Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Meaning of Words

Words mean something. Not simply for the meanings of individual words, but words in general have meaning. The words we choose communicate more than just the accepted meaning of that particular combination of letters and sounds. Especially in the English language, where we have so many different choices of words in a given situation, the words we choose are important.

I won't write much on this, and certainly not in depth. There were a lot of smart French guys who've done much better with the subject. But I've been thinking about word meanings and what they say about us for a while today.

I've often said the best part of the English language is that it's functional. You don't have to abide by dictionary definitions of words to communicate. If both parties understand the intention, the word fits. English meanings change and evolve all the time. This is really cool, but it also becomes problematic when important words or phrases suddenly mean something different than they did before.

For Christians, of late, one of those terms has been "social justice," which has become a political touchstone in the US of late. The phrase has been co-opted to mean some sort of socialist, communitarian political philosophy and it's thrown some faith communities into chaos.

Social justice has been a hallmark of my tradition since its inception. The Church of the Nazarene was founded by people who believed all people had a special dignity, just by virtue of living. They refused to allow people to be thrown away, forgotten, abandoned, left out, or written off. They adopted a name that once meant outcast, or worthless, and threw their lot in with drunks, prostitutes, and other social outcasts. The place we have in the pantheon of Christianity is a lifestyle dedicated to loving and being present with those society would like to forget - we call it holiness, but it's very much the traditional understanding of social justice.

Perhaps the term has become a problem because we've lost that fervor from early days. Perhaps our lifestyles have migrated from the poor to the suburbs and it's helped us forget. I refuse to believe that my brothers and sisters would willingly choose a media definition over that of their faith community - so I can only assume we just haven't used the term enough. We've forgotten to talk about it.

That being said, I don't think we've forgotten to live it. When I have discussions about our historic focus on social justice, I don't get arguments - just a glimmer of recognition. My people know, live, and value social justice as much as ever - they just didn't know what it was called.

Now I'm stubborn (and that may be an understatement). I tend to do my own thing, especially when public perception or common practice goes in a new direction. I don't like change. I'm willing to stick with an old definition, even if people no longer understand what I mean. That's just who I am.

Most people and institutions are not like that. They want to be heard and understood, so they allow their language to be flexible. I don't begrudge them that. If the Church of the Nazarene decides to stop talking about social justice, so be it - just as long as they don't stop living it.

At the same time, I find it curious which definitions we're willing to defend to the death. There's been a lot of talk about the definition of marriage and its evolution in popular parlance. Evangelical Christians seem awfully bent on forcing everyone to keep an old definition, rather than change the way they talk to reflect what they mean. I don't want to get into a debate about gay marriage (that's definitely another post - or three), but its curious what this use (or lack thereof) of language says about our priorities.

I can't imagine how many of these telling little hangups exist in my conversation - and I spend a lot of time trying to make sure they don't. Words mean something - and not just what they mean.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Giving Birth and Giving Life

This week we welcomed Eva Caroline Scott into the world. I love my daughter. I'll say this at the beginning and again at the end so you understand that these feelings are disconnected from the thoughts below. I love my daughter. I wouldn't trade her for anything in the world. I'm glad she's here and I can't wait to see all the amazing things we'll learn about the world together.

That being said, I was never really sold on having kids of my own. I want to love and take care of kids, but I never felt any real desire to make any of my own. It just seems like there's plenty of kids out there without parents that my own were sort of superfluous.

Over time, I came to see the evolutionary draw my wife had to children - at least a child. So we agreed that we'd have one and then look for other, non-traditional way to add more later. Still, I told her, I was doing this for her and I didn't necessarily think the pain and ordeal of pregnancy and birth were all that necessary to a full life.

It got me thinking a little bit about the difference between giving birth and giving life. Obviously anyone with the physical ability to reproduce can participate in giving birth. So may parents never experience what it means to give life. Some of the most impoverished and unprepared parents succeed at giving life; some of the most resourced and capable parents never do. It's a mixed bag - but I was more focused on giving life to kids in need, whether or not we gave birth to them.

So now we have a daughter. We've been through almost ten months of pregnancy, a few hours of labor and a lot of really terrible, painful pushing. It wasn't the best experience. Obviously there's discomfort with pregnancy, but for the most part, Katelynn did very well. She was rarely sick and kept working right up until the baby came. It was inconvenient, but not bad.

