Open Narration

Open Narration

What should normally be another Saturday of college football has given way to the results and reactions of this crazy election week. Half the country is smiling. The other half, not so much. Debates are sure to ensue along with lawsuits and news coverage and people with signs and people with guns and, most importantly, narratives.

Lots and lots of conflicting narratives.

So in the spirit of football, I am going to punt my blog entry today because I cannot put into words what I am feeling any better than what Andy Stanley shared about narratives in his sermon from October of 2019. (For the record, Andy Stanley is a world-class communicator, and I am sure I will never be able to put anything into words better than he does.)

“Our internal narratives, it fuels our pride, it fuels our racism, it fuels our prejudice, it fuels our fear, and maybe worst of all it blinds us to our inter-dependency on others.

False narratives are difficult to overcome; they’re very, very, very difficult to overcome, and here’s why: Because our narratives are shaped by things that we have no control over. Our narratives are shaped by where we are in the world.” – Andy Stanley

“It blinds us to our inter-dependency on others.”

Whether you’re blue or red, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, SEC fan or Big 10 (pfft….the Big 10 is so overrated) … the fact of the matter is that now more than ever we cannot lose sight of our inter-dependency on others. Be it in our households, our places of work, our communities, or our country as a whole. We will never agree on all things, but we can agree that united is better than divided.

And by challenging the narratives we tell ourselves and examining the thoughts that shape our biases, we can inch closer to togetherness.

 

At the End of the Day

At the End of the Day

Can someone’s death be a good thing?

Can my mother’s death be a good thing?

It was early September and we were gathered around the dinner table at my brother’s house in Miami. My family – cousins, sister-in-law, brother, wife – had spent the previous forty-eight hours mourning the sudden and unexpected passing of my mother. And following a viewing and a Mass, it was time to do what Cubans do and reminisce on the days of old.

From my perspective, it was a glorious childhood. My maternal grandparents had five children. Each of them had two children. We were a clan of ten cousins and I was the penultimate, only four years older than the youngest. For the most part, we’d met every Friday night at my grandparents’ house. Games of tag gave way to movie nights and sleepovers, and even though we were mostly disparate, we were there for each other.

There were varying ages and personalities. The older cousins were trailblazers and made a lot of things possible for me. I learned so much from watching them and listening to them. When I look back at the failures in my life, I think I would’ve been better served had I chosen to listen a little more.

But that glorious childhood succumbed to the passage of time, college years, marriages, and, eventually, kids of our own. We all grew up and went on with our lives, and in many ways, there was never a sense of closure on that period of our lives. It just went away.

So there we were, gathered around the table, the tension as thick as mud. For me at least, anyway.

When I think about it now, I realize how silly it was. How silly it was for me to let years – over a decade – pass and watch what once was robust and loving relationships dangle in the proverbial wind. I didn’t care to call. I didn’t bother to text. Why? It’s almost too embarrassing to admit out loud, but the truth is a simple one:

Politics.

Millions of Americans will take to the polls on Tuesday and cast their vote for President of the United States. Millions of Americans have already done so with early voting periods and absentee ballets. We are privileged to live in a country where we have the opportunity to participate in democracy, and if you’re eligible to vote, I hope you exercise that right and make your voice heard.

And it’s okay to be passionate about your causes. It’s one of the things that makes us great as a country. The diversity of opinion, the resonance of debate, the emergence of new ideas; all these things reach deep into the foundation on which America was built. The problem emerges when we let these passions divide us. And that is exactly what I realized I had done with my family. I let my personal ideology cloud and come before the literal life-long relationships I shared with my cousins … as well as the relationship I shared with my brother.

As a Christ-follower, I see now how awful that is. It took time and reflection for me to get to this realization. It also took listening to Andy Stanley’s message series Talking Points for this to really hit home.


