Lifestream

Kenya, and the Beauty of Silence

I almost want to apologize for the picture at the top of this blog. I know these pictures are used gratuitously to make people feel guilty and give to overseas mission outreaches. I’ve never done that, and that’s not why I use it here. This is one of the orphans we are helping at the Forkland School, one of 300 abandoned there by parents who could no longer care for them due to alcoholism and the deepening drought. It’s a heart-breaker for sure, and I wanted you to hold in your heart a bit of that pain with me. Whether you are able to express generosity here through some excess finances or prayer, both are needed.

We were able to send some money along to help them at this time, though they will need more. The need is ongoing, and they are requesting another well in Bungoma that will help that community get through this drought. but there is joy and gratefulness because of those who were able to help them. You can watch this video of Michael celebrating with the children. (43 seconds)

And I thought I’d leave you with this quote I had in my inbox the other day that I find significant.

The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation. A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image. We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding. If I have done some wrong thing (or even some right thing that I think you may misunderstand) and discover that you know about it, I will be very tempted to help you understand my action.

Silence is one of the deepest disciplines of the spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification. One of the fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier. We don’t need to straighten others out.

Source: Richard J. Foster, Seeking the Kingdom

We waste so much time making sure someone doesn’t say anything bad about us. It wastes so much time trying to correct the manipulation and lies of others. These are far better left in Jesus’ hands and we get on with just living as authentic a life as we can and don’t worry about those who seek to be destructive. As Dallas Willard said toward the end of his life, “I am learning the discipline of not always having to have the last word.” It’s a great freedom. Let Jesus have the last word and invite him to shape this in your heart; he’s the only one who can.

Finally, if you want to help the children in Kenya, we are still collecting money to send their way. As always, every dollar you send us gets to the people in Kenya, and all contributions are tax-deductible in the US. We do not take out any administrative or money transfer fees. Please see our Donation Page at Lifestream. Just designate “Kenya” in the “Note” of your donation, or email us and let us know your gift is for Kenya. You can also Venmo contributions to @LifestreamMinistries or mail a check to Lifestream Ministries • 1560 Newbury Rd Ste 1  •  Newbury Park, CA 91320. Or, if you prefer, we can take your donation over the phone at (805) 498-7774.

A Difficult But Joyful Task

Sara and I are taking this week off for a trip to Colorado, including some time with our son. And, as soon as I get back, I’ll be headed into the Carolinas for a couple of weeks. On Saturday, April 2, I’m going to host a day-long conversation at a farm near Lake Wylie, SC for those who want to explore what it means to ride the wind of the Spirit above the most distressing circumstances in our life. You can get more details about that and my other stops here. Also, watch for upcoming trips to Austin, TX, into the upper midwest, and possibly into New England.

Before I go, however, let me leave you with this…

Bob Prater, Arnita Taylor, and I, coauthors of A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation, just completed another six-week workshop for a college trying to take a reasoned and compassionate approach to racism on campus. We help them explore the issues affecting their campus and what they can do to help remedy the legitimate concerns. I wish you could have heard the stories of a Palestinian mom who was delighted when her daughter had the white skin color of her American father, so she wouldn’t have to face the same judgments and insensitive comments she has faced. One young woman told of how her parents made her brother lay down on the car’s floorboard in certain situations because he took after the native American side of the family, while she didn’t have to because she looked white. Regretfully, skin tone influences how people are perceived.

I know some of you have not appreciated some of my postings on the racial divide. I hear from a few of you. Some have called me a Marxist (I’m clearly not), others a leftist (nope, not that either), or that I think most police are corrupt (again, not true) simply because I express a concern for the racial inequities that still exist in our culture. Two years ago, our society was primed to have a healing conversation about race after George Floyd’s murder. Unfortunately, our political realities made a constructive dialogue impossible for the broader culture. People only hardened into their previously held perspectives. Admittedly, it is a difficult discussion to have since extremist groups have so polarized it on both sides. I feel bad for those who only see this issue in terms of political power and not compassion for fellow humans whose skin tone adversely affects their ability to live freely and gain equal opportunity in our culture.

