Recovering From Overwhelming Grief

A friend of mine drives a technologically advanced car. Recently, she told me about experiencing car trouble. While driving she rolled over a nail and punctured one of her tires. However, one of the features of her technologically advanced car is that it alerts her when air pressure is depleting from her tires. Thanks to this new feature it did not take long for her to notice a problem existed.

Before upgrading her car, she had a similar experience. Rolling over a nail and driving with tire pressure depleting, her older car lacked the ability to alert her of what happened. As a result, she continued to drive her car like nothing was wrong. Things were seemingly ok until she experienced a massive blowout! Thank God for technologically advanced cars!

Grief Without Signals

If the truth were told, most of us operate like the older car instead of the technologically advanced car when experiencing grief. It is not that we do not know that grief exists, but sometimes it is complicated identifying the signals that show up in our lives emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We are routinely hit with some of life’s biggest punctures, but oftentimes we are completely unaware of its devastating effects. Unfortunately, many of us do not notice we’ve been punctured until we experience a massive blow out.

Grief Triggers

Grief is defined as the emotional process of reacting to affliction or loss. According to Swiss-American Psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kūbler-Ross, people experience the five stages of grief in this order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In our sinful world, everyone inevitably experiences grief in some form or fashion. The most common way of experiencing grief is in the death of a loved one. However there are many other ways that people experience grief. Some experience grief over:

  • Divorce, or the end of a relationship
  • Oneset of a chronic or terminal disease
  • Job loss
  • Delivering a child with a birth defect
  • Disability from an illness or severe accident
  • Loss of independence
  • Surviving an act of violence or natural disaster
  • Discovering your child/teen has a learning disability, behavior problem, or is abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Having a miscarriage or still birth

Grief Alerts

Having a theoretical understanding of grief is often not enough to move people to action. In fact, no clear knowledge of what is causing the grieving process is what causes the most damage. It is when we are not aware that various experiences in life have punctured us that we begin to experience emotional, physical, and spiritual depletion. And grief left unchecked slowly, but surely leads to deterioration. But there are some grief alerts that can let us know something has punctured us and we are depleting:

  • Crying
  • Headaches
  • Isolation from family and friends
  • Insomnia
  • Questioning your belief in God
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite

Any one of the above mentioned systems are overwhelming to carry. A collection of them are destructive, and often indicative of a greater issue. Leaving our grief triggers unresolved and our grief alerts ignored leads to mental and/or emotional illness along with a host of other medical conditions. The good news is that this does not have to be our reality. We don’t have to continue limping through life with a nail in our tire.

Paul’s Grief Recovery Program

As believers in Jesus Christ we have an advantage working in our favor. That advantage is the Word of God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” In these verses the Apostle Paul offers us two powerful principles concerning grief. The first, and most important principle, is that God is able and willing to comfort us in our grief. He is patient, compassionate, and gentle in how he comforts us in times of need. What better example is there of how to support others than in the example God shows us Himself?

God does not put a timetable on our grief. He does not dictate how we should feel. In His compassion He comforts us until we are once again able to stand on our own two feet. However, there is another piece to this puzzle. The second principle to Paul’s grief recovery program is that God comforts us so that we can comfort others. In other words, one of the best antidotes to grief is community. When we have people who sit with us, pray with us, cry with us, talk things through with us, and simply bless us with their silent presence those grieving experience a powerful healing and restoration. And after you’ve reached the other side of your healing you now can be to someone else what others were to you in your time of need.

Seek A Grief and Loss Professional

Additionally, consulting a grief and loss professional can be beneficial during the recovery process. The good Lord in all of His grace and mercy has equipped individuals with the necessary skills and expertise to treat mental and emotional illness in our communities. There is no shame associated with asking for help. The good news is that God is in the business of figuratively removing life’s nails from our tires and help us manage the wounds that from the puncture.

Grief does not have the final say, God does! 

There is life after grief, but it requires intentional and consistent work. But what’s great is that God has the ability to console, reassure, and even deliver us out of our grief.




A Word for the Weathered

It was January 15, 2018. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The campus was closed for the day except for a program later in the evening. I decided to take advantage of this chilly Monday morning and take my time. I got ready for a brunch meeting I had in a few hours. I opened my blinds and the brightness reflecting off the snow filled my apartment. The snow was steady falling, but it was nothing for Michigan. I reached into the cabinet and pulled down my jar of flour. With a deep breath I began a process I know so well, combining measures of flour, milk, butter and baking powder to my bowl. I floured my counter and began to shape my biscuits as I waited for my ride to a mid-morning meeting.

“Weathering”

Like many others, I use baking as an opportunity to catch up on my growing list of podcasts. Immediately one of the hosts of NPR’s podcast Code Switch, Gene Demby, introduces today’s topic: the impact of racism on health. My interest is peaked as the podcast shares the story of Shalon Irving, a 36-year-old epidemiologist at the CDC who died just weeks after giving birth to her daughter in 2017 due to complications post-pregnancy.

The researchers and experts attributed Shalon’s death as a result not of race, but of racism. They call the term “weathering” and researchers are finding that the impact of systemic racism in the United States, the stress responses to micro-aggressions such as being followed around in stores, stopped by the police, or even being called the n-word create a response that the body internalizes and it can impact the very DNA of an individual.

The Dangers of Being a Black Girl

The statistics are striking – black women today are tree times more likely to die in childbirth or after childbirth than white women. Black women are five times more likely than white women to report experiences of headache, upset stomach, tensing of muscles, or a pounding heart because of how they were treated in society based on their race in the past month. The American Journal of Public Health reports that black women are twice as likely to have higher stress scores than white women – regardless of age.

In fact, black women are dying faster and at higher rates than any other group in America from preventable diseases. For example, 82% of black women are over a healthy weight right now, 53% of black women are obese, and every 11 minutes 137 black women die from a preventable disease. T. Morgan Dixon, founder of health nonprofit GirlTrek, likened it to a plane full of black women crashing to the ground every 11 minutes.

