Use Your Voice: Ferguson and Our Future

What happens when the stimulus doesn't match the response? What happens when the punishment doesn't fit the crime? Could it be that we don't have the right information, or that we don't know the whole story, or that we are blinded by the narrowness of our own experiences?

Many Americans think that Officer Wilson deserved punishment of some sort for taking Michael Brown's life. Many Americans think that Michael Brown deserved punishment for stealing cigarillos and assaulting an officer of the law. Many Americans think that rioting and raging is the appropriate response to their perceived injustice. Many others think that the only meaningful and effective response is peaceful demonstrations and discussions. Still others think that there is nothing at all to talk about.

No matter where you land in this spectrum, it is undeniable that there is unrest in America today, and that unrest is about much, much more than the rounds that one white police officer pumped into one black man on one August afternoon. Ferguson has only pulled back the curtains on the tensions that have existed in America for years.

The truth is that this is our inheritance. We aren't responsible for the sins of our fathers, no we aren't. But we are reaping the harvest of what our fathers have sown. Strange fruit has withered and died and fallen from many trees into the soil of our society, where its seeds have taken root and grown into new trees, bearing a different kind of fruit that is no less deadly but is, alarmingly, much less visible to the dominant culture.

So what can we do? What can we do in the face of such longstanding, deep-seated tension? What do we do with this harvest of Distrust, Prejudice, Misunderstanding, Confusion, Fear, and (at best) Voluntary Segregation?

I don't know. I don't have a pat answer for you. Because I'm not YOU. I'm me -- with my own life experiences, my own history, my own family, my own neighborhood, my own job and coworkers, my own roommates and friends, my own fiancĂ©, my own church, my own grocery store, my own positions of influence and power, my own story. But this much is true: Each person can only lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him. God has established and instituted our authorities. Our hearts make plans, but each of our steps must be brought forth by the Lord. And although we may not hold the position in our culture that we desire, we know that God's grace toward us to give us the life that He has chosen for us is not in VAIN, but is to demonstrate His wisdom and power. By the grace of God, I am what I am.

So what can we do? Each of us, in whatever circumstances the Lord has placed us, can take steps each day to tear down the wall of hostility. I'm in my neighborhood, you are in yours. But we will face different moments of decision each day, moments where we can deny our prejudicial inklings; where we can stand up for the cause of justice; where we can refuse to comply with our dominant culture's practices of apathy, indecision, and passive, tacit approval of the status quo. These are moments where we can willfully step outside of our own perspectives, where we can ask questions and engage in conversations with people we normally wouldn't, so that we can become students of what the American experience truly is. These are moments when we can kindly confront someone who is spewing vitriol and senseless hatred and urge them to pursue the path of love and peace. These are moments when you can use your voice -- the voice that the Lord ordained for you to have, for the people the Lord ordained to hear it -- to stand on the side of Justice and Righteousness. Speak for truth. Speak for love.

But the one thing we cannot do -- the one thing that will absolutely, without question, irrevocably cause the most damage -- is to do nothing. To sit idly by while hatred and injustice and division wins. To apathetically let the moment pass us by, to forget about the the seeds that are being planted, to ignore the harvest that will be coming.

America, the trigger has been pulled. We have been asked to see, to learn, to seek to understand, and to change.

How will you respond?

Hate evil, love good, 
and establish Justice in the gate. 
Let Justice roll down like waters, 
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. 

Let it roll.


my heart lives in a broken home.

I keep looking over my shoulder,
out the front window,
to the spot on the street where he always parks his car.

Is he coming today? Does he know how much I need him to come today?
Today is hard day.
Today, yes, today is a hard day,
but there aren't a lot of things that get to me when I am in his arms.

Today is a hard day because today we don't go home together.
And that's stupid, because we don't go home together on any other day, either,
but today,
two of our friends went home together
for the first time,
for the rest of their lives.

