Thursday, August 13, 2015

Lives Matter

Life has been at the epicenter of current events these days—who gets to live and what the state of their life should be is bantered around on social media like an abstract topic. I have struggled with how and when to weigh in, feeling the burden of silence and responsibility of speaking out. What do you say when all day it seems like people are saying everything and nothing?

Recently a friend and inner-city pastor said something that inspired and challenged me. He said that we must continue to fight evil and stand against the devil, but we must always position ourselves to be for people.

Those words have lodged in my heart and mind and I’ve been processing how it would change the world if we truly operated from a place that was for people—how it would change our conversations if we took a stand against evil, but were for people.

This is not an easy task. I hear the counter argument rising, “But, people….” I hear that. I struggle with that too. There certainly are people carrying out evil in the world. It’s hard not to watch the Planned Parenthood exposé videos and not feel disgust towards people. It’s hard not to read about a member of Isis murdering innocent lives and not feel hatred.  It’s hard to see another African-American life lost in a confrontation with the police and not want to wield blame like a sledgehammer. But the Bible makes it clear that our battle is not to be against people, our fight is against spiritual forces of evil.

In all of Jesus’ and the apostles’ ministry it is made clear that people matter to God. Lives matter to Christ and his followers. What would it look like if we, as Christians, decided to be for people? What if we acknowledged them all as important—not by lumping them all together and blithely saying “all lives matter,” but by looking each person in the eye, listening to them, caring about them, sharing their burden, and saying you matter. Isn’t that what Jesus did? He didn’t just say “Everyone is important to me,” he looked up in a tree and called Zacchaeus by name and went to his house. When you acknowledge the worth of a person it’s hard to just walk away. It’s hard to shush them, to judge them, to hate them.

It is challenging to be for people. It gets messy and complicated and it requires a lot from us, but it’s what Jesus modeled. It will require us to provide solutions for women seeking abortions, to listen to our African-American brothers and sisters as they express grief and anger and to work for justice where there is obvious inequality. It will require that we serve and love people who live lifestyles we don’t agree with.  It will require us to stand for truth in love. Being for people means we pray against spiritual forces and pray for those who are oppressed and those who are in bondage because each of their lives matters to God.

Black lives matter. Police lives matter. Baby lives matter. Pregnant women’s lives matter. LGBT lives matter. Impoverished lives matter. Orphan lives matter. Felons’ lives matter. Muslim lives matter…. Your life matters.

Being for people means we are willing to see people where they are, call them by name and declare their specific worth. We have to be willing to go to their house and listen to their stories and carry their burdens. 

After all, it’s what Jesus did. Why would we think we should do anything different?

When God Calls Our Sons and Daughters

     Most of us are willing to sacrifice for the Lord, but asking our children to sacrifice can be a different story. When my husband and I first answered God’s call to be urban missionaries we were not even married yet. Fresh out of college the difficulties and unknowns of living in the city seemed like a challenging adventure. I vividly remember seeing my first drive-by shooting. No one was hurt, which made the experience surreal and exciting in a macabre sort of way. After years in the city the frequent gunfire heard on the block was aimed at people we know and love, or fired by people we know and love, and the sobering reality set in. Still, when it is just you and your husband that have to drop to the floor as someone shoots a shotgun in front of your house it does not seem like God is asking too much of you.

     Then we adopted our oldest son. I remember the moment when I first really acknowledged what we were asking of him as a missionary kid in the inner city. We were sitting on our front porch when a man cut through our side yard from the alley. We noticed him carrying a large handgun, its metal darkly reflecting the sun Time seemed to slow down. Carefully, I pulled my son into my lap, not wanting to make any sudden moves, as the man’s gaze was lazered in on our neighbor sitting across the street. My husband stood up and calmly spoke to the man, his words echoing the deterring motions of his hands. Suddenly the man realized he was not alone in our yard, and the noise drew our neighbor’s attention. Things flooded back into real-time motion and I took the opportunity to hurry my son inside the house. It was a tense few moments as we all waited, in our own ways, to see what would happen next. Thankfully the man turned and jogged back the way he came but it did not change the fact that we had been a moment away from a very bad situation.

     No parent wants their children in harm’s way, just ask every mama and grandmamma on our block. While many people feel trapped into life in the city, we chose to move here. I chose to put my children in an environment that is fraught with challenges. That can weigh heavily on a parent’s heart. It is more than just physical danger. My son will have to make sacrifices living in the city and the mother in me battles guilt over this. His neighborhood friendships will look much different than other children his age. At six years old he has heard the full gamut of “naughty” words and already wrestles with the things he sees from day to day. My boys will be missionary kids in the city, moving around and not having access to the same kinds of opportunities and privileges as their suburban counterparts.

     My family has been incredibly blessed by our years in the city through deep friendships and warm community. It has been a privilege to be immersed in a culture not our own and to be welcomed and loved. My boys will be shaped by cross-cultural ministry and service to the poor and neglected, which I pray will give them eyes that see God’s freeing grace and unconditional love in ways they would not otherwise experience, but it does not come without sacrifice. Following the path of the cross is exactly where I want to be, but sometimes I struggle when it means bringing my kids along.

     The question becomes then, how much is too much to ask of our children in the name of Christ? I think the specific answer is different for every family, but as parents who follow Christ we should look to the examples of parents in the Bible like Abraham, Hannah, Mary and Joseph, and even God the Father. Each had children who were placed in situations that demanded sacrifice. Each had children they offered to God’s purposes without reservation and, even in the hardest and darkest sacrifices, their children, as well as the parents, were blessed for their faithfulness.

     We have made safety and comfort and access to all the best opportunities gods of our culture, particularly when it comes to raising our children. My husband and I have certainly been questioned for our decision to live and serve in the inner city. Even now, nine months after our second son was born, I too sometimes question the life we have asked our sons to live. Yet, even in the moments of doubt, one thing has not wavered—the calling Jesus has laid on our hearts to live out the love and victory of Jesus Christ in some of the most broken and hurting neighborhoods in America. And so, I have to let go of my need to control and acknowledge that my sons are part of God’s mission for our family. He is calling them, not me.

    In spite of what our culture tells us, Jesus has not asked our family to seek comfort and safety. There will be many challenges raising boys in the city, most of which we have yet to encounter. I know there will be days when I ask the Lord if he is really calling them, even as very young men, to stand in the gap for the lost. Regardless of where our family’s journey following Christ leads, I pray that I will be faithful to lead my children in a life that takes up the cross for Jesus’ name, because, with God, it was a boy who stood against Goliath and a young girl who gave birth to the Messiah. When we answer God’s call on our lives and bring our children with us, God can and will use our sons and daughters to advance his Kingdom.