“Your political candidate will win or lose based on how the citizens of the United States vote on a single Tuesday in November. But the church wins or loses, the community wins or loses, in some way our nation wins or loses, based on how we treat each other and love each other and love our world every single day between now and then. Disagree politically, but love unconditionally, and pray for unity.” – Andy Stanley


I failed at doing this. Failed miserably.

But there we were, huddled in a room, united by blood and marriage, all coming together to clear the air, bury the hatchet, and reset among ourselves. And through tears and through the realization of my own selfish and arrogant thinking, I told them this, “Regardless of who you vote for on November 3, I will still love you.”

For me, at least, it was a powerful and emotional moment, one that capped off a very emotional forty-eight hours. And we all would not have been there if not for the sudden and unexpected passing of my mother.

Can someone’s death be a good thing? As my mother loved to say, “No hay mal que por bien no venga.”

It’s About Caring

It’s About Caring

I was speaking last night to another member of my church small group and we were discussing how we do not like shopping at a particular supermarket. It had nothing to do with the prices or product selection, but rather with the lack of care displayed by the employees of the store. As she was describing her experience, I nodded my head in understanding and told her I will always pay more if it means receiving the level of service I desire.

It’s amazing how much caring makes a difference.

My wife and I have been struggling to find employment, and the hardest part has been the empty void into which our applications seem to disappear. On occassion one of us will receive a notification saying the application is being reviewed, but then the waiting continues and frustration simply mounts.

This morning, however, I received an email from Johnson & Johnson. It was in response to an application I submitted yesterday. Yes …. YESTERDAY! As in, “J&J replied to my application within 24 hours!” Take that, empty void!

It was a rejection letter – to be honest, I knew I did not meet Johnson & Johnson’s requirements – but it was a letter crafted on a foundation of gratitude and empathy. Sure, perhaps J&J have the ability to automate responses. I would assume they receive thousands of applications on a daily basis. Still, someone at some point took the time to ensure a process is in place to respond to all applicants. And the genesis of that decision making is a genuine concern for the human being who submitted the application.

Johnson & Johnson cares about the individuals seeking employment in their organization. If you read their Credo, you’ll know they care about a whole lot more, too. In reading their email this morning, I honestly felt they cared about me.

We appreciate your interest in joining Johnson & Johnson. When you submit your application to us, we look for certain minimum requirements essential for the role. Though your achievements are impressive, they didn’t exactly line up with what we’re looking for in this particular job. For example, you may not have met the required years of experience, education or other minimum requirements.

We understand that being rejected is always disappointing no matter how far along you’ve made it in the process. But, don’t let it hold you back. Your relationship with Johnson & Johnson doesn’t end here and there are some things you can do to open yourself up to other possibilities: ….

We wish you the best of luck as you continue your search and we hope that this won’t be the last time we cross paths.

Who wouldn’t want to work for a company like this?

And now all I keep thinking about is how this sense of compassion aligns with my personal belief system. Compassion is such an undervalued sentiment in our fast-paced, instant gratification world. As a Christ follower, I firmly believe compassion is the currency with which we should transact every interaction.

In the NASB version of the Bible, the word compassion appears 92 times. Matthew uses it seven times in his gospel, often to refer to the emotion Jesus felt for the people to whom he was teaching.

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.Matthew 9:6

When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.Matthew 14:14

And Jesus called His disciples to Him, and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”Matthew 15:32

Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him.Matthew 20:34

To paraphrase Andy Stanley, other people should be important to you because they are important to God. And when times are tough, make the time to give your empathy and express your compassion to those who really need it. Show them you care, because it may be the very thing they need in that moment.

I really think this quote from Brene Brown best illustrates the importance of compassion.

Starting Over

Starting Over

We are not designed to do life alone.

In the years since I first began attending Relevant Church in Tampa in 2009, this is one lesson I’ve learned in earnest. A large part of my growth as a Christ follower has been a result of sharing my journey with others. Volunteering, taking part in small groups, serving on mission trips; the fellowship I’ve shared with others and the time I’ve invested for others has brought me closer to Jesus in ways I didn’t know were possible.

