Terror, Death, and Fuzzy Kittens


I did it again. Once more, my first activity of the day, before coffee, shower, or even getting out of bed, was to fire up my phone and check in on all the activity that happened while I was sleeping. Perhaps you do the same. Yes, I’ve read the articles warning of the negative consequences of this habit, but like so many vices, I continually fail to heed the warnings.

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We Are One with the People of Kenya

Westgate Mall - NairobiAs I sit here in Houston, Texas on a beautiful Sunday morning watching the sun rise, my thoughts are far away in Nairobi, where the sun is setting on the day – a day of prayer, mourning and reflection. The attacks on the Westgate Mall have cast a shadow once again over the nation of Kenya and over a people all too familiar with pain.

When I first read the reports yesterday, I, like many others around the world, prayed for the victims, for the police force, for the survivors and even for the attackers. I prayed that God would intervene in this situation, end the standoff and spare the lives of the remaining hostages. But there was something much more personal about this attack. 

You see, Westgate is not just some mall in a far away land, it is a place I have been to on multiple occasions. It is a place my friends visit on a regular basis. Even as I write this, I’m not sure if all of my friends in Nairobi are safe. I don’t know if any of them were in the mall on Friday. What I am sure of is that even if none of them were there, they have been touched by this tragic event.

I don’t really know how to explain it, but the community of people who frequent Westgate is a very connected group. It is very difficult to visit the mall without running into someone you know. And so, the people I know who live in that area almost certainly knew one or more people who either died or lived through the terror on Friday.

As the reports continue to come in regarding the attack, the hostage situation, the death toll and the possible motives behind the act, I am left with a startling realization: For many people, this is just another attack in a land far away and far removed from our “safe” life. The New York Times is running pictures of dead victims on their website (something they certainly wouldn’t do if this attack was in New York City), Twitter is ablaze with talk of “those people” and how this stuff always seems to happen “over there”, and while the Boston Marathon bombings caused our hearts to pound in our chest and made us rise up in action and prayer, the Westgate attack has barely been a blip on the radar for most Americans.

And I get it. The closer an attack is to home, the more it affects us. If not for my ties to Nairobi, I probably wouldn’t be nearly as affected as I am by this event either. But that doesn’t make it right. The fact that our value of people is largely based on how closely we identify with them – how much we have in common – is a troubling reality. Does it really matter if the attack happens 800 miles away or 8000? People are dead, families are affected and lives are forever changed through this act of violence.

As I sit and watch the sun rise in Houston, I know it’s the same sun that is setting over Nairobi. It is the same sun that has passed over all of the joy and pain of every person in every corner of the world in just 24 hours. And, to me, that sun serves as a reminder of the one God who is with us through it all.

The God that will be worshiped in churches across the U.S. this morning is the same God who was worshiped in thousands of Kenyan churches just hours ago. We pray to the same God. We seek direction from the same God. We place our collective hope in him. And, today, as the people of Kenya continue to process their loss, we need to join them in remembering that this is our loss too. Let us pray that God will intervene and bring this standoff to a peaceful end with no more loss of life. And let us remember that in this world, we are one.

TED Talk Tuesday: Reclaiming the Republic

[Due to technical difficulties yesterday (namely that I had no access to the back-end of my website) TED Talk Tuesday had to be delayed until Wednesday. However, to thumb my nose at the internet gremlins who attacked me, I refuse to change the name to TED Talk Wednesday. So there!]

When I began watching this talk, I fully expected to hear Lawrence Lessig tell us how our political system is broken. What I didn’t expect to hear was how we could fix it, let alone why we should fix it. Lessig’s story about his lecture at Dartmouth (15:24) and his response about love stirs me to the core – not because of my love for country, but because of his passion and his definition of a love that would do anything and everything.

It is my belief that love changes the world. In Lessig’s area of passion, that may be love of country. In mine, that may be love of God and his people. In yours, it may be love of something else. Whatever it is, love will do anything and everything and, just maybe, can bring hope to a hopeless situation.

The Deaf Man, The Thug and Gun Control

I read an article the other day about a deaf man who was stabbed multiple times because a passerby mistook his sign language for gang signs. Yes, you read that correctly. Some gang thug was walking down the street and saw this guy using sign language and stabbed him.

Of course, there are layers and layers of wrong to dig through in this story. First off, I know low-level gang members aren’t necessarily the sharpest knives in the drawer (pun definitely intended), but how in the world do you A.) not recognize that a guy is using sign language and B.) jump to the conclusion that since you don’t know what he’s doing with his hands, he must be part of a rival gang. I mean, if he was, shouldn’t you know which gang based on the signs he was supposedly flashing?

But even if he was flashing gang signs, this would still be a ridiculous crime. The whole notion of one group of people “claiming” a particular piece of turf while also claiming superiority over another group of people is one of the most juvenile and asinine behaviors you could possibly be involved in.

To prove your superiority and defend your self-defined boundaries by beating up anybody who might not be on your side is just silly. It reeks of insecurity, intolerance and, at a deeper level, a complete devaluation of human life.

We know this. We recognize it in a story like this. This is a case of a man going about his everyday affairs, minding his own business and being brutally attacked by another man who wrongly assigned meaning to the deaf man’s actions. In short, he misread the signs.

Unfortunately, this colossal misinterpretation of basic information is not confined to high school drop-outs and drug runners. This “condition” is actually a pandemic among supposedly serious people – people of power, people of influence. We live in a time and place where we are ready to stone anyone who does anything that we construe as not being 100% on-board with our ideas.