The Mule of the World

The research and statistics made my heart weep for my sisters, aunties, cousins, mothers, and myself as I realized that Danyelle Solomon of the Center for American Progress was right, “The impact of systemic racism is manifesting itself in black women’s health.” I mean, Zora Neale Hurston did write in Their Eyes Were Watching God that the black woman was the mule of the world. Hurston wrote this not to belittle black women, but to call to our attention the unnecessary burden and stress that is placed on black women in particular.

If we’re honest, “weathering” is also caused by the burden black women bear of being valued by the amount of pain we can endure, and how much we can give to others, and sacrifice for others oftentimes to the detriment of ourselves. This burden of blackness “weathers” a black woman’s body and according to these statistics – kills her.

I mourn for the women whose lives have been cut short because of “weathering.” I mourn for the generations of weathered ancestors who died at the hands of this patriarchal, white supremacist American system. I mourn for women like Erica Garner, Sandra Bland, and Shalon Irving. I mourn for the women whose names we do not know and faces we will never see on TV, names we won’t read in our newspapers or hear on our podcasts. I mourn for the 137 black women who would succumb to preventable disease in the next few moments. I mourn for those of us who remain, and who move through life day-to-day with aches and pains and problems in our bodies that we cannot quite pinpoint. Those of us who are yet enduring the “weathering” of being a black woman in America.

Weathering in the Bible

Although I’m in mourning, as a womanist I am comforted by the way Scripture responds to the weathering of black women. Mark’s account of Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5:21-34 reveals to us how the Divine responds to weathered women.

After His journey to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (the non-Jewish side), where Jesus delivered the man with the Legion of demons, and restored his ability to function in society socially and economically, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee again returning to the Jewish side. The oppressive Roman legions that monitored this side of the Sea also cripples the people socially, economically and politically.

These soldiers kept the privileged and powerful safe, while abusing, misusing and discarding the powerless and the poor. The legion, merely agents of the more powerful oppressive system, ravaged the lives of those they had taken captive. And the effects of this ravenous system were truly seen in the lives and bodies of the people Jesus encountered, like this nameless woman whose story Mark interjects in the midst of this larger narrative of the healing of Jairus’ daughter.

While I write specifically to black women, this text has relevance for black communities as a whole. There are three words this text gives to the weathered that I’d like to share with you here:

1.You are debilitated, but not defined by what weathers you (v.25-26)

This woman was most likely known in the community by her ailment. At this point in her story, there were many who believed that she would never be healed. But, the woman herself believed that while she was debilitated by her health problem, she was not defined by it. On a larger scale she was not defined by the oppressive socio-economic system that alienated her on every level. 

Black women know the statistics, we know what is stacked against us, but it does not define us. I know this to be true because like the woman in this narrative, we continue to see healing and resolution even when others believe our journey is in vain.

2.Tell the whole truth (v. 33) 

I am certain, when given the opportunity, that this woman did not just tell Jesus about her physical ailment, but also about all the loss she had suffered because of it. I image that she spoke about the system that made it difficult for her to receive care. She probably shared how no one believed her and how those who were supposed to support her abandoned her when she needed them most.

Verse 33 says that she told Jesus the whole truth. Likewise, black women are empowered to be truth-tellers. We have to tell the truth to our friends and family about what is happening to us physically, mentally, emotionally. We have to tell the truth to a society that attempts to ignore the root of what weathers us. We have to tell the truth to ourselves and realize that this truth is one that will set us free.  

3.Accept your status as “Daughter” and know that you are whole (v. 34)

This woman entered the crowd as a nameless woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and left as a whole daughter of God. She had been alienated from society and community, but in a word God restores her to community. She was unclean, but in a word God made her clean. From the beginning of the narrative, this woman believed she was going to be healed and by the end of her encounter with Jesus, her status was changed to whole.

While I live as a black woman and see the effects of weathering on myself and others, I know that we will be healed and eve more than that, I know that our God will continue to speak a word over us and make us whole.




Biblical Herbs Complement Autumn Fruits and Veggies

Autumn is a spectacular time of year as leaves and flowered mums dot the landscape with shades of red, yellow, and orange. Just as the earth erupts with Fall colors, fruits and veggies also shine with brilliant colors. Truly, the Fall Harvest is a perfect time to increase dietary intake of fruits and veggies and reap the health benefits of produce loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. In fact, the USDA’s recommendation is to fill half of our plate with fruits and vegetables for every meal and each snack. Farmer’s markets are a great place to gather such produce as their shelves are bursting with colorful seasonal produce like apples, pears, cranberries, pumpkins, and butternut squash.

But Autumn is not just a great season for fruits and vegetables, it’s also a great season for herbs. In fact, the body gains additional health benefits when combining flavor enhancing fresh herbs with fruits and veggies. Scientific research proves that herbs contain an impressive list of vitamins, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and minerals known to have disease preventing and health promoting properties.

Food in the Scriptures

Did you know that Autumn fruits and veggies pair well with the Biblical herbs mint and dill? Here’s an interesting fact: the Pharisees offered mint for tithing in accordance with Mosaic law (Matthew 23:23 NKJV). Used for thousands of years to sooth indigestion, modern research proves that mint’s numerous health benefits are due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. This seasoning contains vitamins A and C and the minerals calcium, zinc, and copper. And all flavors of mint include the aromatic decongestant menthol which loosens phlegm and mucus (Hosseinzadeh, 2015). This is why mint continues to be used medicinally. Its calming effects can be used as a natural aid for common concerns like flatulence, diarrhea, menstrual cramps, nausea, and headaches.

Tender mint leaves are best used fresh as they add a sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste.

Peppermint in particular, boasts an intense peppery tang while spearmint offers a milder sweet flavor. By incorporating peppermint or spearmint into your cooking you can augment a variety of autumn fruits such as tomatoes, limes, cranberries, figs, and pomegranates with a refreshing zesty flavor. For example, create a mint limeade or lemonade for a thirst-quenching drink. Roasted veggies such as cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes, and squash are also enhanced by fresh mint.

The Benefits of Dill

Dill is another herbal plant used in Biblical times for tithing, food preparation, and medicine (Matthew 23:23). The ancient people applied dill’s essential oil eugenol as a local anesthetic and antiseptic. Research proves that dill essential oil is a natural antimicrobial and antioxidant (Singh, 2005).

