What Are We So Afraid Of?

The Strength Of Safety

I’ve been learning a lot about being safe. Inside safe. Emotionally safe. Only allowing influencers in my life who don’t emotionally use me and take advantage of my weaknesses. Sometimes it may even come down to, “I care about you, but I’m not safe around you. I need to leave.”

I’ve realized how very important it is to set up boundaries, to decide who is allowed to have access to my heart and who isn’t. There’s a sense of purpose and power in that, that I have a say and have control over my spirit.

I have the ability to make decisions about who speaks into my spirit.

Here is the irony though about this kind of safety–

When I am the most emotionally safe, I can walk into the most unsafe circumstances and be secure. and strong. and untouched. Because the circumstances around me don’t affect my sense of security. Even the people around me don’t have power to determine my safety.

I have one heart and one spirit that God has given it to me to steward. In deciding who gets to be close to me, it allows me to grow in love, and thus grow in safety. The more love I have capacity for, the more safe I am. The more safe I am internally, the more I am able to live freely externally without fear. This is because someone’s treatment of me in response to my open life doesn’t determine my sense of security, for good or bad.

Those who are most loved are most safe. They are the ones that help others become safe and loved.

Love and safe

The Dark Side Of Fear

On the flip side, those who are the most in fear are the ones who feel the most unsafe. They are always on the lookout to protect their own safety.

I know this all too well. The amount of fear I battle seems unreal. Many times I’ve been crushed under the weight of feeling unsafe. In those moments I have to step back and consider, “Why am I afraid? What is causing me to be unsafe and feel like I have to protect myself?”

Sometimes it’s been a relationship. It’s someone who I allowed to speak into me who I didn’t have any boundaries with that expressed verbal or emotional misbehavior towards me. In the fear cycle, I often look inward and take the blame, afraid to lose the relationship, and then I become very powerless and try to find a way to protect myself, which normally means trying to control that person or the atmosphere.

Sometimes it’s been in the work place. I’m afraid of someone finding out my mistakes, so I try to hide while I make everything perfect and presentable. Because if someone finds out I don’t have it all together then they will think less of me and I’m not valuable.

Sometimes it’s been in the community. I drive through the “rough” part of town and see lots of homeless people and drug use around. I’m afraid of feeling emotional for these people or getting taken advantage of, so I avoid even eye-contact with them.

Sometimes it’s been a national threat. After 911 my fear was controlled by whether or not there was a mosque in my town or by being in a plane with someone with tanner skin than I.

You see, if I’m afraid of something, I become powerless and lose control over myself, feeling the need to fight for the safety I feel threatened that I may lose. Because I have no internal safety keeping me steady.

The Source Of Security and Insecurity

But where does internal safety come from?

Love.

Where does internal unsafety come from?

Fear.

You know how powerful love is? Those who are the most steeped in love have the ability to live in the most unsafe, hazardous places. Not that they all do, but the power that makes it possible lives within them.

Because those external circumstances have no access to their heart, their source.

So if love rules our souls, if God (who is love inherently) is ruling, and the people we let speak into our souls are also reinforcing that same love, I dare say, what can we not do?

We can be powerful. We can reach further out. We can do seemingly scary things.

Because love leads us, not fear.

Since when were we promised external safety?

Never.

We ought to be the first to love when we have the most to lose. Because we count everything as loss compared to living in love like Christ and knowing him.

Love

It’s hard, because usually we’re afraid of what we don’t understand. Like those of a different religion. Or those of a different sexual lifestyle. Or those of different economic circumstances. Or those of a different color. Of those of a different culture.

I’m in the business world. I work with business owners and get to watch their fears play out. Why is it that the owners are typically afraid of the measly lower level employees?

Because when employees make suggestions for change, it means that the owner may lose something. Change isn’t good. When you’re in a place of privilege, change is threatening. Change causes fear, afraid that your position will be removed, that the safety net of money, power, and control will crumble around you.