And after the celebration was over,
and the sendoff secured,
and the sound equipment put away,
we both went home.

We don't go home together.
Someday, maybe.
Not today.

He isn't the center of my identity.
He isn't the keeper of my security.
He isn't the giver of my life and breath.
He isn't the author of my destiny and he isn't the holder of my happiness.
And yet, I feel like a half of a whole without him.
It's like we are a broken home, split each day by the Watterson Expressway.
We don't go home together.
Someday, maybe.
Not today.

It's true, they say: Comparison is the thief of Joy.
How can I not compare
when the contrast is glaring me down,
and the robber has stolen off with any shred of gratefulness I had.
I was better off making my own way,
making my own home,
making my own happiness.
I was better off as the only part of a homogenous whole,
keeping my home and my heart and my happiness intact,
sharing my life with hundreds and thousands of others,
belonging only to the universal brotherhood of man.

Now I belong to one.
Half of my heart sits halfway across the city.
And he wonders in wonderment
and he fusses in frustration,
does she cry
at every good-bye?"

Because her heart lives in a broken home, babe.
No number of rousing choruses of "A Day is Coming Soon…"
can lessen the pain of this daily breaking homeless heart.

Be kind, and patient, and understanding.
Be long-suffering and loyal.
Be the wiper of tears
and the kisser of hair
and the holder of hands
as if they were your own.

Because I gave you my heart,
and now you carry it away



the time is short.

Have you ever lived under unbearable circumstances and nearly lost all hope for change? Have you ever longed for something so badly that you couldn't hardly think about anything else? Have you ever found yourself thinking that, despite all your efforts, "this relationship will never, never, never be repaired?" Have you ever sat in your car, rallying every ounce of fortitude and courage you could muster, just so you could open the door and face whatever the next few hours would bring? Have you ever despaired that you could possibly survive the next years, months, weeks, days… minutes?

Yes. I have too.

Through trial and error, and through erring in trials, I have learned this lesson a hundred times over: the pain is only as bad as my perspective is wrong.


Perspective creates space for the truth to be seen.
Perspective teaches proportion.
Perspective gives us a hint of the greater reality: how very little we really know.
Perspective gives us hope that things can be different.
Perspective helps us to bear the unbearable, to love the unloveable, to forgive the unpardonable.

When we lack perspective, our troubles loom large in our field of vision, and we can see and think on nothing else. Our troubles then become our primary basis for our emotions, our decisions, our reactions, even our identities.

Perspective comes when, standing next to our troubles, we have a true vision of God: the Sovereign Creator, the Ever-Gracious Father, the Sacrificial Lamb, the only true Healer, Comforter, and Teacher. Compared to what God is doing eternally, is there any burden we cannot bear for a short while? Compared to the eternal wisdom and might of God, is there any circumstance that could befall us that He cannot redeem? Compared to His long-suffering suffering, is there any pain or longing we endure that outdoes His patience and endurance?

In the hands of our sovereign God, nothing is wasted. The time is short, beloved. He will not delay His mercies. Only remember, your vision is broken, occluded by your woes; for Him a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. In a single moment, He may swiftly bring to you a thousand years' worth of blessings and comforts and joys and wisdom. Over a thousand years, He may steadfastly bring to you one monumental day's worth of blessings and comforts and joys and wisdom. Either way, He would not be wrong. Either way, He would be good.

I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. ...I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been; and God seeks what has been driven away.


life and death

"For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord."

2 Corinthians 5:1-8

five short years ago my then-24-year-old cousin Jason was diagnosed with uncurable brain cancer. we prayed for a miracle. we prayed for God's will. we prayed for peace and understanding. we prayed for life.