Dill weed is a good source of calcium, manganese, and iron, and as an antioxidant food, its flavonoids such as quercetin provide anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. Quercetin plays an important part in fighting free radical damage, the effects of aging, and inflammation (Zhang, 2017). Dill contains vitamins A and C, folate, iron, and amino acids. By Including dill in one’s diet these important fatty acids improve wellbeing (Nguyen, 2015).

Herbs for your Health

Tomatoes, figs, cranberries, and apples combine scrumptiously with dill’s slightly sweet taste and hints of caraway, lemon, anise, and parsley. Dill heightens the flavors of Fall veggies such as cauliflower, beets, and squash. Try a butternut squash and dill soup for a hearty and warming autumn lunch.

These complimentary herbs enhance fruit’s sweet taste and the bold flavors of veggies. By incorporating dill into your cooking preparation, favorite dishes become an extraordinary food experience rich in vitamins and nutrients, as well as, color and flavor. Discover the combinations that please personal palates by sprinkling with herbs from the cupboard or windowsill herb garden onto various fruits and vegetable dishes.

Nature’s garden feeds, heals, and brings joy. In the words of the 9th century Emperor Charlemagne, “Herbs are the friend of the physician and the pride of cooks.”

Roasted Apples and Butternut Squash with Dill Recipe

This recipe combining two autumn favorites is a sweet and savory side dish for any meal.

Serves 6- 8

Ingredients

1 butternut squash

1 large sweet onion (I use Vidalia)

2 apples (good choices are Braeburn, Cortland, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith)

2 tablespoons fresh dill

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Chop the butternut squash, apples, and sweet onion into bite sized pieces. Mince the fresh dill. Mix the squash, sweet onion, and apples into a large bowl and add the olive oil, salt and fresh ground pepper. Place the chopped vegetables in a covered baking dish and roast for approximately 30 minutes. Remove the cover and continue roasting for another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and top with the fresh dill. Serve immediately and enjoy!

***

References

https://www.choosemyplate.gov/

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.

Hosseinzadeh, S., Jafarikukhdan, A., Hosseini, A. and Armand, R. (2015) The Application of Medicinal Plants in Traditional and Modern Medicine: A Review of Thymus vulgaris. International Journal of Clinical Medicine, 6, 635-642. doi: 10.4236/ijcm.2015.69084.

Singh, G., Maurya, S., de Lampasona P., & Catalan, C., Chemical constituents, antimicrobial investigations, and antioxidative potentials of Anethum graveolens L. essential oil and acetone extract: Part 52. Journal of Food Science, 2005. 70, M208-M215.

Zhang, M, et al. “Antioxidant properties of quercetin.” Advances in experimental medicine and biology., U.S. National Library of Medicine, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21445799. Accessed 15 Sept. 2017.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Database. Quercetin, CID=5280343, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Quercetin (accessed on Sept. 3, 2019)

Nguyen, T., Aparicio, M., & Saleh, M. A. (2015). Accurate Mass GC/LC-Quadrupole Time of Flight Mass Spectrometry Analysis of Fatty Acids and Triacylglycerols of Spicy Fruits from the Apiaceae Family. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 20(12), 21421-32. doi:10.3390/molecules201219779

www.azquotes.com/author/38108-Charlemagne




The New Bloody Reality

As of September 1st, there have been more mass shootings than days this year. The worst part of this is that it appears that these types of violent outbursts began to spike around 2012, during the second term of Barack Obama. Nevertheless, some entities reported a rise in hate crimes as early as November of 2008. The rise of this phenomenon is actually not mysterious or inexplicable at all. Social scientists have long argued that this spike in hate is the result of shifting power dynamics in the country.

Vera Bergengruen and W.J. Hennigan wrote in the August 19, 2019 issue of Time magazine, “Law enforcement officials say the cancer of white nationalism has metastasized across social media and the dark corners of the internet, creating a copycat effect in which inspiring killers draw inspiration and seek to outdo one another.” This is the “45 Effect” – It is an emboldened mass of those who are determined to revert back to former times by any means necessary.

It appears that a large portion of the dominant group is unwilling to live in a country where equality reigns. They prefer to perpetuate systems of disproportionate power, dehumanization, victimization and oppression. In order for them to feel that all is right in the world they must maintain a position of power, authority and control.

This Has Always Been, America

Furthermore, on top of all of his fear-mongering, hate-stoking, and violent rhetoric, 45 has appeared to plunge into yet a deeper and deeper chasm of depravity and failed diplomacy. Yet, his followers are undeterred. They are convinced that the #MAGAtrain will surge ahead until 2025. Interestingly, the 2020 election has inspired hope in some on the other side of the aisle. Many democratic candidates and voters believe 45 will be defeated and that we will achieve, in our lifetime, the beloved community.

In my estimation, we would do well to remember that while the Pledge of Allegiance proclaims this to be the “land of the free,” the reality is that your station and status was settled by your skin tone. The violent terrorism that held those systems in check then have morphed a bit, but they are still very vibrant. And a changing of the guard in 2021 will not change this entrenched social system.

This is America. Or at least, this is the enduring legacy of America. This is the land that many have long said, “looks like a lamb and speaks like a dragon.” This is the same America that defrauded the indigenous peoples out of their land, and ravaged their tribes. This is the same America that has separated children from their parents at our southern border. There is no justice for minorities in America. And just in case you forget it, the dominant group has quite a few fringe members who will quickly grab an AR-15, run to a public place and remind us all that this is their country; and they will do with fear and force whatever is necessary to keep it that way.

Mourners gathered on Monday outside the Walmart in El Paso where at least 22 people were killed. Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The Pain in Prophecy

Here’s the sad news, and a bit of a bold prediction. This pattern of violent terror is not going to relent. As a matter of fact, this is (in part) predicted in scripture. Jeremiah says:

From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord.

Jeremiah 6:13-15 (NIV)

Now, while that text may not apply directly to white-nationalists, just think, if the very priests that were set aside to care for God’s people had become unscrupulous because of greed and deception, what do you think we can expect from people who are bent on hate? The text, in essence, points to a time when people will lose their sense of compassion and decency. That time is now.

Our New Reality

This is the new reality. The battle lines have been so indelibly drawn and entrenched that it is highly likely that we have passed the point of no return. And remember, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12 KJV). These are not simply natural expressions of bigotry and hate. These instances are being fueled by the very essence of the one who is the archenemy of our souls.