The labor was interesting. Before the epidural went into effect, the pain was awful and some of my worst fears were realized. My biggest objection to having a child was having to watch helplessly while my wife suffered. It was about as bad as I expected, although Katelynn's tendency to grunt rather than scream was quite helpful.

When it finally came time to get the baby out, well, we got ourselves into a scary situation. The baby was really too big for her to birth naturally, but we didn't figure that out until it was too late. We all popped into adrenaline mode and got it done. She was amazing and I have never been prouder of my wife.

It was a scary hour or so after the birth while they were fixing her back up and getting her blood pressure and body back to normal. I had faith in the doctors and no one seemed to be panicking too much. Still, it was unpleasant to be so helpless.

I told her that this is the ultimate, "I told you so" experience. I said pregnancy and childbirth weren't really worth the effort, especially with so many kids in need in this world. My mind hasn't changed. I'm not sure if she'd admit it, but I think Katelynn might even agree with me.

I said it before, and I'll say it again. I love my daughter. She's wonderful. I wouldn't trade her for anything in the world. Of course, now that we have her, it seems difficult to think of life without her. Still, I'm not sure out life would be less full or less complete if she'd never existed.

For all of those people who said, "you thoughts will change when you have a baby in your arms," I just have to say it's not true. I still feel the same way. It's not as though having a child was a bad choice - it's pretty wonderful, but I'm still not sure it was the best choice.

I won't dwell too much on the questions since it's extremely moot at the moment, but I do still think it's a worthwhile conversation to have. There are people who choose not to have kids, just as there are people who choose to be celibate. They choose to give up something good for the chance at something better - a sacrifice.

That does seem to be what giving life is all about - that we sacrifice of ourselves to show the inherent value in another. In a world where so many parents treat their children like accessories, perhaps we need to shift the paradigm from simply giving birth, to giving life. It would certainly expand our definition of family.

In conclusion, I love my daughter. I think she's amazing and wonderful. Now that she's here, I would definitely sacrifice whatever it takes. At the same time, I hope, I would have the same kind of love for anyone so endowed with the image of God.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cutsie Christianity

I was walking down the hall of our preschool the other day and noticed all the posters with cute baby animals covered in religious catchphrases and bible verses. I've never really liked those things, but I usually chalked it up to my general contrariness. This time, though, I began to think about why people like these kinds of posters.

It dawned on me - people like them because they're harmless and frivolous and people would rather have a non-threatening faith. I suppose the same could be said for Thomas Kincade paintings or Precious Moments figurines. The larger evangelical culture seems to have overly domesticated Christianity.

Think about it. This is a faith that began with the worship of an executed prisoner, one that took the brutal instrument of capital punishment and spread it all over their homes and lives. They called people to martydom without violence, to give up their bodies and lives for a different way of life. For the first several hundred years of Christianity, the most revered saints were those who half-starved themselves in the desert or those who knelt calmly and prayed in the arena whilst being torn apart by lions.

Christianity is a far cry from cartoons and baby animals. I recognize that those images and ideas may not be appropriate for children, or even understood. Still, it seems like we could do better in forming our children around the idea of Christian life as something different. The way of Christ is not cuddly and docile.

Perhaps our society (Christians included) doesn't quite take God seriously because the Church has done a lot to make God something less than serious. It's become almost cliche these days, but CS Lewis image of God as the lion, Aslan says a lot more about our lost conception of God. Aslan, a huge ferocious, loving Lion scared the children, the main characters in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Lucy, the youngest, asked, "is he a tame lion?" and the response came - "He's not tame, but he is good."

We seem to be taming God for the next generation - and perhaps for ourselves. We prefer a God and a faith that doesn't require much of us - that doesn't call us to sacrifice and disrupt our lives. We'd prefer a tame God who will let us go about our business and be mostly just like everyone else.

I continue to be haunted motivated by the words of Scott Daniels in a sermon - "Our kids are desperately seeking something worth dying for and we refuse to give it to them."

Our faith is an adventure, a challenge, a journey. It is the consummation of our created purpose. The gospel is good news that the relatively mundane, sedate purpose our world attempts to sell us is just not the real thing. There's excitement and fulfillment - and a little bit of danger out there.

Our kids deserve to see it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Zuck's Hoodie

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg caught flack for showing up to an investor meeting on Wall Street wearing a sweatshirt. Facebook is about to launch an IPO worth roughly $100B; in order to get that kind of money, Facebook has to convince some investment bigwigs that it's actually worth $100B. Some of those investors (who always wear expensive suits) were a bit offended by Zuckerberg's attire at their meetings, claiming it showed immaturity and a lack of seriousness for the matters at hand.

