brook Church may trump Disney as the “happiest place on earth” and that if you aren’t a part of it then you aren’t living.

While Merritt doesn’t say anything earth shattering or even new here, the wisdom that he shares is worthwhile to remember or even be reminded of. There’s enough within the book from which to get some good and practical advice and pointers to live a life of good decisions.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Thinking Too Highly of Yourself

Have you ever been around someone who thinks too highly of themselves? You know the type, they walk around as if they are God’s gift to the world, as if their absence from this world would create a huge gap for the rest of us. And, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we actually might be those people, walking around as if the world would stop spinning if we stopped living.

One of the beautiful things about the Bible, to me, is that the truth it conveys makes sense regardless of whether or not you believe everything that’s written within it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe what it says, but if you’re reading this and you aren’t there yet, I still think that there’s wisdom that you can hear and receive from it, even if you aren’t at the point of full belief yet.

The Apostle Paul, when he was writing to the church in Rome, wrote in Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” Paul was promoting a healthy sense of humility for all, a self-image that doesn’t elevate one’s self so much as seeing one’s self in light of a bigger picture.

For followers of Christ, that bigger picture is the body of Christ, the incarnation of Christ to the world in the form of the Church. Each of us brings what we have to the table and puts it together with what God has given to others. Combine that with the power that God gives us through the Holy Spirit and we’ve got a winning combination……but it’s just that, a combination. A combination is what you get when 2 or more pieces are combined. It’s kind of like that cartoon in the 1980s “Voltron” where the individual robots came together to form one giant robot. The individual robots were fine and good by themselves, but together, they kicked serious butt!

I’ve been in a place of major humbling lately. It seems that God is trying to teach me this lesson of not thinking of myself too highly than I ought. It’s a difficult place to come to where you can honestly see that your presence and gifts are not essential for achieving and completing the work of God. It’s very arrogant to think that the God of the universe really NEEDS you to accomplish his work.

But once you come to that place where you realize that you are not essential but chosen, it’s a freeing thought. No, God doesn’t NEED me to accomplish his work, but he certainly wants me. He’s gifted me with what I have and then calls me to be part of the bigger plan and picture. When I accept that call, it’s a privilege, not a right, and I need to see it that way. When I do, it can make all the difference in the world for my own self-perception.

Part of the idea of “dying to myself” daily is just this: to realize that I shouldn’t think too highly of myself. It’s a process, sometimes slow and wearisome. I fight, I kick, I resist, but when I finally begin to understand it, when I finally begin to catch on, it’s not self-deprecating, dehumanizing, or demeaning, it’s actually energizing and invigorating.

Here’s to hoping that I continue to learn this lesson.

Whatever You Ask?

What would you do if someone came to you and offered you anything you wanted? Imagine yourself as Aladdin, rubbing the magic lamp and having a genie emerge. Out of everything that’s possible in the world, what would you choose? Would your choice be different depending on when in life this opportunity was given to you?

Well, this actually happened to a king that lived a long time ago. Solomon was King David’s son and the next in line for the throne of Israel and Judah. He was given the opportunity to ask for anything that he wanted when God spoke to him in a dream.

Solomon’s response is pretty fantastic, at least it is to me. He could have asked for anything and this is his response, “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:7-9)

Solomon knows that he can have whatever he wants and he chooses to have a discerning heart. He understands the task set before him and the potential difficulties in that and asks for the very thing that can help him out. He doesn’t ask for riches or power or fame or any other selfish desires, he asks for wisdom. So God grants him wisdom and along with that, he grants him all of the other things that he never asked for.

I think about the many times that I have been offered something, the many times that I have been given a gift and I wonder what my initial reaction is in how to use that gift. Do I want to use it and spread it around? Do I want to keep it to myself?

More often than not, if I’m really honest, if someone gives me a gift, I want to be selfish, I want to keep it all for me. God has been changing my heart to help me realize how much better it is when I take a gift and share it around. Instead of me being the only beneficiary of that gift, I can let others in on the benefits. How cool is that?

I’m not sure that I would have had the same response as Solomon if this opportunity were placed in my lap, even at this point in my life. I hope and pray that my heart is changing and that if given this opportunity, I would choose the gift that would benefit the most number of people.

How about you? What would you do? How would you react if given this same opportunity? Would you use it for yourself or would you use it so that the greatest number of people would benefit?