Now, this is not a message of gloom and doom. Jesus has promised that he would always be with us, and that he would never leave us nor forsake us. In another place, he reassures us saying, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

With this is mind, there are some things that we should do in light of this new reality:

  1. Strengthen relational networks and systems that serve as safe places for underserved communities. Whether that takes the form of an active shooter training at your church, a mentoring program, or simply a more consistent time for family meals, we need to preserve the spaces where we belong authentically and fully.
  2. Develop systems for civic and economic engagement that consistently empowers those on the margins. Children at the border who have been separated from their parents need advocates who will continue to speak up for them. Small minority businesses find it even more difficult to develop in this reality. We need creative ways to provide support, build advocacy and create lasting value.
  3. Finally, pursue more dynamic and empowering opportunities for faith development. This may take the form of a Bible study, prayer group, or a church plant, or maybe even more consistent and committed service initiatives and the like. There is a definite need to grab hold of those themes of hope, faith and trust that will help to sustain us.

Protestors take part in a rally of Moms against gun violence. Photo by Johannes Eisele/Getty Images

These are very difficult times. With each mass shooting we are reminded of our vulnerability and the ever-encroaching scourge of bigotry and hate. When I was a kid riding in the front seat of my mom’s car, she had a tendency to stretch her arm out across my chest while she drove whenever she felt there was danger approaching. Her outstretched arm was in an effort to help shield and brace my body from potential impact. Today we need the arms of the community members to reach out, create safer communities, and shield our people with hope that Jesus will come just in time to save us from the impending collision.




Faith Over Fashion

“I’m gonna’ put on my robe, tell the story how I made it ova’.”

Contention over dress within the Christian church it is nothing new. For African Americans, clothing, fashion, and style have historically been acts of resistance, liberation, and counter-narrative. Our garb has also signaled and signified who we are and how we “made it over.”

So why is it that we ask the controversial question “how should we dress for worship?”

Many have harbored strong feelings about the topic of dress and worship for some time. And whenever people feel strongly about a topic that the Bible does not give explicit instructions on we find ourselves in an imbalanced state of division. But if we look back at history, P.E. Klassen documents in an article for Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation that Black women in the 19th century used dress to communicate. Both the political and religious messages in their attire suggest that women understood the power of dress and how it legitimized them in a society that was originally hostile towards them. In other words, dress in African American communities has traditionally not been a separate entity. Our dress was functional, political, and religious, all while displaying our cultural expression through style.

With dress originally playing such a pivotal role in African American political and religious culture, when did the two separate? How is it that now, African American dress is a choice between religious respectability or cultural identity?

Sacrificing Culture for Salvation

The truth is, I believe some African Americans have sacrificed their culture for salvation. Many African American Christians have traded in their cultural identity for respectability in Western European Christian churches. It’s as though we’ve omitted the origins of dress as a feature of culture, and an expression of being. But there is no Scriptural support for such a sacrifice. In fact, Scripture reveals that dress and all its particulars has always been important to God. In fact, God even believed certain religious leaders, those being the priests, should wear particular garb. Exodus 28:2 says, “Make sacred garments for your brother Aaron to give him divinity and honor.” Some translations say “for glory and for beauty,” meaning the robes of the priests were to be both appealing to the eye and sufficient to represent the glory of God.

In other words, the garments in Exodus represented the culture of post-Egyptian bondage as now they are a people that has been set a part to worship Yahweh and Him alone. But they are also a representation of God’s standard of “divinity and honor.” These robes were to help them understand the significance of humanity coming into the presence of God in the sanctuary.

Covered

But God also spoke to the Israelites about His plan to save them and atone for their sin using the dress of the day as a metaphor. In Ezekiel 16:10-14, God describes how He found humanity, metaphorically a woman in the text, naked and covered in blood. He washes her and covers her:

“I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord God.

Here, God is speaking to the prophet Ezekiel and He’s likening His redemption of humanity to clothing a woman in fine linen and jewels. Speaking of the fabrics and ornaments of that time period, God is not put off by cultural dress. No, here God uses the cultural dress of the time to describe His plan of justification and sanctification. The beauty of such spiritual covering, God believed, would be best understood by the people if likened to the finest fabrics and jewelry of that time.

Dress is an Act of Worship

By likening salvation to the cultural dress of the time, we see that African Americans have the authority to express their relationship with God through dress. God desires that we be beautifully garbed. But what’s of greatest significance is that our garb is not a prerequisite for coming into His presence. In fact, the truth is, all we do and anything we wear is as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). This is why God promises to clothe us and cover us like the Father did the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32.

Yes, God designed a robe specific for the priests because of their role as intercessors on behalf of the people. But to the people at large God did not designate any particular kind of clothing that was specifically for worship. This gives us the freedom to celebrate our authentic walk in Christ enjoying how our clothing is a symbol of God’s infinite grace. God is the Master Stylist. He took our fig leaves and clothed us in lamb’s wool, and because of the sacrifice of Christ takes our sin and clothes us in His righteousness. And God has even promised that when it’s all over He’s going to hand us a crown and a robe and we will put on the garments of Heaven and tell the story of how we made it over. So until that day, let us feel free to worship Him with the fashion of our various cultures remembering they are beautiful symbols of our justification and sanctification.

 




Marriage is Not Hard Work

A Different Perspective on a Popularly Used Phrase

We’ve all heard this phrase time and time again: “Marriage is hard work.”

In fact, we’ve heard it repeated so many times that it is ingrained in our psyche. Now, many of us are apprehensive to even get married. Just think of it like this, if you have to consistently work hard for everything in life: jobs, education, health and fitness, then why would anyone want to be in a relationship that requires a work ethic equal to or greater than that just for the relationship to survive? Many of you who are single and reading this are thinking, “I can be frustrated and worn out all by myself!”

However, after being married for a while we’ve realized something. Repeat this statement out loud:

Marriage is not hard work – I am!

Will every day of your marriage be like walking through a botanical garden on a 73-degree day, while sipping lemonade, with the perfect combination of sunshine and shade? Absolutely not. But this is not due to the fact that marriage is hard. Marriage, at its core, is simply committing to consistently and unselfishly meeting each other’s most basic – as well as most important – emotional needs. It is committing to serve and protect your spouse. Those things, if we’re honest, are relatively easy to do.