This is normal for those who have lived in privilege, which, compared to the rest of the world, would be middle class Americans. Change is always threatening when you’re at the top and have nowhere to go but down.

Why is it that the under-privileged are the most open to change? Because they have something to gain from it. Because when you’re at the bottom you have nowhere to go but up.

So what’s the point?

When we look to our circumstances, and laws, and nations, and officials to set our compass for safety, we will always be afraid. Because we’re not ever in complete control of them.

However, when we live in a place of love, there cannot be fear. And we can accept an unsafe world. We can walk into an unsafe atmosphere knowing that we have a power residing within us that cannot be shaken.

So that’s why I ask,

What are we so afraid of?

You know what tempts me to be afraid?

Not Muslims. Not refugees. Not mass shootings. Not pro-abortion laws. Not marriage redefinition laws. Not pimps. Not Ebola.

What I’m afraid of is spending my whole life creating a paper mâché fortress around me so that I can be protected against the external evils of this world, living internally in bondage, chained to my own fear.

I’m afraid of not ever loving.

I’m afraid of not ever risking.

I’m afraid of not ever once looking like the real Jesus.

Lord, this Christmas give me the heart that would have been one of the shepherds that received you into this world. You were not just not from this country; you were not even from this world. 

Why in the world would I jubilantly sing about accepting a helpless baby in a manger with one hand raised, while pushing away a vulnerable refugee with the other hand?

Maybe we haven’t really received the vulnerable child in the manger yet? Maybe we only want the Jesus who reigns in power and judgment over the evil in this world and not the Jesus who was a meek, helpless baby?

Would we be the Herods of this generation that destroy all that threaten our outward sense of safety, position and control?

Or would we be the ones that welcome, yet even prize, the weak and vulnerable? and accept even the miraculous— because, seriously, a virgin having a baby is seriously threatening to my religious sense of right, wrong and possible.

Jesus went through the whole process. He came from a different culture, he was a newborn exposed to animal mess in a barn, he with his parents were vulnerable refugees, he was a child, a student, an apprentice, a laborer, a leader, a sufferer, a convicted criminal, a dead man, a resurrected King.

He can relate with he most powerless and with the most powerful in this world.

He is our only model. His humility is the only way for us to live. His safety is our only confidence. His love is the only thing that empowers us to love.

And his truth trumps every other opinion.

Let’s not react in fear. Let’s not be like Peter. When he saw that Jesus was threatened in the garden (and actually, Jesus was going to be killed. Seriously. He ended up dying), Peter took out his sword and tried to kill the threat. If we Christians were Peter, we probably would have pull out our concealed weapon and defended Jesus, killing as many threats around us as possible. Because this life is all about being safe and saving our lives, right?

Jesus would be like, “What in the world do you think you’re doing? If you live by killing threats, you’ll die in the same way. If you want to gain your life, you’re going to have to lose it. Hey hey hey, Peter, you realize I’m here? You’re safe. You don’t need to be afraid and react. Stop trying to save me. You need to let me go die. Oh, and just as a heads up, one day when you are most loving me and most safe in my will, you’re going to die by crucifixion.”

This totally blows my mind. The Gospel life is so full of paradoxes that it can only be believed by faith. It’s not natural. But in the kingdom, it’s totally normal.

Is our safety determined by our circumstances? Or is our safety from within, untouched, strong and unmovable?

Maybe we can be the ones who set the standard of love, who live in soul-safety, and who walk into unsafe places and welcome the unsafe ones, loving them into the kingdom.

Thank God I’m Not Like Josh Duggar

Dear God, thank you that I am not like Josh Duggar.

You and I both know that their strict, conservatism was a huge front to the realities of his and his family’s life.

He is now exposed for what he really is: a sinner.

A sinner living like he’s something righteous.

Well, God thank you that I am not like this hypocritical, self-righteous sinner. Not only would I never commit an act like that, but I would never be so religious and fake. I am the most un-fake person I know and can make pure judgments of others’ sincerity.