The Needle and the Damage Done

philip seymour hoffmanLast week, I wrote about cancer and the diagnosis that my mom had received 3 years ago which led to her death 6 months later (read the post here).  Cancer hits everyone and knows no boundaries, but people don’t choose to have cancer.  On the other hand, drugs and drug abuse know no boundaries.  They will impact the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the black or white or yellow or brown, even the unborn can be impacted when their mothers are drug abusers.

Yesterday, Hollywood was dealt a heavy blow when Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment of an alleged drug overdose.  When he failed to show for an appointment with his children, friends of his went to his apartment, only to find him on the floor of his bathroom, allegedly with a needle in his arm and bags of heroine in his apartment.  At 46 years old, his career was full of all kinds of films.

Among those films, I recall seeing him for the first time on the big screen in “Scent of a Woman.”  Over the years, he has been in some of my favorite movies.  He seemed to have been a regular in the films of P.T. Anderson, of which my favorite was “Magnolia.”  His character, a male nurse attending to a man dying of cancer, held such an incredible amount of sensitivity, vulnerability, and kindness.  Although the part seemed small in comparison to those of other actors within the same film, he managed to hold his own among the like of Julianne Moore, Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, and many others.

Hoffman had been nominated for the Academy’s Best Supporting Actor 3 times and was nominated and won Best Actor in 2005 with the film “Capote.”  By all rights, he could have been called a successful actor…..

Yet, what effect did that success have on him?  While he may have been considered successful, could he have been considered content?  Joyful?  Happy?

What drives a person to find solace, comfort, significance, and meaning at the end of a needle?  How long do those things last when they are provided by such a fleeting and temporal solution?

Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible, wrote these words in Ecclesiastes 2, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;  I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.   Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”  The wisest man, and one of the richest too, did not deny himself anything and all that he found was meaninglessness.

When things like this happen, it’s a chance to reflect, a chance to contemplate what is most important in my life.  It’s a centering moment that helps bring poignancy into a potentially complacent life.  Where does one find hope even when they have been “successful” in the eyes of the world?  Every path, every attempt will lead to disappointment.

Later on in Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes, “For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?”  And even later, as he comes to the conclusion, he writes, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Many have lived and died before me, but few have had the wisdom of Solomon.  His words are to be taken to heart.  If we follow other paths, we will find that the endings are surely disappointments.  But what about the path that leads to life?

Success can only carry us so far, but we will eventually need something more.  Where will we find it?  When we do, how lasting will it be?

Taking Responsibility

I_Didnt_Do_It_The_Bart_Simpson_Story1There are many phrases that seem difficult to roll off of our tongues, some more so than others.  One of those phrases which seems to be building up steam in its ever-increasing difficulty is, “I was wrong.”

Who likes making mistakes?  I don’t.  When I make mistakes, I can easily take it and internalize it, blaming myself and mentally flagellating myself.  When we make mistakes, it’s hard to own them.  We quickly want to shift the blame onto someone else.  We don’t want to lose face because we’re afraid that someone might begin to question our worth and value or even who we are as a person.

Mistakes are part of life, though.  I don’t say that in a defeatist kind of way but in a realistic, “It happens” kind of way.  Think back to when you were a child and you began to do things for the first time.  Did you always get it right the first time around?  Did you make the transition from tricycle to bicycle with training wheels to bicycle without training wheels in one fell swoop, seamlessly, without hesitation?  If you did, you’re probably an exceptional individual.

Mistakes are what make us stronger, smarter, and wiser.  Hopefully, when we don’t get something right, we can go back and tweak the process to have a better and different outcome the next time around.  Hopefully, we’ve got enough humility to acknowledge that we were wrong and we made a mistake.

I wonder how many relationships go south because of this one thing.  I wonder how many marriages fail because spouses are unable to own the responsibility for breakdowns that occur.  I wonder how many people lose their jobs because, somehow, the pecking order of responsibility led to them and no one above them was willing to acknowledge their own mistakes and responsibility.  I wonder how many kids find themselves with severely diminished and tainted relationships with their parents because those parents were unwilling to own up to their own mistakes.

It’s hard to own up to mistakes, but as I’ve grown as a person, as a pastor, as a husband, as a father, and as a child of God, I’ve seen the value in it.  When we find ourselves in positions of leadership, owning that responsibility becomes a model for those around us, if we fail to model it well, we shouldn’t be surprised when that model becomes a reality for all who are watching.  If we do model it well, we will hopefully see the fruit of that humility translate to a culture shift.