For those who know me well it will be very clear that I'm openly cheering this story. I'm a preacher who prefers to go barefoot to the pulpit, usually in jeans and a t-shirt. I wear a shirt with a collar maybe twice a year. I have some theological reasons for my pattern of dress in church - but regardless, I am a pretty casual person.

While I suspect Zuck's hoodie has more to do with arrogance (the idea that he is too important to kowtow to convention) than individuality, I do appreciate the conversation over dress and expectations.

I was told most of my life that we dressed up for important or serious occasions because we wanted to portray an air of seriousness - to put our best foot forward. This is exactly the attitude displayed by the Wall Street execs. It makes a lot of sense - like a job interview or a first date, you present the version of yourself most likely to get what you want - and it usually pays off.

I just happen to believe that your best self is your true self. It's true that people often make up their minds by a first impression; we often judge a book by its cover. It's just that we shouldn't. We all know it. We even tell our kids NOT to judge a book by its cover. So why do we facilitate people doing it? Why do we intentionally represent ourselves at an impossible-to-maintain level of excellence?

I just decided that if I want people to judge me on who I really am, then I'm going to be myself and allow them the time to make real judgments. Sure, a few people may just make a judgment and never wait around for the chance to know me, but it's a risk I'm willing to take to do things the right way. The means is the end, after all.

Not that "dress for success" is necessarily a bad thing. We can use our outward actions as a means to change parts of our lifestyle we want to change. I use my Facebook profile that way. I don't censor what I post - but I do use it as a gauge for things I should be saying or doing in the first place. If I can't post it publicly, it's probably not something indicative of who I want to be. I had a friend in college who always wore a tie to exams as a way of psyching himself up for better performance - he was assuming the role of what he wanted to be. He wasn't denying who he was, but working to improve in areas he felt weak.

I don't think Zuckerberg has the desire to impress anyone (except maybe an unrequited love with a Sorkin-esque wit). He doesn't need to project any image his work hasn't already shown the world. I don't doubt he wants to be rich, but he doesn't want to be a Wall Street stiff - and there's no reason to dress like he does. I want to avoid snap judgments and promote relationship; I try to dress in a way to make that happen.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I Don't Like Mother's Day

I love my mother. I do. I hope she knows that based on my actions 365 days a year and not because of my actions on the second Sunday in May.

We have to begin with admitting my personal idiosyncrasies. Those who know me would call BS on this post without them: 1) I am a non-conformist by nature; if someone tells me I have to do something, my first response is to figure out a way to avoid it. 2) I've got a beef with the greeting card industry; I consider them entirely worthless and thus the holidays they create are less than exciting for me.

With the bias out of the way, let me explain why Mother's Day is something we could all do without. The first reason is simply the mental state of such a day - we subconsciously relieve ourselves of guilt for taking Mom for granted most of the year by buying flowers and brunch once a year. This is a terrible relational plan.

As a Christian, I do have some issue with telling time based on secular holidays. I appreciate the liturgical calendar as a way of telling time that also reminds us of the story in which we live. Instead of Halloween, Thanksgiving and New Year's - we have Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. I'm not opposed to secular holidays - you don't have to ignore Mother's Day, but Christians need to be careful not to make it something we celebrate as a Church holiday (in many congregations, Pentecost, a few weeks later, goes nearly unnoticed).

Again, I'm not advocating an end to celebrating Mom. It's always appropriate to celebrate mom - just as it's always appropriate to throw a party or honor those willing to die for something they believe in. At the same time, we do have an obligation to do so responsibly.

It's great to celebrate Mom throughout the year. Last month, as we all gathered for my brother's wedding in Colorado, we spent a Friday lunch at Chik-fil-a, where my Mom loves helping and serving people. We got to meet her co-workers and regular customers - whose lives she knew and cared about. I'm not sure how many of us were super happy to be eating at Chik-fil-a during the lunch rush, but we were overjoyed to be able to honor my mother in this way. The two things she cares about most in the world are serving people, and her family; that lunch was an opportunity to join the two together.