Jason married Heather a few years ago. we celebrated in the new mexico sunshine without a care in our hearts. we all know that our days are numbered, yet none of us know the number. we prayed for many days together for Jason and Heather.

a few months ago, after many promising treatments, the cancer began again to grow. spread. suddenly it was in Jason's brain stem.
and now we are down to the days. the numbered days. the count-on-one-hand the days we have. this pain is unspeakable. when i think about Heather, and my aunt and uncle and other cousins sitting with him now, reading to him, singing songs of worship, praying, and crying, my own grief for their pain is overwhelming and immeasurable.

on april 24, 1985, my mother gave birth to a perfectly healthy, albeit a little loud, baby girl named rachel lynn. someone picked up the phone to call california. my aunt Sharon, who several weeks earlier had given birth to Andrew, answered the phone in a panic and said, "Andrew's not breathing. we're going to the hospital. i'll call you later."

my aunt sharon never forgets my birthday, because it was the day she nearly lost her youngest son. and though Andrew's had his share of medical fun, he not only survived that frightening moment, he thrived. and he now sits at his brother's side as Jason slowly expires from this world.

how can i celebrate my 28 years of life when Jason is losing his? do you know, today my aunt emailed me to wish me a happy birthday. today, while her eldest son is spending his last moments in her arms, she came to share her love with me. how? how is that possible?

we have an unshakeable hope. yes. we a Savior who has gone before us, who has made a home and a body for us in eternity. and for those of us left behind, while Jason sheds his failing body of death, we soldier on, marching down our numbered days until we join him. what great joy and what great sorrow are held in this moment. death and life are held in the same hands.

Jason. Go under the grace. Go see our Savior's face. The angels point your way.


timelessness in time

there is this moment at the end of tchaikovsky's sixth symphony, as the basses draw their bows to sound the last note, when the physical waves of sound have stopped but the listener could swear that she hears the heartbeat bass line continue. it is a moment frozen in--or rather, unaffected by time. the listener is suspended, untouchable, breathless... subsumed. the song continues within, and she is never the same.

then the conductor lowers the wand, cuing the audience to applaud, and the listener is snapped back into reality, separated into autonomy again. the soloists stand. the orchestra vacates the stage, the audience dissipates into their cars and cabs, the lights are turned, the doors are locked, and the only song that remains is the hum of the janitor's vacuum over the lobby floor.

sometimes i feel like i'm supposed to live in that moment. that's where i'm supposed to remain. i was made to be there. subsumed. but then, as with the thunderous applause, i get pulled back into time and space, unwillingly, and i am shoved into the menial demands of survival, like one of so many cogs in a great, unknowable mechanism. and i can be a good cog, too. but even a good cog is still not alive.

i know that i'm still living in the world of a dim mirror, a world where i am surrounded by so many shadowy copies of the Heavenly Truth. i know that i am wrapped in flesh, i know that i have ashes in my mouth, i know that my breath is fleeting and the work of my hands is chaff that will be burned away. but there is something even more fundamentally true, and that is that even though everything i have ever known is temporary, i was made for the eternal. for permanence. for literal breathlessness. there is something in me that is more real, more true than the marrow in my bones and the words in my mouth. this flesh will melt away, this mortal shell is a servant to the space and time that it occupies. and what will remain?

i have this mental image of coming up for air. i was made for permanent union with a perfectly good God outside of time and space. but as i am bound by these fetters He has put on me, i can only catch a glimpse here and there. and each glimpse is a life-giving breath. with each glimpse, i am subsumed. i want to stay here forever, but i can't do that and live. no man can see God and live, right Moses? either i am caught up, or i am just caught. and while i am caught, i am sustained by each break in clouds where i can draw that life-giving breath.

oh, for the eternity that already is: come soon.

the best story we can tell

My family is full of storytellers. On both sides. And they never forget the really embarrassing stories, of course.

Some of these stories have garnered such great fame that they begin to tell themselves. Little cousins who weren't even born before the actual occurrence of events can tell the stories just as well--if not better than--those of us who have lived through them.

