Friday, January 4, 2019

Keep Your Phasers set on Stun...

Inevitably, life delivers pain.  At times, the pain we experience is brought about by those we love, trust and consider friends.  When tensions are high and the hurts acute, it is very tempting to let go of restraints and unleash the full force of our wrath on others.  If the hurts are deep enough, we might even be tempted to take on the role of bully for ourselves and to assert our general displeasure upon some unsuspecting soul who has fallen short of our standards or expectations.

Of course, there is another response to experiencing the pain of unmerited attacks and hostility - that of empathy.  I have found, that when my anger is triggered by others disappointing me and I am tempted to let them experience the full force of my frustrations, that Still Small voice speaks to my heart and asks me, "Sam, don't you remember when you were on the receiving end?  How did you feel when you were berated, belittled, and insulted? Remember and empathize!"  Empathy.  Placing oneself in the position of another and allowing the understanding of mutual humanity to help us to respond in a more restrained and gentle manner.  It's Captain Kirk giving the standing order to "Set your phasers to stun" rather than to kill!

Will you consider giving yourself such standing orders? Will you keep your phasers on stun on social media, in family disagreements and in your place of employ?  A old flower-power era anthem pleaded, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!"  Don't wait for others to step up this challenge.  Take a stand today. Prepare your heart now. Keep you phaser selector switch on "stun" and walk in peace, as much as it has to do with you!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Haunted By A Killing

This story of Botham Jean’s death haunts me. It is much too close to home.  What I share is an emotional and candid response based on my own life experiences.  Based on what is known, a promising young man who walked the right path, was shot down in the safety of his own home.  Yet, it feels as if society is awaiting some revelation that will justify his untimely and brutal demise.  I wonder what situation could there ever be when an unarmed, good black man is killed and the general population sees it as a flat out atrocity? I am arriving at the conclusion that no such a scenario exists and fear that somewhere, someone will forever mutter, “but he must’ve done SOMETHING!” 

Luz is beside herself, and already worries every time I leave the house. Her fears have arisen because of numerous “near misses” in our own lives with these kinds of situations, where brushes with similar circumstances caused us to change r cease many activities we used to enjoy.  (Yes, I have been in situations where an official pulled a weapon on me and by God’s grace, didn’t shoot before their questions were exhausted.)  When the scenarios were recurring and came without warning or expectation, they altered our life practices forever.   We don't bother sharing these scenarios most of the time, because we’re not sure we could endure the disappointment of people we love and care for defending what seems to us to be the indefensible.

Think of this perspective when you consider Botham Jean’s death. You’re at home in your apartment. Out of nowhere, a stranger appears in your home, armed, with a weapon pointed towards you. Even if one became aggressive towards the stranger, wouldn't one be within one's rights to sense danger and use protective force? If Mr. Jean surmised that his life was indeed in danger –indeed  it was - and had acted to protect himself, (and there is no evidence I've heard that he did that), would he not have been within his rights to defend himself.  Would he have the right to expect to be safe in his own home, and not to be shot by a trained law enforcement officer, especially if he stood fast and made an inquiry without aggressive action which is what seems to be the case based on what has been reported?  Instead, it appears that he was totally caught unaware and shot on sight!  Now, he is dead. 

This situation and the reaction to it exposes a malady that continues to fester in this nation.  Situations that shouldn’t involve deadly force end in death with unanswerable questions and bitter conclusions that somehow justice has not truly been served and may not ever be served.  There are no easy answers and no feel-good endings.  I am angered by this situation yet know I must deal with my emotions constructively and in a way that is true to the Lord I serve.  For that reason, I will continue to seek to “act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with God.”  Nevertheless, I will do so with an agitated spirit and a troubled mind.  Lord, please give me your peace and a double portion of the fruit of your Spirit! I press on in faith – not in people, but in the Lord I continue to serve.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Addressing Differences of Conviction On Women In Ministry Leadership

I don't unreservedly know the specific answers to mall of the questions posed regarding the definitive biblical declaration on women in positions of leadership in ministry, but whatever one's theological position on the matter - and I know, love and respect many holding views across the theological spectrum - I believe a few elements are indisputable:

Love must lead one's attitude. Humility must guide one's responses. Grace must abound in one's consideration of the viewpoints of others. 

What has become clear to me after investigating the investigations of numerous scholars holding different views with respect to women in church leadership is this: the answers are not crystal clear and there is much room for consideration. I believe it is possible for us to have different views , held with conviction, yet to simultaneously and graciously encourage and support others who hold Scripture in equally high esteem, yet arrive at different conclusions. 