I'll confess that I don't appreciate my mom in those ways as much as I should - not nearly on a regular enough basis. That failure doesn't excuse the treatment of Mother's Day as a way to avoid forgetting mom. If we make one day, when everybody does it - then we don't have to remember Mom the rest of the year. It's a collective alleviation of guilt.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly (meaning I probably should have started here) - Mother's Day cruelly leaves people out in terrible ways. US culture (well, really any culture), tends to celebrate some things while forgetting the sadder, other side of the coin. We celebrate partying and drinking culture while trying to marginalize alcoholism and other effects. We celebrate military service while trying to forget the horrible effects of war. These are two examples of many - in which we inappropriately elevate something as good, while forgetting those who suffer.

There are a lot of women in our world who cannot be mothers, many women who never will be. There are women who have lost children in various ways. For these women, a public celebration of motherhood is a public celebration of their pain. Of course, the revelers don't often even notice how these women stand out - but for many of them it's as if their apparent deficiency is on public display.

I appreciate the way the faith communities of which I've been a part celebrate Mother's Day. This year, our congregation will have a Mother's Day brunch hosted by the men of the congregation. But it will be held on a Saturday - not a part of corporate worship. Other congregations have made mention of the day and given a gift - but universally it is a gift to all women present.

Our mothers are not confined to blood relations. In joining the Church, you join a family and you inherit many brothers and sisters. You also gain many mothers. Whether they've given birth, these women serve as mothers for the congregation. All our mothers deserve recognition - not just the ones with their own kids.

One of the key social differences of Israel as opposed to neighboring tribes, was an uncommon respect for elders. Whereas most cultures sent their feeble off into the desert when they could no longer contribute to the community, Israel gave them extra attention and honor. "Honor your Father and Mother" is more than just "obey your parents" it's a command to respect those who've gone before you. It's inclusive of all elders.

So please, this Sunday, call your mother. Don't use this post as an excuse to forget altogether. Instead, hopefully, it's a challenge to think about what we're doing in celebration and to expand the scope of our appreciation. Be intentional. Our mothers are worth more than one day.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I Doubt It

The above is a recent video from Peter Rollins - saying a lot of the same things he typically says in his books (which I really appreciate and enjoy a great deal). One of his contentions is, essentially, that certainty and one's belief system can, in themselves, become an idol and a barrier to belief. He's calling people to embrace uncertainty and doubt and really to embrace a picture of the world and its workings that's more complex than traditional Christianity has made it.

In the video he mentions briefly the difference between intellectual and existential doubt. I appreciate this articulation, as it may be the most straightforward acknowledgement of such that he's made so far.

I can handle the difference between intellectual and felt doubt - the idea that Rollins presents of Christ addressing his doubts on the cross to God. I can appreciate and support the idea that our worship needs to include more embrace of pain and doubt. What I have trouble discerning from Rollins writing and speaking is whether he intends for this doubt to be separate or divorced from a more intellectual belief in God.

I have always and continue to believe that most of the value of gospel of Jesus Christ is in its ability to bring hope and beauty and peace and love out of the complex web of emotions and events that make up life. When we gather to worship, we do so, at least in part (many would argue in whole) to be formed into the kind of people who live in and embrace this gospel vision.

I do appreciate Rollins' emphasis on the reality of pain, confusion, anguish, and doubt in the world. We don't live in a neat little box with easy answers, nor do we serve an entirely scrutable God. We do need to be content with ambiguity at times and discontent with certainty at others. We also need to extend our belief from the purely intellectual to the experiential - there needs to be a real, felt, physical engagement with the gospel that is beyond belief. It is essential to transformation.

Perhaps Rollins is focusing on the areas we generally lack to highlight their importance, but often his statements come off as dismissing the intellectual affirmation of God's existence. I believe God exists, that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, and that the Holy Spirit is at work in the world. At the same time, it doesn't always feel like those are true, and I have certainly experienced moments (and seasons) of life when I truly doubted they were true.

I recognize the importance - really the necessity - of those experiences for all people. I support what Rollins is trying to do; it would just be nice to have a bit of clarity as to the relationship between intellectual understanding and existential doubt. I would love to hear more of his thoughts on the matter.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Coming Kingdom

The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed something - it changed everything. Like an earthquake beneath the ocean, even a major event can go unnoticed. But the earthquake produces a wave - one that can move and spread relatively unseen.

Those of us who have embraced the fulfillment of God's Kingdom attempt to live into a world that is just beginning to ripple. The Kingdom is coming alive, while the former world, the world that seems most real and firm and predictable around us, is dying slowly - a world not long for this world.