These are the stories of the moments that have made us who we are. There's the story about the catfish at Hamilton Lake, which made my sister and I afraid of swimming for a least a few summers. The story of the Chevy at the bottom of Oliver Lake, when some teenage boys (my uncles) pushed it out onto the ice. Then, of course, the time I got "married" to my four-year-old buddy and his sister pronounced me his "awfully wedded wife." Mom's surprise 40th birthday party, which she figured out 30 minutes before a cried the whole drive home before arriving to a houseful of guests. The time I sunk the speed boat. The time Grandma shot two holes in her wood floor because someone rang the doorbell. The time my dad passed some liver pate to my mom, thinking it was cinnamon butter. Now, if we ever think he's making something up without evidence, we ask him if it's cinnamon butter. These are the stories that bring us joy with every memory. Only a few sentences into these stories, and suddenly the room is filled with laughter.

Then there are the stories that bring a fresh wave of grief or pain. They are the stories that make us who we are, too, but these are the ones that reveal the true fortitude of our character. There was the time we found the drugs. The time the anger poured over into a rage, grandmother hurling abusive words at a cowering daughter while the grandchildren looked on in fear. The day the babies died, the day they were buried, and the cold, silent thanksgiving dinner just days later. The arguments at night, punctuated by a kindergartener waking up to say, "please stop, kiss and make up!" The time I took away the Christmas presents from under the tree and blasted Everclear's "I will be hating you for Christmas" on my stereo. The time our van broke down in Georgia and our nuclear family nearly exploded. The phone call about the pathology report, and the words, "there is no curative treatment, only palliative care."

These are the true stories of my life. These are the places where my identity was forged, where my character was tested, where my worldview and sensibilities and passions were shaped. In many ways, these stories are my center, my ground. I'm not sure who I would be without these stories. In a word, these stories are home.

And then, the truest story of them all. The story of a world wrecked by destruction and brokenness, of humanity full of rebellion, distress, turmoil. The unsettling inescapability of death. The absence of God. And then, the dawn of hope in the face of a baby, God in the flesh, God with us. The baby who became a teacher, a healer, a leader, a controversy. The man who set his face toward the city of his death and marched on fearlessly. The man who prayed for relief from the burden, but prayed even more than that for the will of God to be done, no matter how bitter or painful. The man who became obedient to death, though He was God himself. The man who defeated death for us, who repaired the broken world, who redeemed the rebellious humanity.

As much as any other story is my center, my identity, my home... this story is only story that gives me a new name, that adopts me into a new family, that has the power to change my very character. This is it. This is the one that makes me who I am, really and truly. This is the story to tell all other stories, this is the only one that can make sense of all the others, put them into clarity and give them purpose. This is the story that all other stories are telling.

May it be the best story we tell to each other, and may we tell it often. May we tell it always. May we never stop telling it. May it be the first story we learn and the last story we tell. And may it tell us who we are, may it be the place we make our home. May it be our center.


open letter to an abuser

what does your face look like to someone who hasn't seen it a thousand different times, a hundred different ways? the past has taught me to read the subtle lines around your mouth, to catch the rolling thunderhead in your eyes before the first bolt of lightening strikes. these days, it would take something impossible to catch me by surprise ... if we, our relationship were new, if we could begin each moment as if there were none before it, maybe you could be different, or i could respond with truth. in love. in a way that you would hear.

what do your words sound like to someone who has never heard them before? that tone, that tone, that tone which, from its overuse, has deafened my ears to its meaning--what does it sound like? i hardly know. you say the same things, i can practically recite your lines, as if we were players and this were going to be some Psychology major's fodder for analysis. maybe we are, maybe the script has been written and we're too caught up in our roles to imagine that it could be different. we're too consumed to see that, until the day is done, the pen is still alive in our hands.


is it better to throw in the towel, to cut my losses? because history has taught me the painful lesson that people can change but they aren't likely to in this lifetime.