The hard work lies in us. In order to pull off the core elements successfully, we have to do some things. We have to let go of pride. We have to let go of selfishness and the desire to always be right. We have to be willing and ready to relinquish our individual wills for the good of the marriage team. And for many of us that is the hard work.

You will need to do some work – on yourself!

If you talk to couples who have been married for a while you’ll notice that there are at least 5 areas that they have intentionally committed to. We believe that successful progress and execution in these areas make for smoother sailing in your marriage. We call them the

“5 C’s of a Successful Marriage”

  1. Communication: You must have several conversations…about everything!
  2. Compassion: You have to genuinely care about the overall well-being of your spouse.
  3. Compromise: You will have to relinquish the idea of always getting your way.
  4. Concession: Sometimes, you have to take a “loss” in order to gain a “win” later.
  5. Connection: You have to consistently connect on all levels…including sexually.

Now you may be saying to yourself, “they just mapped out a bunch of ‘work’!” However, if you are honest with yourself, none of the above 5 things require a “great deal of effort and endurance” (well, some things might require endurance…wink, wink). The truth is, in order to successfully navigate the above 5 areas, you will need to do some work – on yourself! Once selfishness and harmful pride are eliminated, you will notice that the above areas are merely by-products of the commitment that you have chosen to settle in to.

The turning point came in our marriage when we started living and acting in accordance with the commitment we professed to make.

Remember…

Everything you want to see in marriage you have to first develop in yourself.

The realization of the above statement made the difference in our marriage. Oftentimes, we go into marriage with the notion that our needs are going to be met. Our whole approach to marriage centers around the idea that this person is responsible for my happiness, my satisfaction, for covering my weak points, etc. But this idea is wrong! Marriage is not about getting it’s about giving; it’s not about being served, but serving. Like we stated earlier, marriage has everything to do with unselfishly meeting the needs of your spouse.

So, to all of the single readers – take the statement above and run with it. It will save you years of headaches and frustration when you do get married.

Remember, it’s not that marriage is hard work. If there’s any hard work to be done, it will be in working on yourself.

If you’re dating and thinking about marriage, or already married, ask yourself these questions:

How much ‘work’ am I willing to do on myself, and on my character? What am I willing to do to ensure that the success of my marriage requires minimal effort and endurance?

Think on these things…




White Table Talk

A Conversation About Race and Politics

Recently, over dinner with a group of friends, the topic of race relations came up, as it often should.

“As a white person who advocates on behalf of racial justice,” one sister said, looking in my direction with knowing yet curious eyes, “you must have some interesting conversations with other white people. As a person of color, I’d love to be invisible in the room to overhear the kinds of things they say and the responses you give.”

“That’s a great idea,” I responded. “Maybe I’ll write about it. An article could be the next best thing to you being invisible and in the room.”

So, here are the most common things I hear from white people regarding race relations constructed as a single conversation. And let’s name our semi-fictional man, Bob.

White Table Talk

Ty, you really need to focus on preaching the Gospel and not get distracted with political issues like racism. It’s divisive.

Thanks Bob. I appreciate your concern. You are aware, however, that Jesus not only preached the Gospel, but He was the Gospel in the way He dealt with people. Luke writes in Acts 10:38, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, [and He] went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”

In fact, some of His contemporaries – specifically those who were favored by the systems of His day – didn’t like Jesus siding with the oppressed. They became enraged every time Jesus sided with those who were on the outside of social favor and on the downside of political power. So, yeah there was division. But it was the necessary kind of division. Remember, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Bringing Jesus where there is injustice is not a distraction, Bob, nor is it contrary to the Gospel. It is vital if the Gospel is to have any kind of tangible meaning.

But Ty, shouldn’t Christians stay out of politics?

Yes and no. I think you are conflating legit political involvement with illegitimate political involvement. Because we believe in religious liberty we believe in the separation of church and state. So, we do not believe the church should use the state to enforce its theological beliefs and worship practices upon the free human conscience. In fact, that’s what religious liberty is all about. We believe in fighting religious oppression and defending an individual’s right to worship according to his or her own conscience—regardless of that person’s religious affiliation.” In other words, the idea of the state partnering with the church to enforce a particular set of religious beliefs is a kind of politics we want no parts of.

But with regards to human relations – in all matters of equality and justice – Christians should be foremost in political activism. Bob, if Christians had stayed out of politics slavery would not have been abolished and women would still not be able to vote or own property. If Christians had stayed out of politics the Civil Rights Movement and the activism of pastors like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would never have happened and we’d still have segregation. Christians were a formidable force in these crucial movements. And Christians still need to leverage their influence today to advance the cause of racial justice and equality.

But slavery has been over for a long time Ty. Like you just said, it was abolished. So why can’t they just get over it?

Well, Bob, that’s because it’s over and it’s not. It’s over as a legal institution, but the consequences of slavery are still present within our criminal justice and economic systems. “They” can’t get over it because “we’re” not over it. Michelle Alexander in her book The New Jim Crow says it like this: “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Truthfully, Bob, there are systems, some overt and some subtle, that are fundamentally oppressive and racist, and these must be challenged and overcome for one simple reason: they are wrong. They are unjust, unfair, and even unconstitutional.

But Ty, it’s not fair that my hard-earned money be taken from me in taxes and used to give people stuff they did not earn.

Okay Bob! Now we’re getting to the real issue. Your concern is not that I’m distracted from the Gospel with politics, but that I don’t share your political views. And if I were to share your political views, you would not be concerned about me being political.

Well no, I just think it’s unfair that I would have to pay for something I had nothing to do with. I mean, Ty, they are demanding reparations – meaning free money – taken from people who had nothing to do with slavery. It’s ridiculous.

