Some time ago, two friends invited me to lunch at their home. I had gotten to know them through a class that we were involved in.
From the moment I stepped into the home, I knew that this would be an unforgettable experience. It was a celebration of friendship in which they had lovingly baked and cooked a real feast. It was such a delight! I was touched by the care and attention they had taken to do something special for me. It still means a lot even as I remember it so many years later.
I was at their table and they had taken pains to make the experience something they knew I would love and appreciate. It was a moment of pure pampering for the soul. I left that luncheon feeling nourished in spirit and body.
Now what if I had sat at the table and not expressed appreciation for the care and attention they had obviously put into the meal? That would have been rude and mean-spirited on my part. Not only would I have ruined the pleasure of the meal for them, I would have ruined it for myself as well. That’s the nature of human interaction. We tend to get out of relationships what we put into them.
In life, we’re often guests at someone else’s table. And it’s not always set the way we would do things if the table was at our house. It may be a boss who has a different set of expectations than you do or a friend who looks at a situation from a unique perspective. Regardless of the particular context, the point is this -it’s not our way.
But so what? Why does it matter? Why not simply accept the fact that a different way can be embraced and enjoyed simply for what it is. It’s really not about if we’re at my table or yours; it’s about being mature enough to appreciate and cherish what others bring as their unique gift and accepting it for what it is and being OK with what it is not.
One of my son’s has a seemingly favorite saying, it’s ‘No Worries’. It is a reminder to me that worry is something that we can choose to say ‘No’ to. Worry revolves around the past and the future, both of which are phantoms in the sense that they have already ceased to exist or are yet to manifest. Spending time in worry and agitating is a grandiose waste of time.
There are always invitations to enter into these types of activities and conversations. In fact, one such opportunity dropped in on me today via a phone call. I could sense the irritation and angst, all over realities which had not yet manifested. A potentially nasty argument in formation and rapidly escalating into a sure depletion of energy…
Somehow, something inside me said, ‘Stop! – No Worries’. It takes an intentional effort to clear the mind and choose to be in the one and only place we can ever really be, which is the present. Blessings to you today for the gift of presence during this time of remembrance and gratitude for the sacrifice for those who have given their life, time and treasure in service to our nation.
I’ll admit it was uncomfortable to see the link to this article float down my Facebook feed citing Grand Rapids MI as a city where minorities are not prospering. Over the past couple of years, Grand Rapids, MI has topped many complimentary lists with regards to housing price increases, job growth, community life etc. So, when Forbes indicated that a recent study ranked the city as one of the worst places for economic advancement for minorities, (Rank #51 amongst 52 metropolitan areas across the nation) it was an unsettling notation to what has seemed to be an unrelenting flow of positive indicators about the area.
Yesterday, the keynote speaker for the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, Dr. John Powell took the issue head on as he challenged the assembled business leaders about the implications of having a community which to some degree regards the ‘other’ as instinctively dangerous, less worthy or even inhuman at a deeply sub-conscious level. The UC Berkley Law Professor told the audience that racial prejudices guide our subconscious responses and are far more powerful than any conscious programs we might put into place to remedy them.
These prejudices also impact the structures and institutions of our community in ways that are deep below the surface and rooted within the intrinsic foundations of society. Thus creating environments which make it difficult for individuals who fit into the category of ‘other’ to thrive and prosper. In real economic terms, minority populations such as African-Americans earn $10,000 – $15,000 less on average in West Michigan than their counterparts in the south. They are also less likely to be successful entrepreneurs and more likely to struggle academically.
Is this because minority populations are inherently ‘damaged goods’? Dr. Powell answered the question with a resounding ‘NO’, giving examples of communities which had recognized a pattern of low achievement amongst minority populations and had seen dramatic results in changing the status quo through gaining more understanding of the underlying causes. One notable example being the city of Atlanta, located in the heart of the South which was a segregationist stronghold.
So, the question remains why is it hard to prosper if you’re a minority living and working in the Grand Rapids area? I have worked in the real estate community for almost twenty years. The sad truth is that there are significantly fewer experienced minority agents today on the local real estate board than when I started in 1995. When I attend real estate functions at the local, regional or state level, I am often the only minority in the room or one of less than a handful. At a time when the minority population is on the rise, why is my profession heading in the opposite direction?
In taking a deeper look at this issue, I think that some lessons can be gleaned from a famous parable about a farmer who was sowing seed in different types of soil. Theoretically all the seed had the same potential as it had come from the same bag. However, subsequent patterns of growth revealed an important truth – depending on where the seed fell, it either prospered or in some cases withered and died. In the real estate world, we know that LOCATION matters. Where your property is located can make the difference between significant margins of profit or loss. The same truism has relevance for where human beings live in community with one another.