Not too long ago, I sat down and had a conversation with someone who expressed some hurts that they felt I had caused.  It was a humbling time for me.  My prayer leading up to the meeting was that God hold my tongue.  In the words of James 1:19-20, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”  Slow to speak and become angry, quick to listen?  That’s pretty difficult, yet that was my prayer.

God honored the time and I was able to listen and speak very infrequently.  I learned a lot during that meeting, not the least of which is that people are people and when you cut them, intentionally or unintentionally, they bleed.  Owning up to your mistakes, though, goes a long way.  1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  When we genuinely love others and are willing to show them and also acknowledge our responsibility in hurts, God can help healing take place.

This is still a learning process for me.  I don’t get it right all the time.  It’s still hard to acknowledge responsibility, to own up to my mistakes and be humble, but I’m learning a little more every day.

3 Sides to the Story

prejudiceSolomon was the wisest man that ever lived, but that certainly doesn’t mean that he was perfect.  He embraced the way of the culture around him and married many wives.  The Lord gave him incredible wisdom and he was known far and wide for that wisdom.  The Lord allowed him, rather than his father David, to build the temple of God.

Even with all of his wisdom, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 1:18, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”  It seems that the more he knew and understood, the more wisdom and knowledge that he gained, the more grief he added to his life.  I wonder how true that is for us.  There is a simplicity to having little information.

Remember what it was like when you were a child.  You didn’t have a lot of understanding and knowledge about the world, and yet, life seemed so free and wonderful.  Worries were less.  Days, especially summer days, seemed eternal with laughter, fun, and activities.  But once we began to learn and understand the world, we began to get a glimpse at what was really happening around us.  The old adage that ignorance is bliss seems to ring true.

In the wake of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin verdict, less information seems like we might be blissfully ignorant.  But the fact of the matter is that we can’t ignore certain facts.  We can’t ignore the fact that the victim was a young African American teenager.  We can’t ignore the fact that prejudice has been deep-seated in our country that, despite legislation and prohibition, still continues to rear its ugly head.

The problem is, we have a tendency to believe the first thing we see, hear, or read rather than taking the time to investigate.  We have to understand that there is more than one side to every story and if we want to exercise wisdom, we need to seek out truth in being informed about every side.  In volatile situations, we tend towards our own preconceived notions rather than seeking out the truth.  When we seek out the truth, it can often lead to disappointment for us, especially when we have cemented ourselves in our own preferences.

I am a middle-aged white male who has known privilege for most of my life.  When the windows of my world began to broaden and my own ignorance was exposed, I was shocked to see that things were much different than I expected.  My parents raised me and my brother not to distinguish between colors and ethnicities.  They lived out Christ’s love to every race in a very personal way and I am grateful for that.  I have not known prejudice to the extent that many in this country have known it.  For that, I am grateful.

But just because I have not experienced it does not mean that I am ignorant of it or that I lack sensitivity towards those who experience it.  Many of those who I know that have experienced racism are incredibly bright and intelligent people.  When they have experienced prejudice, it has had nothing to do with their intellect and has everything to do with the color of their skin.  That saddens me.

But it also saddens me that every time a crime is committed that involves someone of a different ethnicity, the stereotypes come flying out, regardless of whether they are real or not.  Some might say that they are real as long as people experience prejudice and racism within this country.  Some may say that its real because the facts speak to that racism and prejudice.  At what point does it not become an issue and who makes that decision?

I am saddened that a young African American man lost his life.  I am saddened that the answers that have come forth in the case don’t seem to significantly clarify the reality of the case.  I am saddened that there is a man who, even before his trial began, was deemed “guilty” in a country where we claim to believe in innocence until proven guilty.  I am saddened that this case has further divided a country that so desperately needs to learn to coexist and cooperate with one another.

What saddens me more than this is that there are some people in this country who turn an ignorant and blind eye towards prejudice and racism claiming that it does not exist.  Regardless of where a person falls in their opinion about this case, the greater issue is that we need to work towards breaking down the racial barriers that continue to divide us.

We have tried for more than half a century through legislation and other means to break down these barriers, but legislation only goes so far in our relationships.  Relational restoration and reconciliation is the only long-lasting method by which we can begin to heal the hurts and terrors of the past.  This only happens when we come together.  I am doing my part in the relationships that I have to break down these barriers, but I know that I can do more.

Wherever you are today in your opinion, take time to think about the other side, regardless of whether or not you agree.  In looking at things from a different perspective, you just might learn something, and in learning something, you might find that you gain wisdom and knowledge and at the same time, you experience a little grief in the discovery that things are not as you always thought they were.