Being a part of my church community gave me the desire to learn more about God. It was during a small group back in 2013 I came to the realization I was being called into ministry. Having the support of my faith family gave me the strength to press through the notification of being laid off after twenty-one years with my previous employer. Being surrounded by individuals with whom I’ve laughed, shared, cried, and prayed gave me the courage to step out in faith and move into the mission field.

The journey to the Dominican Republic was both exciting and eye-opening. My wife Lee and I learned a lot and grew a lot. Unfortunately, the experience came to end after only five months of being in the D.R. We came back home with heartache and longing, as well as a lot of uncertainty as to what the next chapter in our lives look like.

We had to start over. New city. New surroundings. New situation.

Same steadfast, faithful, loving God.

Upon prayerful reflection and a time of discernment, Lee and I decided to make Dothan home. God answered our prayers by directing us to Wiregrass Church and giving us the opportunity to plug into this new church home. Additionally, we are blessed to have the privilege of leading a small group. Fittingly, the topic of the group is Starting Over, and we will be diving into Andy Stanley’s four-part sermon series of the same name.

Lee and I have been attending Wiregrass since just before Christmas, and it’s safe to say we know all of five people at the church. Still, we’re confident this experience will introduce us to new individuals we hope to learn from and lean on as much as we also hope to direct and steer the conversations and discussions in our small group. By no means do Lee and I feel we have all the answers, and it’s our prayer that in community and fellowship with the other participants, God will bless us with some insight as to what our next steps look like.

If you’re in the Wiregrass area and you feel you’d like someone to stand by you as you go through your Starting Over moment, I invite you to prayerfully consider joining our small group. We will meet on Sunday’s at 11:00 AM at Wiregrass Church, and you can conveniently sign up online by clicking here.

We hope to meet you soon.

Write It On Your Heart

Write It On Your Heart

In 2017 I had the privilege of attending a Catalyst conference at which the keynote speakers were pastors Craig Groeschel and Andy Stanley. As they wrapped up the conference, Andy Stanley said something that has stuck with me ever since.

“Do not criticize that which you do not understand.”

Those instructions resonated with me having grown up in a household that, although was full of love, was also full of criticism towards others. With both my parents, decisions and situations were very binary (i.e. black or white), and there was never much consideration given to the nuance of a particular issue (i.e. the gray area in which we all live and operate).

I am sad to say that worldview dominated my way of thinking in my young adult life, and it was such a huge hurdle to overcome. To this day, I struggle with reverting back to that mentality, but I thank God for surrounding me with women and men of faith who, when it comes to this particular personality tick, help keep me focused on the nuance and not the binary.

So as I watched the video below about Billy Joe White, an artist in Ohio who covers up racist tattoos for free, I felt myself want to be judgemental towards the people who had the offensive ink and were now looking to have it hidden. The video does an excellent job in allowing the individuals to explain what compelled them to get those tattoos, and it steers our attention to where it should be; not on a decision in the past that propagated the rhetoric of hate, but rather on actions in the present that are rooted in love.

“Do not criticize that which you do not understand.”

The video is not about people who were/are racist. The video is about a man seeking to make a difference in a culture where racism and hate are prevalent. He does this not to bring attention to himself, but rather to help bring healing and renewal to others. The lesson here is one of extending grace.

In his book Irresistible, Andy Stanley writes:

For John, Paul, and Jesus, loving people is loving God. Not because people are God, but because they are loved by God. Refusing to actively love a brother or sister is paramount to refusing to love God. Under the new covenant, we do not love God and love our neighbors. Under the new covenant, we love God by loving our neighbors.

I pray the next time I feel myself leaning toward that old habit of judging and dismissing, I remember that as a follower of Christ I am commanded to love my neighbor, without exception and without conditions. It is a commandment we should all have tattooed onto our hearts.

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.1 John 4:20-21 (NIV)