These are the actual words of the parable as told by Jesus in the gospel of Mathew 13: 1-9:
“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”
Seed on the Path: Seed that fell on the path was very vulnerable to being trampled. Even though the path was likely a dirt path at the time, it had been walked on and become hard and unviable. Thus making it difficult for even good seed to take root. There is something to be said about the need to provide a level of acceptance for minority/marginalized populations. Think about how you behave when you’re out of your normal element. All of us can recall going to an unfamiliar space and scanning the room to see if there is someone present we can relate to. A minority person has this type of antenna up all the time. It can be emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Creating spaces and opportunities for people to enjoy the simple things of life and get to know each other as human beings can be very instrumental in softening the process of integration from the hard grind of daily life. Cities, communities and individuals can all do this. It takes some intentionality, but it’s definitely doable.
Seed on the Rocks: Seed that fell on the rocks was in for a really hard time. Rocks are totally impermeable and hostile to growth of anything apart from maybe algae. But, where there was a little soil, this hardy seed did all it could to cling to life and it sank its roots into the ground. But, alas the shallow soil could not support the seed and it withered. That’s what sometimes happens to minorities who find themselves labelled as the ‘one black friend’. Eager to be accepted and reclaim the humanity of friendship wherever it can be found, we find ourselves absorbed into circles which lack depth and real community. These are the types of relationships which seem to thrive at work and church, but just about every minority has had the unsettling experience of having your newly found ‘friends’ fail to recognize your smile or eye contact when you meet at the grocery store. Slowly the minority individual recognizes that the relationship does not have the nourishment to truly support what it means to be a friend. It becomes a rocky, rough and desert like experience to live in this sort of ‘quasi’ community.
Seed on Shallow Soil: This type of soil is especially dangerous for good seed. Unlike the rocky soil, it is not initially obvious that this an unfortunate landing pad. Seed falling on this soil has all the nutrients available in a richly fertile plot of land – up to a point. It is only when the roots begin to extend for depth and stability that the lie is discovered. This is not a safe place; there are no deep nutrients to sustain life and this seed becomes very susceptible to the scorching of the sun, often withering up where it is planted and eventually dies. The unfortunate truth is that many minorities who are actively recruited to Grand Rapids often leave within less than 5 years. I’ve seen it happen to countless numbers of friends. Many of whom are highly gifted and educated professionals. I’ve talked to college professors who share stories of discrimination which are bone chilling. West Michigan cannot afford to continue recruiting brilliant people of any color only to have them fail to take root and leave. It’s highly inefficient and incredibly expensive.
Seed on Thorny Soil: Seed on thorny soil initially grows up strong. But, this seed has company. Right there in the same field, the seed is accosted by vicious thorns, weeds that by design will steal the nutrients which the good seed needs and render the good seed useless. This issue is difficult to remedy, because unless it is recognized early enough, pulling out the thorns will usually result in pulling out the good seed, thus losing a valuable harvest. However, if the thorns are allowed to grow, the loss of the harvest is guaranteed. This is what happens when majority communities turn a blind eye to obvious disparities and discrepancies. Ignoring or explaining in dismissive ways why diversity is absent in a community is nurturing thorns. Failing to speak up when prejudicial comments and jokes are made in your presence is nurturing thorns. The refusal to acknowledge the gifts and talents of an ‘other’ simply because they are not like you is nurturing thorns. The only way to deal with thorny soil is by aggressive weeding thereby dislodging anything that stands in the way of my becoming my ‘brother’s keeper’.
Seed on Good Soil: Good soil is not perfect soil. Good soil is simply soil which has the capacity to support growth and nurture life. Good soil represents spaces in which life thrives. It is soil which allows the full potential of the seed to be revealed and provide rich benefit. Communities which are good soil for ALL their citizens will reap a windfall of reward. Our country is diverse and will continue to become increasingly diverse. As a result of inter-marriage, almost 60% of Americans are likely to have a member of their family from a different race in the next decade. We cannot afford to marginalize any citizen and especially when we are competing in a global economy; one in which the top 1% of Chinese students are more than all the students in United States. Good soil is the rich heritage of a country which was built on the foundation of immigrants who risked everything to come here to make a better life for themselves. And were allowed to do so. We must call forth that which is deeply embedded in the psyche of the American Spirit and do what is necessary to provide an environment that supports the welfare, well-being and prosperity for all the good people of West Michigan, including those with whom we do not share a native experience. I may be a mis-guided optimist, but I believe that Grand Rapids MI is a place where many people care about doing what’s right.
The song carried a warning about letting money rule you or fool you and spoke about the many unsavory things that money appears to be able to make people do.