I am further convinced that if the Acts 1:8 Great Commission is truly our battle cry, we need more soldiers in the service. This need is recognized in the church in almost every tradition and location. The reality of our practice across church traditions affirms that when it comes to taking the Gospel to the nations, we don't mind sending women to lead the way where no one else wants to go. We need to ask ourselves, what makes us withdraw those invitations for the places we'd like to stay.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Freedom Of Speech - In Any Language!

I am currently travelling in a nation with a national language, an official language and more than 100 other spoken languages spread throughout 3 major geographic regions, all utilized in harmonious interaction and cooperation. By comparison, our venomous debates over language in the United States seem beneath us and reflect poorly on us. We forget that at one time, German was so widely spoken here that it narrowly missed being the language of use in this nation. Even French still shows its place in our heritage in creole form in Louisiana, yet no one seems to mind Cajun accents, expressions or the French influence on Louisiana Government and law. Yet, in spite of its influence and contributions to US culture, the public use of Spanish in the US is now viewed by some to be as harmful as being engaged in casual activities in the US while Black. This is grievous and unfortunate. While the vastness of our national territory makes our collective majority monolingual reality understandable, the reality of our varied origins and cultures of heritage should, at the same time, help us to understand the reality of the linguistic diversity in our midst as well. Air travel's practical shrinkage of the world and the availability of international travel should help us to understand the desire to learn more about us from those have come to us. We should also have a greater appreciation for those among us with the ability to communicate in more than one language and encourage our youth to learn more as well. In a society where languages intersect, will there be misunderstandings between people of different backgrounds and will there be spiteful individuals who use misunderstanding as a tool for derision and insult? Of course. There are unpleasant people in every culture and language group. Even when intentions are good and the language is the same, misunderstanding can arise. It has been said of Americans and our British cousins that we are " two peoples divided by a common language." Nevertheless, is it possible for the majority of us, in a desire to build each other up and to act from good will, to give each other a little slack, allowing each other to exercise our freedom of speech in whatever language we choose and to seek to think the best of each other in the process? I would like to believe that it is possible. If not, perhaps we as Americans are forever confined to a trajectory of misunderstanding, hostility and division that refuses to see opportunity in diversity and unity in spite of our differences. I pray that optimism and hope will prevail, but I am concerned that fear and ignorance may prove difficult to hold at bay. May the Lord enlighten us and help us to endure!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Wanted: Servant Who Can Walk and Simultaneously Chew Bubble Gum!

We have arrived safely and are preparing for our first outreach ministry day among the poorest of the poor in the Smokey Mountain area - an extremely economically depressed area which had previously been the location of Manila's city garbage dump.

Thousands of people remain in this area and the needs are immense. Luz, a team of Filipino friends from Wisconsin,  a newly planted church ministering directly to Smokey Mountain and I will hold a special outreach event where we will be introduced, offer some encouragement and material assistance and assess how we can most effectively be of help from this point forward for the long-term.

In our preparation,  while walking down a Manila street following my brother-in-law, I literally tripped while walking and chewing bubble gum! In an effort to avoid falling on my newly repaired hip, in very entertaining fashion, I managed not to fall on my hip and face, but pulled my calf muscle in the effort. One witty Brother said, "You saved the hip, but it took a sacrificial calf to do it!"

Luz and our awesome sister-in-law, Manang Rose,  fussed at my brother-in-law and me saying, "We literally leave you for 5 minutes and this is What happens!"  It sounded way worse in Tagalog than in English. Some ice, rest and Tiger Balming later, and my calf feels better than it did though I am being much more careful and attentive to my walking.

Nevertheless, we press on, very excited as we begin to serve in earnest, eager to help and discern how we can make more of a difference among the wonderful people of Smokey Mountain!

We will keep you posted as the adventure continues...

Your friends,
Sam and Luz Jackson

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Raising Children In Racially Charged Times

My posting of my daughter Victoria’s latest challenging encounter with classmates has provided a great opportunity to receive encouragement from friends and to consider the many ways people process racially charged confrontations and encounters.  The nature of our ministry has given us many opportunities to build bridges between people and has exposed us to some of the best and most disappointing aspects of human nature.

Anytime one posts one’s thoughts on issues with racial implications, one realizes chances are being taken.  There is the vulnerability of exposing one’s less appealing emotions and the risk of being seen as one who complains.  There is a risk of appearing petty and making much ado of a problem normative to the human experience and not handling one’s business well.