Consider the whole “Deport Pierce Morgan” movement. Here’s a guy who happens to disagree with our current gun laws, who has a platform from which to voice that disagreement and financial impetus to do so and who, at much risk to himself (you don’t want to anger the folks with guns) decided to put his opinion out there.

Now, whether you agree or disagree with him, surely we can all agree that one of the great things about this country is the First Amendment to our constitution (the one just before the Second Amendment), which gives people the right to speak freely – to give their opinions on any number of issues without fear of arrest, imprisonment or – yes – deportation. The idea that we would deport someone for disagreeing with us is as ridiculous as stabbing a deaf man for using sign language.

At the end of the day, we live in a country where Pierce Morgan and gun rights advocate Alex Jones are both free to speak their minds about guns and gun control – even if they sound crazy doing it. I’m fine with that. In fact, that is part of the bedrock of our nation. I don’t have to agree with either of them (and I don’t), but an America that ceases to allow public discourse is decidedly un-American.

If you want to keep gun rights the way they are, that’s great. Speak up. Speak out. Let your Senators and Congressmen and women know how you feel. If you feel otherwise, that’s great, too. Make your voice heard. We live in a country where politicians are more concerned about getting reelected than they are about doing the right thing (whatever you think that may be), so if you want to change their mind, convince them that you’ll change your vote.

In the midst of it all, remember that even the person with whom you vehemently disagree is still a human being, that they have reasons for thinking and saying what they do and that, in most cases, if you actually listen to them, you might learn a thing or two. Whatever you do, think about the deaf man and the gang thug before you decide to pick up a metaphorical kitchen knife and start stabbing away at anyone who thinks, speaks or acts differently than you. That’s what grownups do.

Nobody Goes…to the Hall of Fame

In four decades of voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, only once before has this happened. Out of the field of 37 candidates eligible for the Hall of Fame this year, the association selected exactly zero. That’s right, none. Not Bonds, Clemens or Sosa. Not Biggio, Piazza or Bagwell. Nobody.

This is somewhat understandable. After all, it’s pretty common for a player to not make the Hall on their first try and this particular class was tainted by a steroid scandal that put a dark cloud over baseball and over some of it’s greatest stars of the last 20 years.

But there’s something more going on here. At the end of the day, these writers have failed to agree on what really makes someone a great baseball player. In a game where statistics are everything and where writers like to make mention of how many hits a player has on Tuesdays in June in the rain, these writers are unable to quantify greatness.

It’s a tough thing to do, when you really think about it. Cal Ripken, Jr., a first-ballot inductee in 2007, had an incredible streak of 2,532 straight starts, but consistency alone doesn’t mean you’re a great player. Hall of Famer Hank Aaron hit over 30 home runs in 15 seasons, but homers alone won’t do it either (just ask Bonds and Sosa).

What makes a great baseball player, it seems, is some combination of consistency, skill, gamesmanship and character – the last of which has been the downfall of baseball greats like Joe Jackson and Pet Rose.

In life, too, our greatness is defined by our character. Accomplishments in business, art or other endeavors only get us so far. If you’re a scoundrel, people know it. If you’re selfish, they resent you, if you are cruel, they despise you. Climbing your way to the top by stepping on the throats of others doesn’t make you great.

Jesus actually had a definition of greatness that he shared with his closest followers. If you want to be great, he said, become a servant. If you want to be important, humble yourself. But far from suggesting that you should not try to be great, Jesus suggested that this was truly the path to greatness. In other words, the most selfish thing you can do is to be selfless.

This is just another one of Jesus’ sometimes confusing teachings which, if you really examine it closely, makes incredible sense. If we live in a self-serving world, then the best way to get people to like you is to do something that feeds their self-serving personality. Serve the person whose admiration you desire and that admiration is almost sure to come. Try to one-up them and they will spend their time trying to defeat you – to squash you like a bug.

Perhaps next year’s Hall of Fame candidates will take Jesus’ words to heart. Perhaps they’ll go up to Cooperstown and polish the brass railings at the hall. A little humility in baseball might be appreciated.

The Rape That Started A Revolution?

It’s a horrific and brutal image – a 23 year old girl, on her way home from a movie, gang-raped by six men who used, among other things, an iron bar to inflict deadly injury in the most inhumane way possible. And yet, like other brutal images – bloodied slaves, Nazi concentration camps and even the cross of Jesus – the rape of this young girl may go down in history as the beginning of a revolution.

At the core of this revolution is a generation of young people, male and female, at odds with their elder counterparts. Gender equality is a relatively new idea in much of the world, but this generation is catching on fast. They refuse to allow an international news story about a 23 year old girl being raped and murdered to simply be swept under the rug. they refuse to accept that “boys will be boys” or that “she must have asked for it. They are repulsed by the fact that they have sitting parliament members who are facing rape charges of their own.

For this group of young protesters, the old male-centric ways simply will not do. Even the threat of death penalty against the girl’s six attackers can’t quell their protests. Why? Because this is not about the rape of one girl. It’s not about her six attackers. This is about a fundamental cultural shift that is taking place – that must take place – in India and in many other parts of the world.

By and large, this revolution is being led by young women, supported by young men and discouraged by the very leaders, mentors and teachers who should be supportive. These brave cultural warriors are risking their relationships, their careers and even their lives fighting not for themselves, but for future generations. They are the Freedom Fighters of the developing world – on a mission to right a systematic wrong.

It won’t be easy. Revolutions never are. But as the body of that 23 year old girl was cremated in New Delhi the other day, those ashes may just represent the beginning of something great – the fire of a generation of people who refuse to accept the status quo and who are passionate about ensuring justice for all people.

Whether they know it or not, these young people are walking very closely to the heart of God for his people, his kingdom and his world. I, for one, will be walking with them.

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