First of all, Bob, they are not demanding free money. They are asking for the very things you say are important to you: fairness, justice, the righting of colossal wrong. Your financial thinking, at its core, is right, because you are concerned for fairness. That’s what they are are concerned about too. You believe people should not get free money, which is exactly what they believe. They just believe, as I do, that if stolen money is returned to the person it was stolen from then that person has not received free money. Consider a parable on generational economics:

My uncle Jedediah stole your uncle Gunther’s Toyota Camry and drove it 100,000 miles on a paper route that made him rich. Then he gave it to me. I racked up an additional 50,000 miles on it delivering pizzas to wealthy pizza connoisseurs who gave me big tips, which I used to get a college education. Then I got a great job with my new degree and bought a big house and gave the Camry to my niece, Donatella.

Donatella used the Camry to get a job as a legal aid, which put her in proximity to a fine fella named Rodrick Sebastian Tennyson III. The two of them, Donna and Rod, got married and procreated an adorable baby boy they named, for reasons unknown, Bob. Then little Bob grew up to be big Bob and inherited the Camry, giving him the distinct advantage over all his buddies in becoming an Uber driver.

To whom does the Camry belong?

Okay, Ty. I see what you’re saying. All those people in Jedediah’s family lineage gained an advantage from a car he stole from Gunther. So, if Gunther’s grandkids were to ask Bob for the Camry back, they would not be asking for a free car, but for their car. And if Bob were to discover the truth of the history of the stolen car and return it to Gunther’s grandkids, he would not be giving them a free car, but making a wrong right by returning the property to its rightful owner.

Exactly, Bob!

But Ty, I never owned slaves and neither did any other living Americans.

True, you did not personally own slaves. Point taken. And nobody is suggesting that you did. But you are in possession of stolen property, as I am. In this tangled web of privilege, our whiteness affords us protection and advantages that many African Americans in this country do not have. So, the least we can do is equalize the playing field so they can catch up and have a fighting chance.

Okay, I get that. But I’m not racist. I like black people! In fact, I have some black friends!

These black friends of yours, Bob, have you ever been to any of their homes?

No.

Have any of them ever been to your home?

No.

Ok, Bob, they are not your friends. Sure, you may like them, but they are not your friends. But the issue is not about whether or not you like black people. People of color are not asking white people to like them. Many, if not most, don’t care if any white person likes them. What they are asking for is far more basic and substantial: justice and equality. And honestly, both of those have nothing to do with flashing a smile or being nice.

Well, I’m not against them.

I don’t doubt that, Bob. But are you for them? In the American context, to be non-racist isn’t enough. The only acceptable position for a white person is to be anti-racist.

Why is that? What does it even mean to be anti-racist?

That’s a great question, Bob. A scholar by the name of Ibram X. Kendi just recently wrote a book entitled, How to Be an Antiracist. You should check it out. In it he says, “to be an antiracist is a radical choice in the face of this history, requiring a radical reorientation of our consciousness.” The fact is, Bob, to be non-racist is to maintain the status quo of disparity and injustice. As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” To be antiracist, then, is to stand against racism and use one’s influence to remove it from every dark nook and cranny of the nation. Only action will bring about the kind of changes that need to be made.

I see what you’re saying, Ty.

Thanks for listening, Bob.

A Call to Conversation

In order to change the consciousness of whites and blacks around the topic of race and politics, we must be willing to talk amongst ourselves and with each other. Whites and Blacks who are committed to racial equality must make it a priority to first converse with their respective friends and family who are not yet converted to this cause of justice. Once we all can commit to having the hard conversations, both amongst ourselves and with each other, once we can commit to reading the materials necessary to broaden our understanding, and ultimately commit to engage to make substantive change then will we begin to see justice and equality in both policy and people’s hearts. Let’s talk!




Secrets in the Storm

The story of Jesus and the twelve disciples on a small boat in a big storm reminds us that life is full of swift transitions. It reveals the seasonal nature of circumstances. Indeed, life’s atmosphere can change from peaceful to turbulent in a moment. It did for Jesus and the disciples.

“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” Mark 4:37

That morning the disciples awakened to the thrill of possibility. They had been walking with Jesus for several months and saw the growth and rise in popularity of His public ministry. Each day, they marveled as He served the broken and the bound with compassion unmarred by selfish ambition. They were eyewitnesses and recipients of the love and mercy of Christ extended to fallen humanity.

The Great Teacher

The swelling crowds gave evidence to the draw of Christ’s ministry. Jesus possessed unpretentious dignity and from His person emanated something beautifully attractive. There was peace in His presence, poise in His manner, and power in His touch. His genuineness and authenticity was not only attractive, but also persuasive. Men, women, and children feasted on His simple yet profound teachings. As Jesus spoke, more and more pressed in to hear principles of the kingdom of heaven. The crowd was mesmerized as He utilized everyday examples to illustrate out of this world realities. Somehow, Jesus made the complex simple and clarified the confusing.

Who knew that so much truth could be illustrated by a farmer, his seeds, and various types of soil (Mark 4:1-20)? Who knew that a lamp could shine the light of truth and meaning into the heart (Mark 4:21-25)? Who knew that a tiny mustard seed, barely visible, could highlight the Christian growth experience (Mark 4:30-34)?

As if Jesus had only taught for a few minutes, the crowd’s appetite for truth, though well-fed, was not satisfied. They hungered for more. But Jesus, knowing the benefit of rest and reprieve, bade the disciples to weigh anchor and head for the other side. As they rowed in reflection, Jesus fell asleep. Then, the unforeseen happened.

“The evening had been calm and pleasant, and quiet rested upon the lake; but suddenly darkness overspread the sky, the wind swept wildly down the mountain gorges along the eastern shore, and a fierce tempest burst upon the lake.” – Ellen G. White (Desire of Ages, 334)

We may dislike them. But, if we listen, God speaks in and through the storm-tossed episodes of our lives. He shares secrets in our storms. What are these secrets? God whispers to us: Sometimes, I will permit storms to rise. The tone of the text suggests the disciples’ storm arose suddenly. What about yours? Was there a meteorological warning? Out of nowhere, you fell ill. All of a sudden, tragedy struck. Just like that, the glass shattered. And all this with God’s permission.

Stewarding Sovereignty

It’s not easy being God. Being God of the universe comes with awesome responsibility. God, too, exercises stewardship. His exercise is beyond calculation. He manages the affairs of this world, balancing justice and mercy without inequity. When God permits storms, it is after He has taken inventory of every intersecting possibility, oppositional threat, and miscellaneous footnote. In other words, God studies before He sanctions.