Like sunbathers on the beach, unaware of just how quickly and extremely their world is about to change, most people sit calmly, going through the motions. It's an imperfect metaphor, but I feel like Chicken Little - running around like mad because the wave of the Kingdom is coming. That's the sort of urgency that makes us evangelicals.

For me it's not an urgency to avoid hell or even to embrace heaven. It's an urgency that all people, all of creation, embrace the life we were created to live, to find our place in this crazy world.

It's that sense of mission that spurs an alternative lifestyle. You see, screaming about the coming tsunami while sitting on the beach with everyone else doesn't bring with it a lot of credibility. Sort of like Noah building a giant boat in the middle of the desert, a strange request requires a strange lifestyle from time to time. Either we're crazy or we're on to something.

There's really no in between in the Kingdom of God. We're fruitlessly hoping in old wives tales and idealistic dreams or we're ahead of the curve. In my saner moments I embrace the later; in my more radical, I appreciate the first. I don't mind being the dreamer - John Lennon is good company.

I like the fact that God's Kingdom comes in ways that make no sense, defy logic, and frustrate the realistic parts of ourselves. I can give you an explanation of the rationality of belief - and I can make a pretty good case; I just don't like to. The Kingdom is the outrageous notion that life is more than just an average existence punctuated with flashes of brilliance.

I'm not willing to settle for flashes. There's a world of love, justice, peace, joy, forgiveness, and grace. It's just over the horizon and the flashes are just the beginning. It's not enough to simply believe.

There's a big wave coming; we gotta be ready to ride.

Monday, May 07, 2012

It Ain't A Race

I'll apologize in advance for the punny title, but I liked the double meaning so it survived my internal edit.

It's been humbling to have the conversations I've had in the past few days since the last post on race. A lot of people I respect quite a bit have made great comments and queries and helped me continue to process everything that's been going through my head recently.

Since I haven't been inspired to change topics just yet, you'll get some more reflections that have come from those conversations:

First, is to stress the importance of living and relating across economic and racial boundaries. I am forever indebted to the positive challenge that is constantly on the lips of Ron Benefiel (a friend and former President of NTS) - Does it look like the kingdom? The implication being that the coming together of all races and peoples is a major eschatelogical signpost - and if we are really living in the world that is becoming, we have to take seriously the need for unity.

There is something here much beyond the type of individualism I focused on in the previous post. It's more than just treating each person as a person, it's taking into account the broad histories and wide gulfs between people groups that have been separated by trivial differences since, well, certainly as long as anyone can remember. I don't think there's anything wrong with seeking out experiences and relationships because they are different from your perspective - economically, religiously, racially, nationally, etc.

One of the struggles for me, however, is a futile search for completeness when it comes to such radical integrative relationship. Somehow, subconsciously, I have this idea that there's a mathematical formula for understanding another culture - that I can spend X number of hours with one group and that will be enough to "get" them - and I can move on.

It really does, at times, seem like a race race.

Perhaps what I didn't do a good job of communicating in the previous post is that, for me, the charge must be to slow down and be present in the moment. I don't expect everyone will encounter the same problems and roadblocks in their struggle - but there will be challenges to address and overcome.

Neither do I want people to think I've given up on immersing myself in different cultures. Especially with a daughter coming along very soon, I want to make sure we're engaged with many different people in many different ways. The important thing is to constantly be challenging yourself to more and deeper exploration.

I regard as one of the formative experiments of my life the embrace of one question - "What if different doesn't mean worse." The jump from cultural superiority to self-reflective evaluation is one we don't speak about, let along engage in, nearly enough. The practical difference in moving from "their culture is good for them, but I just wish they could see it from my perspective" to really examining your own culture through someone else's eyes, is unimaginable.

It took a mental exercise to make the leap. I didn't really believe that another culture could really be on par with mine; I was buried in ethnocentrism. I made the intellectual assumption, a "what if," what if this culture was just as valid as mine How would I explain that value to someone else? It was in that exercise that I began, almost immediately to see value where none had existed before and to see shortcomings in my own culture that were previously invisible.

I think what I was realizing in the previous post was that this applies to individuals as well as groups. It's a tool to be applied in all relationships and its an ever evolving challenge. It's not a race to be won, not a task to be completed... just steps on a journey.