I hope that by me standing up for what’s right and shaming him and this fake Christian culture that you would be proud of me, that I am encouraging all people everywhere to be real and transparent. Since the Gospel cuts through truth and lies, I am so thankful that I can minister the Gospel by heaping shame on him and his family, because shame is what leads anyone to change.

It’s what he deserves. I hate people like that, judgmental people that act like they’re better than everyone else. At least I don’t act like I’m perfect. And because I don’t pretend like I’m perfect, then I have a right to announce all the hypocrisy of those who do pretend, even if I don’t know them. I can tell; I know these situations. I’m a really good judge of intent and character.

So God, I thank you I am not like this sinner, Josh Duggar. Thank you for all of your grace to me. It makes my life so much better. I’m glad I can receive it, unlike other sinners. In your name, Amen.

*******

It’s such an easy trap to fall into, the trap of merciless shame-dumping: The Judgement Zone.

I know this Judgment Zone because it’s my gut reaction to situations like this one, when really bad things happen to the vulnerable ones by people who claim to be “good.” I hear these very words in my head and start boiling with anger.

But here’s what I’ve realized about this Judgment Zone: when we live in the Judgment Zone and rally around sin to expose it, no matter how big or how little, here’s what we’re really preaching:

“No one is ever allowed to mess up. If you want to be included or wanted, you have to be perfect. Or at least my definition of perfect.”

And we put more and more distance between ourselves and our relationships and our community.

We hold up the banner of Josh Duggar’s mess and shout, “He must be punished! And he must be extra shamed because he was faking! And it’s our duty to exploit it, to make sure that everything is clear and ends up being perfectly fair.”

Because he is the only one that’s ever messed up or pretended that he was something he wasn’t.

Because he is too far gone to be shown mercy and grace.

Because he’s tearing down the name of goodness and God in our culture.

Actually what’s tearing down the fame of God in our culture is a total lack of love. We should be known for what we are for, not for what we are against. We should be known for our encouraging lives, not for our exploiting voices.

I am just as appalled at evil and injustice as you are. I’ve seen it up front and personal. When my friend was beaten and abused by her boyfriend for months and she escaped to my house. When my friend was raped and the courts wouldn’t believe her and the perpetrator goes free. When I lost all my work when my previous company took unjust legal action against me.

JusticeIt’s not cool. It shouldn’t go undone.

I absolutely want justice.

But justice without love, without hope, and without purpose is no justice at all. 

We all applaud turn-around stories of people who were living destructive lives and then have a major “come-to-Jesus” encounter where they do a 180 and totally change for good.

We feel good when we hear stories like that.

But who will stand in the gap for them? 

Who will be the first to say, “I forgive you. I want the best for your life. I offer you a safe place to be imperfect and go through your change”?

Jesus is such a good example of this. He’s the one who sought out the dirtiest, most rotten ones of society and said, “Follow me. Let me serve you. I make all things new.”

So now we can also can look at the ones with the most exposed, dirtiest deeds and say, “Come be with me. Let me serve you. We’re going to go with Christ and he makes all things new.”

This is for the broken ones. Rich or poor. Popular or outcast. Perpetrator or exploited.

When we live less than this, when we become judgmental of the judgmental, we raise walls of separation.

And those observing from the sidelines who need help are cowered into silence because if anyone knew what was really going on in their lives, they know they would be shamed and bullied into the dust just like this guy was.

So they live in quiet conflict, their secret lives sealed shut beneath the surface.

But we can only go so long before the reality of our issues come out. And I believe that a culture of authenticity and grace-covering imperfection can help all of us heal of stewing internal struggles.

I want 14 year old boys who struggle with pornography, sex addiction and an unhealthy view of women to know that there is a place and a people where they can go and open up about their imperfections and find loving help.

I want 40 year old crack-addicted prostitutes to know that there are people who love them and see them as the valuable, cherished women that they are and are willing to walk with them into healing.

I want the cheating husband with 3 kids to know that he doesn’t have to live a fake life anymore, that there is a place where he can come in his brokenness to find forgiveness and restoration.