they tell me to hope! hope, ha. how long? how long, how long, how long is too long to hope? the shiny-eyed optimist cheers, "until death! until the final chapter! until we are unchangeably changed!" but this, really? this? this i should endure. i should hope, pray, work for something better. well. empiricism would disagree, my friend.


do you know what the worst part is? you don't have to lay a hand on me but i can still see your fingerprints. i may not hear your voice but there are days that your words come out of my own mouth. poison! like a virus, like a tube of toothpaste, like pavlov's puppy... vile, treacherous regurgitation. i'm hardly more than domesticated animal, barely holding the wild beast in check.

what have you done? do you have any idea? these are not scars, these are mutations. stolen potential, ripped away from me before i even knew what it was. am i anything more than a victim? please, God, tell me there is something more, something left to salvage from this wreckage. i trusted you. implicitly. i knew nothing else.


tell me, what demons do i face today? and alone! how will i ever be healed? restored? complete? no, i am damaged. i am unchangeably changed. and it's your fault. and you can't even look at me. can't even share two civil words.

i could limp on alone. i could leave you to self-destruct. oh, believe me, i would love to. the urge is powerful.

but there is one thing worse than being me:

being you.

knowing what you have done. un-undo-ably. seeing what you have created. feeling powerless to change. you can't face me because your sins are written all over my face.

there is only one way out: together..... ironically enough.

because i need you to tell me that you were wrong. that you know it. that you feel bad. that you didn't mean to. or maybe you did, but you hate that you did. that you are sorry. that you are in need of forgiveness. that you are weak and unable to change and you wish you had known what it would do to me and that you wish it had been different.

and you need me to tell you that i forgive you. that i love you. that i'm ok. really, i am. i'm ok. i have been unchangeably changed. twice. i know, impossible.

"for men, this is impossible. but all things are possible with God." Jesus told me so.

if the gospel is true, there is no condemnation.
if God is real, the wasted years will be restored.
if we are His, there is hope. hope for a day when every tear will be wiped away and every pain forgotten forever in the blaze of His marvelous light.
if we are His, there is nothing so good that we could have that would be better than knowing Him.
if we are His, there is nothing so terrible that could happen to us that it would steal the joy of knowing Him.

if we are His, we are unchangeably changed. it's His fault.

so yes, i forgive you. every day. what else can i do? i know no other way. i know nothing else.



all there is

it is a divinely happy thought that, though i fail and stray and falter often, i do not stand on my own merit, be it good or bad. my righteous deeds are as filthy rags, and at my weakest point the strength of Christ is perfected, and yet i am already approved regardless of what i have merited.

approved on the life, death, and victory over death of Christ.

i have no other claim. i can claim nothing more. that is all there is.

it is a divinely happy thought.


how long, how long, how long?

i distinctly remember reading psalm 13 in high school. i remember it so distinctly because it totally confused me.

how long, O Lord? will You forget me forever?
how long will You hide your face from me? 

how long shall i take counsel in my soul,
having sorrow in my heart all the day? 
how long will my enemy be exalted over me? 

consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
enlighten my eyes, or i will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, 'i have overcome him,'
and my adversaries will rejoice when i am shaken. 

when i was younger, no only did it seem totally uncouth and arrogant to ask such questions of God, as if this were a cross-examination to uncover His of malevolent intentions, but on a fundamental level, the inquiries seemed irrelevant for someone whose hope is in the Lord.

i mean, really!? "how long will you forget me?" come on. hey psalmist, don't you know that even if a mother could forget her own child, even then the Lord could not forget his own? our names are written on the palm of His hand? He has seen every day of our lives and can number the hairs on our head? PSH! like HE could ever forget us? why would you ask such a silly question?

and, come on, dude. get your face out of the mud! sorrow in your heart all day long? and seriously, you're ready to die because you're convinced the Lord doesn't see you? can somebody please say it--you're delusional.