It doesn’t look like there’s a political answer here that will fly these days, but that doesn’t mean we as individuals can’t open our hearts a bit wider, engage in one-on-one conversations that can move the needle, and encourage conversations of healing among the people we influence.

Words like equity, fragility, and privilege can trigger strong reactions. But my heart is encouraged by those who look like me who are taking a longer look and discovering there is something to be explored beyond the agendas of those on the extremes. For those of us in the dominant culture, we can listen to those with darker skin tones and understand how that is treated in our broader culture. We can steward the advantages we have to ensure that others have the same opportunities that we have. I am far more excited about those of you who are engaging in this conversation than I am discouraged by those who resist it.

I want to share two emails with you I received about our book and the discussions around it. One is from a medical doctor and what he is learning:

I am very grateful for you and how you have influenced my spiritual journey. The God Journey podcasts, your books, and getting to experience Israel with you and a wonderful group of new friends. All of these have touched me in profound ways. The book on polarization you wrote with Arnita and Bob- ‘A Language of Healing..,” really challenged my thinking. Last year after George Floyd was killed, I decided to take a few minutes with my black patients during the end of their appointment and ask them how they were doing in light of what had happened. It was difficult to do given the schedule and how I can easily get behind. But it was worth it. I probably listened to about 25 or so patients and it was remarkable that nearly all of them had personal stories about their negative experiences with law enforcement or one of their family members. My goal was to listen and learn. I don’t think I would have even thought of doing this had it not been for reading your book. So thank you for being a part of this project.

If we can just begin to listen and care for those adversely impacted by the inequities in our culture, some incredible things can happen.

The other is an exchange I had with a woman in Wisconsin after hearing the last Zoom session I did with Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor a year or so ago. Arnita mentioned one of the questions she likes to ask people who want to discuss race with her is, “How are you stewarding your privilege?” Their response to the question gives her insight into the potential direction and value of an ongoing conversation.

Could help me to understand what it means to steward my white privilege?  I am looking at identifying the many ways I have white privilege which in itself eye opening. I am having difficulty understanding how I would steward those privileges. I feel as if I am getting into the weeds with this. Could you help me to understand?

Here is my response:  

“What a great question! Learning to steward our privilege is a learning experience. First, we’ve got to recognize we have one. Then, instead of feeling guilty, we steward it by helping marginalized groups have the same privilege we enjoy. How we do that depends on who we are and what influence we have. It may be as simple as an encouraging word or a cup of cold water or venturing the difficult communication with someone who is being racially dismissive.

“What it means for each of us has to be discovered, not explained. Ask Father about it. Ask him to show you as your life unfolds during the day. Build some relationships with marginalized people and ask them for ideas that they think would be helpful coming from you.

I love that you’re exploring this. You’ll learn lots.”

She responded:

I can do that. Ask him to show me and watch for things to unfold. I also really love what you said here, “Build some relationships with marginalized people and ask them for ideas that they think would be helpful coming from you.” Especially the part of asking someone for ideas that they think would be helpful coming from me. That really fits, because I don’t know. If I pretend to know I’ll really be in the weeds slopping around.  Asking someone for ideas that they think would be helpful speaks of adventure and discovery.

I wrote a long list of my white privilege. Some of them blew my mind. The more I wrote the more I uncovered. Sure, I’m not done with that list, but it’s a start. I’ve got to say I did cry through part of the process. Not sure if it’s guilt or sorrow. Whatever it is I’m going to trust it. I can feel him in this with me, so I’m going to trust the tears.

I love that she thought through how her whiter skin has opened doors for her that others might not have the same access because of their skin tone. Proximity, courage, compassion, and integrity on the part of people like us are so vital if we’re going to make a dent in the racial angst of our culture since our political leaders are too polarizing to do anything about it themselves.