This is called radical grace. 

Because sometimes some things seem completely unforgivable. It would just be too radical.

But to the broken ones, to the ones that see their helpless state, this radical grace is freely offered.

And we are the agents and communicators of that grace in our relationships and communities.

And if that abuser, that pimp, that cheater isn’t broken yet? Well, it’s not our place to shame and break them.

We make boundaries in our lives, we pursue proper justice through our legal system, but we don’t light shame fires.

Shame never induces change.

But mercy does.

How do I know this?

Because I am the one who has received this kind of radical grace and unbelievable mercy.

And if I can’t give back what I have received, did I ever truly receive it in the first place?

What I Learned From An Ex-Pimp’s Story And How It Relates To The Riots

There’s a soul behind the face.

There’s a heart behind the actions.

There’s a story behind the violence.

I had a major realization a few weeks ago while watching a documentary about sex trafficking in Chicago. The statistics were mind-blowing. I have learned a lot about trafficking, prostitution, and the sex trade in the past few years, but I had no idea how pervasive it was amongst the youth, specifically in Chicago.

childThat the average entry age for prostitution (i.e., trafficking) is 12.

That the average age for boys to start buying sex is 14.

That mothers sell their daughters to drug dealers to pay off debts.

It starts making you really angry at the money-handlers, the dealers.

The pimps.

Behind the face of every child and women trafficked is a pimp that is controlling and dictating every move and action.

The pimps are typically men that are extremely manipulative, controlling, narcissistic, abusive, and greedy. His women are his property, his means of support.

What’s equally mind-blowing is when a pimp leaves that life and is truly a changed person. It’s radical and can be sometimes hard to process. Such an evil person now changed? It’s only possible through life-changing redemption.

Very few pimps leave that life, but I came to hear the story of one.

In a documentary called “Dreamcatchers,” I heard the story of Brenda. She is from South side Chicago and lived in prostitution and trafficking for 25 years. After escaping from that world, she dedicated her life to helping youth and women ensnared in the same world she had been.

In the middle of the film entered a new character, Homer.

Homer, now an ex-pimp, had been the best friend of Brenda’s former pimp. Homer controlled, abused, and sold women just like the rest.

Years later, he changed. Radically. He left behind everything and became an advocate against the street life he used to live, now championing women and the cause of anti-trafficking.

But it wasn’t the incredible life change that grabbed my attention the most.

It was his story, his past.

Homer grew up with a terrible family life. He watched his mother be physically abused by his dad. He knew growing up that this probably wasn’t right, but because his mother never left, he began to believe that this was the way to love. So it was at home that his world-view of people and women evolved.

His dad was always a very angry, resentful man. His dad, now elderly, was actually in the documentary. He was talking with Homer in their home, and his dull, seething anger was incredibly obvious. You could see the dysfunctional home life in real time, though years later.

As Homer talked in an interview later, he described how his father’s anger and home life directly influenced his own life. Homer succumbed to anger and hatred as he himself was physically and sexually abused as a child by people in his life.

With this skewed world-view and mental disorientation, he ran headlong into drugs, alcohol, and sex. It moved naturally into violence, theft, and using prostitutes. As he observed the “benefits” of pimp life, he went full throttle. Women ceased to be people. They were now objects, his property.

Did he ever think that he would be a pimp? “No,” he said. But it was a path, a road that the culture around him gave as an opportunity to find his identity.

But the most telling point of all of this was when the interviewer asked him why he thought his father was so angry and abusive. “Well,” Homer replied, “My father’s father treated him the exact same way.

“I knew my grandfather briefly. He grew up in Alabama and later moved to Chicago. And he was seriously full of anger and wrath. He took it out on his family and was abusive.

“In fact, I believe that if my grandfather had the same opportunity as I did with violence, drugs and pimping, he would have done the same things. He would have been a pimp. He would have been violent in community. I know he would have.”

When I heard this, my mind just froze.