Because of such considerations, for many years, especially my years through early adulthood, I said very little about these types of experiences.  I absorbed the harshness, and I rolled with the punches time after time until, paraphrasing the Isley Brothers, I got knocked on the ground by untruths and misstatements that were too ridiculous to ignore.  I realized that others were suffering similarly and because of my “strong, silent approach” their experiences were being discounted by our mutual friends because, “Look at Sam.  He’s never complained about this.  It must not be a big deal.”  I further realized that while I still needed to be strong, civil, positive and to seek healing in every encounter, righteousness also demanded that I tell a more complete story and take time to acknowledge the emotional impact of such encounters to help others who find themselves in similar situations.

Why am I posting such a clarification? First, to assure all who know me that as agitated as Mongo may become, he will never be released from his cage – but, the anger is real!  As Scripture says, feel your anger, but don’t sin.  Luz and I also understand very well that we cannot shield our little ones from all of life’s confrontations. Remember she is not our first puppy, but the fourth who has had to navigate the challenging world of being part of the multicultural family and sorting through one’s own identity and the processing of others regarding what that means in a broader community context.  We are confident that she will navigate the challenges of adolescence and cultural flexibility with character, resolve and faith, sometimes making great choices and sometimes learning from mistakes.  We will advocate for her always and assist her as appropriate.  We won’t be helicopter parents but are aware that some of the players involved have parents on social media too, who when subtly informed, just might read a pertinent post and help the healing process along with their input for their children too.

So, all is well with us and our puppies.  Mongo is securely confined to his cage, comforted by oldies music and goofy comedies.  Luz and I plug ahead by faith, taking one day at time, living in the light of God’s love as we go, trying to share that love as much as we can with everyone we meet until our time comes.  In the meantime, we press on!



Saturday, March 3, 2018

Room To Grow

“Nobody’s perfect!”  The reality of fallen humanity expressed in a quick turn of phrase that reminds us that even at our best, humans are flawed at best.  Usually this phrase is a reminder to offer the grace to others we desire to experience for ourselves when our flaws are exposed for all to see.  However, in recent times, I find this phrase is reserved for those whom we feel are kindred spirits, and it is denied to those with whom we have differences. I believe this inconsistency has been especially prominent as the nation reflects on the life of evangelist Billy Graham.

In the reactions to his death, I have found less grace and mercy than I would have expected to see.  American culture prides itself of being a place of second chances and a place where maturity and growth allow an individual to show progressive understanding and deepening character as time passes and as they mature.  While many who share Billy Graham’s faith readily see him through eyes of grace, some who do not see matters of faith as he saw them, seem blinded to the fact that someone who lived for just shy of a century is bound to have made at least a few mistakes – some of them awful, painful and regretful – but that individual is also bound to have learned some lessons and demonstrated the best of humanity as well.

I can imagine that, at the time of my death, it would be relatively easy to scour the records of my life, of everything human interaction I have had and to review everything I have preached and written to find enough missteps to paint me as a very flawed person.  It would also be easy to compile my interactions with other flawed people, minimizing the good partnerships, helpful alliances and fruitful ventures, to make me appear to be self-serving, self-aggrandizing and self-centered in all I said and did.  It seems to me, that too many people are taking such an approach with Billy Graham’s life, and not extending to him, the grace that he most consistently preached and the grace that God extends to everyone through Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham was not a perfect man.  No one is.  Billy Graham was aware of his imperfections and let it be known on numerous occasions. Once, when he was asked if he minded having his name on the Hollywood walk of fame with a bunch of sinners, he responded that he too was a sinner and therefore shouldn’t have any problem fitting in.   Every true preacher of the Gospel realizes that in the end, we who follow Jesus are just beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.  We didn’t make the bread.  We don’t own the bakery. We do know the One who owns the bakery and is Himself the Bread of life that satisfies and we make it our business to tell others where to be fed.  At times we are imperfect in sharing that Good News, and we frequently embarrass the One who sent us with the message, but we are called to continue to share the message of His salvation through stammering lips and forked tongues. He knows this and uses us anyway.

I am sensitive to this not because I am a Billy Graham apologist, but because I believe the Gospel he preached and understand the universal need for grace and graciousness.  I especially believe such grace should be readily offered to one who preached it and on the balance lived it so faithfully. My hope is that rather than conveniently take cheap shots at Billy Graham, misrepresenting his life and ministry, we should give honor to whom honor is due. we should learn from the missteps that are common to the human experience and give a faithful man the same room to grow we all need as human beings who are struggling through a journey no one traverses perfectly, but that even a flawed human can finish well – as did our Brother, Billy.

Grace, mercy and peace to you all!