Relationships that Matter

This morning, I’m at the airport, ready to catch a flight to cold and rainy Nashville. I had to postpone this trip from January because of some COVID concerns, and it’s a good thing we did. That weekend they had a massive snowstorm that shut down the city. This time, it is hopefully just rain. I’ll be with some new people on this trip, a younger community of people exploring what life in Christ can be. I know little about them, but I’m excited to meet some new friends. In addition, I have some old friends there, too, who are finding time to hang out with me.

I leave with an overwhelmingly grateful heart. Yesterday, I asked Sara how we were doing on contributions for the new need in Kenya. They wanted to know if we could find $14,110 to help buy food for nursing moms, seniors, and others suffering in the ever-deepening drought in the north of Kenya. You responded with $17,300 in just a few days. I always find myself surprised and overjoyed at how quickly people respond and with more than I would think.

Over the past few years, your generosity has helped hundreds of thousands of people in that region find relief from hunger, and be exposed to the Gospel. Their thanksgiving for physical substance and spiritual nurture is so amazing to hear. Thank you for standing with them in this critical hour of need. If you still want to give to them, I’m sure more needs will come. These people in the tribal regions are in desperate straits. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you.

I’ve also heard from my friends in Ukraine over my recent post about the tensions there and the heart they carry in these threatening times. You can read one response in the comments on that blog.

I wish all the people I know could know all the other people I know. You would all be so enriched!  I just don’t know how to pull that off. For me, those relationships are not only nearby but stretch all across the world. We just spent the weekend with some close friends visiting from Ohio who were with me on an Israel trip five years ago. That led to a few others from that trip getting together over the weekend for fellowship, some friendly bocce ball, and a football game or two. My friend Luis also stopped by to share some of Sunday with us. I love the nourishment of heart and spirit that great relationships offer.

I’ve often said it, relationships make us rich. I look back over my life and am so grateful for all the people Jesus has connected me to in the world. Some are on magnificent journeys of learning to live in the Fahter’s affection, while many others have yet to begin that journey. Each one is a rich treasure when they let you in on the reality of who they are, warts and all. None of us are perfect and relationships can go through awkward moments of pain and miscommunication. But if people can respond with honesty, love, tenderness, and generosity, there’s no brokenness that can’t be healed, no failure that can’t be mended.

I just got off the phone with someone today who is experiencing real hurt in his family. I could feel his pain, not for himself, but for those he loves who only know how to lie, gossip, manipulate, and get angry when their manipulations don’t work. Many people protect themselves from relationships because of hurts just like this. They figure it’s better to live isolated than risk the pain of judgment and rejection.

I disagree, of course. Yes, I’ve had relationships go wrong, too. Who hasn’t? Yes, they hurt, especially when people aren’t open to honest, compassionate dialogue to get past the inevitable bumps in the road. However, if you let those people win, you’ll rob yourself of the friendships God has for you. Lean into those relationships where you know you are loved, where people celebrate who you are even in your struggles, and see the value of tenderness and forgiveness. Lean away from relationships filled with anger, gossip, threats, and ultimatums. Don’t argue with them or even retaliate with anger. If they judge you without listening to your side of the story, they don’t truly care about you anyway. You don’t have to let destructive people have free access to your heart.

Paul told us to warn a divisive person two times, and after that, have nothing more to do with them. You can’t change people so damaged by trauma, jealousy, or their need to control others, until they are ready to take an honest look at themselves. But that doesn’t mean you have to hate them. You can love them from afar, pray for God’s grace to touch them whenever they cross your mind, and be ready should they ever open their hearts to genuine reconciliation.

It is dysfunctional to keep seeking the love of people who are manipulative and dishonest. Leave them to God to see what he might do to invite them to healing. Good relationships don’t require perfection, just a measure of grace that seeks peace instead of conflict. Give your heart to those who treat it well and learn to treat others the way you would want them to treat you. Healthy relationships aren’t rocket science. You know those relationships that nurture your soul, encouraging you to a wiser and lighter heart. And you know those that weigh you down with demands and distortions that shred your soul.

Lean into the former and out of the latter and you’ll find that relationships will make you rich, too.