Something clicked. Something I didn’t even wanted to think about or consider.

Perhaps you can’t separate history from hurt.

Perhaps the sins of your fathers could be your sins.

Perhaps…

Perhaps there’s a historical root cause behind all the displays of anger, hatred, abuse, and violence.

Maybe the best way to help Chicago’s violence and trafficking issue dissolve is to help individual people be set free from their anger, which stemmed from pain, which stemmed from a deep wound…

…which may have been injustice.

I believe this ties in directly to all the talk and conversations around race and riots and protests that is getting media attention right now.

And I feel like something needs to be said.

White friends, here’s a word for us: we vastly misunderstand the struggle.

We think, though may not say, that the most violent parts of our cities are where the population is heavily black or minority, so they are the cause of it. It’s just their nature.

And if it’s just their nature, then the solution doesn’t involve our empathy. So we don’t have to feel sorrowful– simply offer pat solutions that gives us the sense we’re involved without actually struggling through the emotional issues with them.

And we act on it.

Sure, maybe not outrightly. That would be hypocritical to our loving, accepting, and religious culture.

But our lives speak louder than words.

Our friends aren’t black (Don’t agree? Scroll through your Facebook friend list right now)

Our churches aren’t diverse (Should not my church reflect the racial percentage of my city or community? Or at least talk about pursuing that?)

Our businesses don’t want to sell to blacks (What I learned from conversations at one of my jobs)

We (might) invite black friends to come into our world instead of us going into theirs.

We make light jokes about, “The war is over. Slavery has been illegal for a long time. That was resolved years ago. You should be over it by now.”

And by say that we’re basically saying, “I don’t care what you feel. You should not feel that. Since I think you should be over it by now, then I don’t have to care about your struggle with it.”

Wait a second, Angela,” you may interject. “You’re saying that the black culture is still hurting from the slavery that was ended after the Civil War way back in 1865?? C’mon…”

I’m saying that I realized that Homer’s great-great-grandfather could have been alive around the time of the Civil War. And the way he could have been unjustly mistreated may have been the seed of anger that grew into abuse. And abuse is proven to pass from generation to generation. Just like it has in Homer’s family.

Yes, I am drawing conclusions and making some assumptions and trying my hardest to understand people’s actions based off their past. And it seems logical, that part of the issue of trafficking I see in Chicago is stemmed from a dysfunctional family life.

Does that give excuses to those that come from dysfunctional families? NEVER! I would never look at the women that Homer prostituted and say, “Well, he was simply a result of his family’s anger which was incited by injustice several generations ago. He shouldn’t be held liable.”

Obviously not. I think you and I both get that.

But I think we need to think a little more before we post and blog and discuss. I think we need to work hard to be intentional about how we diversify our minds, and then our speech, and then our actions.

Guys, it’s really uncomfortable. But get over it. Living this way is meaningful and may not just change you; it could change your community and our entire national culture.

I don’t have any to-do lists for you or how I plan to solve these problems, both of the white misunderstandings or the black realities. I’ve probably offended someone on both sides by making some generalizations.

Yet I believe that dysfunctional can become functional and it can happen in a kind process. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone walk with you through your struggle and say, “I hear for you, I want the best for you, and I empathize with your pain, even if I don’t totally understand it.”

And don’t think I’m really good at this. Do I struggle with discrimination? Have I discriminated before? You bet.

But I’m becoming more aware. More aware of myself, more aware of the struggle, more aware of the past. And being aware makes me fight against my tendencies to only be around people who are just like me and make me feel really comfortable and good about myself.

I think we all need to hear this and ask ourselves the question,

“Am I the one that needs to change?”

 

Love the one in front of you

How do you change the world?

Heidi Baker said it well:

Love the one in front of you.

Change does not happen through programs and speeches and books and status’s and tweets and music and community groups and fundraisers and blog posts.

One day we have to realize that the only person responsible for making change happen in our community and city and country and world is ourselves.