I've rambled enough for one post, let alone two. I just want to close with heartfelt thanks to those patient souls who have and continue to walk with me through life's journey. My incipient arrogance and stubborn naivete must be grating at times, but you have persevered and I am grateful.


Friday, May 04, 2012

Racism and Selfishness

I'm not sure how to talk about this without stepping on the toes of just about everyone. I'm also not sure how to process any of this without coming off racist - so I'll just admit it. I am a racist.

I make stereotypes of people that are partly, if not wholly, based on race. I don't like it and I repent of it and I'll try to figure out some ways to amend my lifestyle to combat it. I'm still a racist.

Let me explain a bit. I've spent a fair amount of time with the urban poor to varying degrees. It's been a difficult journey, but I've come to recognize that the values embraced by the culture of urban life are different (albeit no less valid) than the values imprinted on me by my white, middle-class, mostly suburban upbringing, an upbringing that tends to be upheld as "American" or "normal."

I have come to appreciate the different emphases among my friends in the city. They have helped me embrace things that have made my life better and more complete. There are certainly positives and negatives to any cultural condition; I have benefited greatly from learning to think critically about my own and embrace another.

I understand that this urban culture is not exclusively black, but my experience in it has been almost uniformally so. My best teachers and friends in the city have been African-Americans. As part of that experience I've come to expect certain things from them in terms of behavior and values. Things indicative of the culture they come from and not at all indicative of the color of their skin.

The problem I find myself facing now is that I've unconsciously combined the two. Perhaps the past two years spent in an exclusively white context has dulled my cultural sensitivity or perhaps I am just a racist. Either way, I find myself having difficulty separating what someone looks like from the expected cultural context.

It sort of feels like I've come full circle and ended up right back where I started. I do possess more of an ability to accept cultural differences without judgment - to move beyond my own cultural conditioning in evaluating other cultures. At the same time, I seem to have pigeon-holed people in my mind based on the color of their skin.

I know it's a white guilt problem when it comes to stereotypes of ethnic minorities. Everyone makes such stereotypes based on their experience of lack thereof - its only us white people who feel guilty about it.

So I'll lie to myself and to you and say I hope it's more of a human problem - not that my stereotyping is from anything other than lack of experience - but from too narrow an experience.

Somehow I, and a whole bunch of other clueless, well-meaning white people, think that because we've spent time with one group of different-skinned people that we'll all of a sudden be enlightened to understand everyone who's different from us. I'm not sure where we get this crazy idea. Clearly the white people I knew in Kansas are totally different than the white people I know in southern New Jersey; I wouldn't even give a second thought about that. But somewhere in my brain there's this idea that every hispanic person or every asian person or every black person is exactly like other people I know who look like them. It's insane.

It's even more insane that it's taken 30 years to come to this realization. I wanted to get this out there in public for a few reasons: 1) Nobody really likes to talk about it - at least it makes white people uncomfortable and we could do with being more uncomfortable, 2) I know this sort of ignorance makes people frustrated and upset and I wanted to acknowledge that at least I recognize it exists in me, 3) we have to move beyond the solution of just experiencing more cultures.

Let me go over that one a little bit. As I've been processing all these thoughts, my first solution was simply to try and intentionally spend time with more and more people groups - the assumption being that I'll be able to appreciate and understand a more diverse population if I'm exposed to it. While that might be technically true, it's both impossible and short sighted.

There's a lot of different people out there, different culture, subgroups and individuals. I'm not going to accomplish some sort of magical cultural competency by accurately stereotyping everyone. It will just make me a well-rounded racist.

The real solution is to engage individuals as individuals. I know, no real revelation here. It's something I talk about and advocate all the time. Apparently I'm totally failing at it. I think its pretty natural, when one meets a new person, to try and compare them to someone else you know; we'll probably never escape that inclination. We, as humans however, do possess the ability to override our natural inclinations.

People are valuable and unique and deserve treatment as such. They're not to be categorized or grouped together or used for some other purpose. I do all of those things far too often. A few years ago, when my grandfather died, I wrote that what I most admired about him was that every person felt like they were his favorite person in the world. He was constantly in the moment with people.

Our country and our world have some real and pressing societal issues with race. Issues that encompass and address large groups of people. We constantly speculate what grand gestures we can make to fix or begin to heal those rifts. I wonder if we're not working in the wrong direction. I would never advocate we ignore or diminish those issues, but what if the solution to our large-scale problems comes in focusing on individual relationships and not trying to simply fit the individuals we meet into some bigger picture?