In the storm God says: Sometimes, I will allow storms to rage. Boats don’t begin to sink as soon as a storm rises. The storm must carry on for a while before it begins to sink. Their combined strength and collective efforts were fruitless against such a storm. You’ve been there haven’t you? Try as you might, no employment opportunities. You explored all pathways toward healing, yet the sickness rages. You’ve prayed morning, noon, and night for the wayward child, but the child cannot seem to find her way home. She still rages.

Speaking to Storms

It is in the midst of a raging storm that we mingle our woeful cry with Peter, James, and John exclaiming “Master, carest Thou not that we perish?” One version says, “Teacher, don’t You care if we drown?” The disciples were terrified by the thought of breathing their last breath before being swallowed by the mirky deep. Their fear resonates with ours doesn’t it? Uncertainty can be unsettling. Uncertainty and fear is nearly paralyzing.

It is during these moments, when the risen storm rages that God speaks sweetly: Sometimes, I will command the storm to rest. Jesus stood in the storm and restored sanity to the sky, stability to the sea, and serenity to the wind. While the words were spoken directly to the wind and waves, it was also a message of peace to the disciples. They could rest in His promise. They could live without fear and full of faith because of Jesus their Savior.

Are you in a storm right now? I have great news. It will not last. No storm does. Let Jesus stand in your boat. He still knows just what to say.

“And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” Mark 4:39




Disparities in Artificial Intelligence (AI) Present a Need for More Diversity in Tech Fields

“Why diversity in Artificial Intelligence (AI) is non-negotiable.” “’Disastrous’ lack of diversity in AI industry perpetuates bias.”  “A lack of diversity in tech is damaging AI.”  “Artificial Intelligence is on the brink of a diversity disaster.”  These are headlines from articles discussing one of the technology sector’s hottest topics – diversity in AI.  Why is this a hot topic and why should you care? Because AI affects your everyday life and a lack of diversity in its development can have detrimental effects on people of color.

For instance, if you’re darker-skinned and have ever had problems getting the automatic soap dispenser in a public restroom to dispense soap for you, you’ll want to check out this video uploaded to Twitter in 2017 by Chukwuemeka Afigbo, then Facebook’s head of platform partnerships in the Middle East and Africa. As the video and the article reveal, the soap dispenser’s problem is optic, not AI in nature. But the fact remains that the dispensers were manufactured without the developers understanding a unique set of potential problems for a particular group of people in the general public. Basically, because of lack of testing on people of color the technology has a tendency to periodically malfunction. This is directly related to our topic and shows that the lack of diversity in technology in general, which includes AI, is problematic for people of color.

I first need to say that AI is an extremely complex subject and the length of this article will only allow us to scratch the surface of this particular AI topic. If you are interested in learning more, I encourage you to read the articles that I link to as a starting point for your research.

Artificial Intelligence in the Material World

Are you aware that you most likely already use AI in your everyday life?  Do you say “Hey Siri…” or ask Alexa for information?  You’re using AI. When you scroll through your Facebook feed or view the “Movies you may like” feed on Netflix, AI is powering the algorithms that determine what shows up in your feed and on that list of movies. AI isn’t coming; it’s here!

What Exactly is Artificial Intelligence Anyway?

In her article “What Is Artificial Intelligence? Examples and News in 2019,”  business reporter Anne Sraders provides a definition I like: Artificial intelligence is the use of computer science  programming to imitate human thought and action by analyzing data and surroundings, solving or anticipating problems and learning or self-teaching to adapt to a variety of tasks. An important thread to pull from that definition is that the computer is programmed to learn from data sets it is given.

So why the concern about diversity in AI? Under the covers, AI allows for bias to be introduced in two ways: creator bias and data bias. A lack of diversity on teams that develop AI products and services makes it easier for these biases to go undetected. Consider these examples.

AI and Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM

Amazon, Microsoft and IBM have had problems with their facial recognition technologies correctly identifying women and darker-skinned people. Amazon has been heavily marketing its technology to law enforcement agencies as a way to quickly identify suspects, but its technology is reported to have the most problems making correct identifications. When the issues with the software were first identified in 2018, all three companies released “more accurate technology,” implying that they reworked their software’s code – they presumably addressed creator bias. That said, Amazon’s rates of misidentification in the follow-up 2019 study are still very high which is causing concern. Can you see how law enforcement using a facial recognition software package that has problems identifying people of color or people’s gender could be problematic?

AI and Human Resources

Human resource departments have started to use AI to help them fill job openings – feed a stack of electronic resumes into a program that will identify the best candidate for your job. In his article “Why Adding Diversity in Artificial Intelligence is Nonnegotiable,” Danny Guillory explains how data bias works. He states that in a generic job search for an engineer (this search will produce a result set of mostly Caucasian males), when profiles are selected (hired) from that search, AI will ‘learn’ this and then continue to select that same type of profile in future searches. It is not trained to, and will not ever on its own, think outside the box, which, in this case, would be something like selecting a woman’s or a Latino’s profile. “In this mode,” says Guillory, “groups of people can be systematically eliminated. If certain groups are not included in the data sets that AI is taking into consideration, in the long run, problems or challenges that are outside of the data set may not be able to be solved for at all.”

Lack of Diversity in AI and Tech Fields

Sarah Myers West, Meredith Whittaker and Kate Crawford, researchers at New York University’s AI Now Institute, released an extensive report on AI earlier this year where they stated, “The use of AI systems for the classification, detection, and prediction of race and gender is in urgent need of re-evaluation.” and “The commercial deployment of these tools is cause for deep concern.”

Dr. Timnit Gebru, Co-Founder of Black in AI

The lack of diverse employees at tech companies has been widely reported, and this is a major part of the problem.  In an interview with AI Business, Payal Jain – chair of Women in Data – says, “There [are] three things that are really important when we start thinking about AI and machine learning.  It’s not so much about data—it’s all about people. Firstly, we’ve got to be aware of our own biases. Secondly, we need diverse teams to work with the technology. With 78% of people working in AI being male, there are biases that they naturally will not spot. Finally, we’ve got to make sure we’re giving the machines non-biased datasets.” 