or maybe you're just incredibly impatient. don't you know the Lord commands the stars to rise and the sun to set, and He is master over time and space because He created it? i mean, can't you give Him a LITTLE credit that He knows what He is doing inside of time? wait on His timing, it's obviously right. quit your little pity-party and buck up. geez.

that was the mindset of my 16-year-old self. maybe it was because i only asked such questions when i was being selfish and whiney. maybe it was because i was afraid of asking the Lord to faithfully display His own nature to me more fully. maybe it was because i had already been waiting on the Lord for three whole years (since i became a believer), and, you know, waiting wasn't turning out to be all that hard.

until it was. ten years later.

and the dull ache of loneliness starts to settle into my bones.
and the long hours, days, weeks... years of silence from the Lord starts to deafen my ears to the truth.
and the painful struggle against the temptation of habitual sin starts to seem unconquerable.
and the growing emptiness of unrealized hopes and dreams starts to numb me of all desire.
and the futility of every effort taken to repair broken relationships starts to build up walls of bitterness.
the the endless string of morning upon morning, evening upon evening, where all i can say is, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner in constant need of grace."

it's wearying.

and now i understand the psalmist, who undoubtedly waited so much longer than 10 years for the Lord to return, repair, restore, resurrect. i understand the plea: how long, o Lord? how long? how long? i'm not looking for an estimated wait time or a countdown calendar. i'm asking for your PRESENCE. be here, with me, now, and fix this. only You can. show up. do it. i'm DONE. i'm so stinkin' done with all this crap.  get here, now. where are you? i know, i know, you're "everywhere." but i mean, where are your purposes and where is your truth and goodness in the middle of all this waiting? i don't get it, Lord, and i'm starting to lose sight of the horizon.

but i have trusted in Your lovingkindness.
my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. 
i will sing to the Lord, 
because He has dealt bountifully with me. 

there it is. the rooting of our souls. the foundation of our faith. the watch by which we measure all waiting. His nature. His love. His plan for salvation. He has proven Himself in the past; if only we would be reminded more frequently.

and i am not asking to accuse or to whine or to convince Him to change the plan. no, i ask because i need Him to know that i need Him today. i ask because i am so very weary and He is so very good. the only good; the best good. i ask because i need to know that this is not the final chapter, that one day He will be the dawn and the darkness will forever die. i ask because i have not forsaken the hope that He provides. i ask so that i can keep looking forward. i ask so that i can live. i ask because if i don't ask, i may die.

how long? how long? how long until this burden is lifted?
how long? how long is this the song that we sing?
how long until the reckoning?
--andrew peterson--


i'll have no other.

at the end of an empty bottle--
at the end of that ill-fitting relationship--
at the end of an entire tank of gas taken one-way west--
at the end of the roller coaster--
at the end of that first kiss--
at the end of the bowl of ice cream--
at the end of an argument you 'won'--
at the end of your maxed out credit card--
at the end of a Jane Austen--
at the end of a great job offer--

there is thing we like to call "real life." ha. whatever that is.

this is our real life:

we pay high prices to assuage the aching emptiness. we sell our resources, our relationships, our dignity, our time... just for a moment's peace. just for an escape to some sense of perfection, one that's gone in a blink.

andrew osenga sings it this way: "almost every girl i've ever kissed is married//it's not a lot of weddings, but it's sure a crazy thought//now they all seem like someone else's story//i wonder what we paid for what we got."

i wonder what we paid for what we got. 

when will we see? the price is too high and the prize is not worth it! how long until we cry 'uncle,' until we say, 'Enough!'

the things that are real will endure. only the unshakable will remain. and i examine what i've bought with my resources and relationships and dignity and time, and i realize: i'm not gonna have much when it all shakes out. not much at all.

Oh, that You would cure my heart of its bent to passing pleasures. Oh, that You would stay my heart from straying to a quick fix. Oh, that You would be my vision, and that, beholding You, all else would fade away. there is only One true. there is only One good. be all mine; i am wholly Yours, and i'll have no other.