I cannot control my circumstances or the people who appear in my day. But I do have everything to say about my choices in response to each and every person in front of me every day.

I used to search out change, dream about changing the world, create plans of action to really impact the world.

And then about a year ago a subtle change happened and I really didn’t realize it until others called it out. I think it’s because I was just living who I was in my natural environment but my perspective on people had shifted somehow.

Just over a year ago my vision for Greenville unexpectedly became This is my city“, and when you own something you naturally act differently towards it.

Suddenly the homeless person walking by my company to buy alcohol and drugs across the street to feed his addiction was my problem. When Michael’s trailer became condemned and he had nowhere to live that was my problem. When a friend came to my house after being abused for months that was my problem. When a couple driving through Greenville needed their laundry done that was my problem. When a new friend quit a strip club job because of her choice to follow Jesus and had no place to live that was my problem.

It was pretty difficult. And often awkward. I mean, seriously. Whenever someone admits need and you give them something, it’s pretty awkward. It would’ve been so much easier to complain. “I can’t believe there was an open drug deal outside our office. We work in such a bad neighborhood.” “Why doesn’t Salvation Army take care of Michael? That’s what they’re there for.” “Man, people always have an agenda when they ask for something. They’re such manipulators.” “Wow, some men are just abusive pigs and some poor girls just fall for it. Let’s pray about it.”

I would say the past year I’ve been stretched financially more than I ever could have imagined. My heart was split open over life stories. I had several emotional breakdowns. I had to deal with using my last dollar to provide for someone and then watch them use money they were given to buy dress shoes and eat out. I had to learn to be rejected, and then to forgive, and then to keep giving when my ability and desire was completely wasted away. I had to deal with other people (Christians) upset about my generosity because it interfered with their lives. I often felt alone and unable to know how to make decisions.

So, yes, from that perspective it was hard. Loving was challenging. Giving was an obstacle.

And yet…

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Look, you could offer to totally pay off my school debt (which is a lot) in return for the past year and I would laugh and say to you…

I told you the struggle, but now let me tell you the joy.

The joy of inviting that laundry couple over for dinner and hearing them tell me how they met Jesus radically a few days earlier, having the husband drill me about why I live the way I live, and then laughing at their ridiculous story of “rafting” down a river in Louisiana on an air mattress. The joy of driving Michael to church a year after we met him, watching him get baptized while I am wrecked into tears about his crazy story and our experiences. The joy of standing next to my friend during worship as she raises her hands in tears in praise to God for freeing her soul and I have to stop singing because I realize that only a month ago she had been in a strip club, broke, lonely, and had no hope to cling to. The joy of realizing that all the promises of Isaiah 58 are mine to claim and then watch them unfold in my life.

I didn’t search for these joys. I didn’t wake up one day and decide to find someone and impact their life. I think I realized who I was, which is a chosen child of God, which means the Spirit lives in me, so I naturally think and act like Jesus, so when a person in need is in front of me, I simply act like Jesus did.

Sometimes that was surprising. Sometimes it was celebrated. Sometimes it was impressive. Sometimes it seemed like I became a celebrity.

Can I just say that when we know who we are that acts of love and kindness and generosity and healing are completely normal? Why is it not normal that we have the homeless living with us? That we feed the hungry out of our paycheck? That we personally give our good clothing to those in need?

Isaiah 58 became my rallying cry and my source of promise when things got in deep and dark. And FYI, it’s for all of us. And it’s not figurative. It’s literal.

We are all world changers. The question is will we live up to our potential? And I believe that potential is very simple: Love the one in front of you.

One. just one.

And it’s funny. After you love one, suddenly it becomes two. And then three. And pretty soon people start thinking you’re this courageous, impressive person and you’re like, “Um, I’m just living. like a normal person. that knows Jesus. Hey, you can too! We’re really not that different.”

Stop the meetings. Stop the bullet points. Stop the noise. And let’s live our normal day with Kingdom eyes and watch some pretty freakn’ amazing things start happening.