Timnit Gebru, co-founder of Black in AI, says of the need for diversity in AI in an interview for MIT’s Technology Review, “When problems don’t affect us, we don’t think they’re that important, and we might not even know what the problems are because we’re not interacting with the people who are experiencing them.”

Black in AI and the Importance of STEM Programs

This is why women and people of color in technology are working to address the issue. Organizations like Women in Data, Black in AI and Women in Machine Learning have been formed because the organizers are working to develop ways to address bias in AI, connect under-represented people in that tech sector and educate about the problem. Gebru says she and a friend started Black in AI in 2017 after she attended a Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) conference in 2016. (NIPS is considered one of the world’s largest AI conferences). There were about 8500 attendees. “I counted six black people,” she said. “I was literally panicking. That’s the only way I can describe how I felt…. Because six black people out of 8,500—that’s a ridiculous number, right? That is almost zero percent.”

It is these kinds of realities and disparities that make it extremely important for us to continue to encourage young people of color and women into STEM careers. This will help to increase the diversity pool as more ethnically diverse developers are added to the field to help prevent creator and data bias. STEM fields have and continue to be difficult for women to complete degrees in, but the industry has learned a lot about what is needed to help them succeed. Organizations like GirlsWhoCode allow teen girls to learn to code in an environment where they are surrounded by other women. Networking groups like the National Society of Black Engineers provide spaces where encouragement and mentorship can be found. This Harvard Business Review article lists six things successful women in STEM careers do; a topic we may cover in a future Message magazine article.

The fact of the matter is, AI is not going anywhere. It will continue to make its way more intimately and permanently into our daily lives. We need to be sure it does that as bias-free as possible.




Social Justice and the Image of God

Often when talking about justice, we start by talking about injustice. After all, it’s often the injustice that catches our attention. Whether a horrific headline, a political outrage, an unfolding disaster, or chronic problems like poverty, inequality, violence, environmental degradation or economic exploitation, these are often the things we use to initiate a call for justice.

But this is not where the Bible’s many calls to justice begin. Instead, the Bible’s story opens with a world that is “good” and human beings who are created in the image of God. While theologians and philosophers have long debated what specifically about human beings reflects the divine image, in most traditions in Christian history, as well as in the world’s other monotheistic religions, “made in the image of God” is a foundational tenet of what it means to be human. But our reflection of God’s image is also the key to our ethical responsibility for how we act toward our fellow human beings.

Empathy and the Image of God

What is appreciated but not often preached is the truth about how socially transformative, economically disruptive and politically challenging this understanding of our human origins and value are. Writing in the Washington Post earlier this year, columnist Michael Gerson highlighted the tensions in history between how faith has been used to diminish and to ennoble, to oppress and to liberate, to hurt and to help. He also writes how essential—and politically inconvenient—is this core formulation of human identity. “Christianity inevitably raises [this] question,” he reminds us. “What if everyone we favor, and everyone we fear, and everyone we help, and everyone we exploit, and everyone we love, and everyone we hate, were the reflected image of God—unique, valuable and destined for eternity?”

To insist that all people are created in the image of God has dramatic political and practical implications. If we believe this foundational teaching of our faith in any meaningful way, much of what currently passes for political debate is simply unacceptable and unsustainable.

Putting it another way, Belinda Bauman describes this failure of belief as “the most significant barrier to empathy.” In fact, she suggests that a belief in each person as the reflected image of God is how we produce true concern for others. It is a lack of faith in this belief, “the idea that some people matter more than others,” that serves as the foundation for the perpetuation of injustice and inequality in all their forms. The reality is that some people do matter more than others—to us. We have a natural affinity for our family, friends and even community members, as we should. But we must also and always resist the temptation of assuming that others beyond our circles are of lesser value as human beings.

A Value System for Victims

Oftentimes when we are assaulted with and overwhelmed by the cumulative weight of injustice, tragedy and suffering in our world, we start to place value judgments on those who suffer. Some News media outlets operate in this way, employing a pyramid of proximity that assumes that the closer a story is to the viewer the more valuable it is. This causes a single death in our community to somehow become more valuable than hundreds in a country whose people and policies are not like ours. These damaging classifications perpetuate the belief that people who don’t look like us don’t feel like us, don’t hurt like us, don’t grieve like us.

Compounding this human tendency are those who would cynically or even hatefully exploit our fears and prejudices for political purposes. As one unfortunate example, in recent years, my home country of Australia has contributed greatly to undermining the international framework for responding to refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced people. Damage that we now see being played out in the rhetoric and harsh practices of many other nations around the world.

Australia and Asylum Seekers

This became such an issue in Australia not because we were being overwhelmed by refugees, but because it was politically expedient. Belying the small number of people who have arrived in Australia on unregulated boats over the past two decades, this issue has been deployed politically to move the public conversation from that of a necessary and compassionate humanitarian response to a dominant and divisive political debate. This political posturing has required the implementation and progressive escalation of a regime of mandatory and indefinite detention of even legitimate asylum seekers on remote Pacific islands. This decision brings with it a great cost to Australia and great harm to many people already vulnerable and traumatized after having sought to escape danger and persecution from their countries of origin. And this shift has been observed, applauded and adopted by other political “leaders” and opportunists around the world.

While many people of faith in Australia have raised their voices in protest, it is also those politicians who have most professed Christianity who have overseen and implemented this inhumane policy. This public debate reached a new low last year when the Australian government’s Minister for Home Affairs urged that “Australians must guard against compassion towards refugees”—a statement that is deeply troubling in every way. A nation warned to “guard against compassion” is being led in profoundly unhealthy and dangerous ways.

Compassion is Our First Response

So it is not hard to see why the Bible’s foundational teaching about what it means to be a human being is so politically confronting and challenging. It means that we cannot use people for political point-scoring or applaud those who do. It must change how we speak, how we vote and how we live. It insists that compassion must always be our first response (compare Matthew 9:36), even when we are tempted to fear. It demands that every person matters. It urges that the surest way to respect our Creator is to care for His creation, perhaps pre-eminently His human creation: “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him” (Proverbs 14:31, NLT). It is the foundational way of understanding our world and our highest calling for living in it. It is the recognition that our best reflection of the image of God is living with generosity, creativity, courage and love.