Money money money money, money (x6)
Some people got to have it
Some people really need it
Listen to me y’all, do things, do things, do bad things with it
You wanna do things, do things, do things, good things with it
Talk about cash money, money
Talk about cash money- dollar bills, yall
For the love of money
People will steal from their mother
For the love of money
People will rob their own brother
For the love of money
People can’t even walk the street
Because they never know who in the world they’re gonna beat
For that lean, mean, mean green
Almighty dollar, money
Read more here
Money can be a harsh task master. Jesus understood this and personified the way in which the love of money could control people. In Matthew 6:24, the implication is that money is potentially so powerful in its ability to influence and control human beings that we cannot serve both God and Money at the same time.
Mathew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Contrary to what we think and how we try to live our lives, it’s not really possible to have a divided mind. Ultimately, we choose one thing or the other.
What might it mean to be in the service of money? And if money is a harsh task master, is there a potential for it to be a dutiful servant? Let’s take a look at the context of the verse on money with the verse that directly precedes it.
Mathew 6:23″But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
I find it interesting that Jesus talks about darkness just before he goes into a discussion about money. In verse 23, he talks about the lamp being the eye of the body and that if the eye is dark, the whole body will be dark. Could He have been pointing to a link between the two areas that we often don’t consciously link together – Spiritual insight and the way this impacts our relationship with money? Perhaps Jesus is indicating that how we see and use money is related to whether our view of life as a whole is clear and unobstructed.
Growing up, my parents always told me that money was simply a means of exchange. As I got older, I began to understand that money could be exchanged for a lot of things…goods, services, talents, ideas, physical labor etc. Money represents to some extent that which is given in exchange for something of value with regards to human potential and productivity. Because this is an inexact science, there is an inbuilt inequality about the distribution of money in the sense that there is a lot of discretionary judgement that must go into the issue of judging the value of an individual’s contribution. It is also fraught with the danger of greed and the desire to take advantage of others. Thus when Jesus speaks about the darkness of the eye one can see that He is right on point. If our view is darkened, there is no way we can arrive at a right view or valuation of anything.
If we rightly understand that we are Children of God, created by Him and valued by Him in ways that cannot be defined within the narrow perimeters of human judgement and its necessary collary – money, we have the opportunity to enter into another type of freedom. One which is not tethered to an invalid premisis from the onset. No longer is self-worth designated by the amount of money that we or anyone makes. We may now find that Money has the potential to become a Servant, rather than a taskmaster. Money, when used wisely and with clear perspective can be an agent of good in the service of mankind and creation. But right perspective, insight and wisdom are necessary to provide the right understanding on how to use it rather than be used and ruled by it.
They say that one should avoid watching the making of a sausage. Because the likelihood of eating one after watching the process may be affected. First of all, sausage meat is rarely culled from the best cuts and is usually comprised of a variety of cuts, and/or different types of meats.
The end process has a way of completely obscuring the origins of the meat and in a sense transforms it into something other than what any single component would have revealed it capable of becoming. It’s the grinding process and then the mixed seasoning which makes sausage meat what it is.
Life sometimes feel a little akin to sausage making. There are days which are so grueling, that feeling like one has been processed through a meat grinder might be a kind descriptive. There are many examples in the Bible which depict challenging periods in poignant ways. A story which frankly I have always found difficult to read is the book of Job which chronicles the misfortunes of a man that are so painful that his wife urges him to curse God and die.
Job’s journey, a mixture of good & bad, light and awful darkeness are detailed through the loss of property, family, health, influence, community, stature amidst serious questions about the nature of God. Thrown into the mix are friends who are well meaning but lack true understanding, thus inadvertently inflaming the rawness of an open wound.
It’s difficult to really understand or imagine what must have been going on in Job’s mind. But, even problems on a much lower scale can drain the reservoirs of strength and vitality. Sausage making in real life or spiritually is not pretty or easy. I don’t know how the Creator and Sustainer of Life, our Father God is able to make something out of life’s messy bits & pieces. And, during the dark night of the soul it’s not certain that anything of value can be created. There is usually not a neat and orderly timeline, but somehow He who IS…does.
Ephesians 3:20-21 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
I am thankful for the growing realisation that much of what causes angst and grief in our lives is not personal. It may feel personal because we experience it within our personal space. Yet if we are able to step back out of the heat within the moment, we may find that the perceived assault, attack or insult may indeed have little to do with us. Or we may discover that we have set out on a very foolish or unwise path which guarantees chaotic grief to anyone who insists on continuing in that particular direction.
Becoming thankful as a verb means choosing to actively engage tense and difficult moments as an opportunity to gain wisdom. I’ve found that some of life’s most teachable moments are draped within the unconventional garb of emotionally charged exchanges. When examined in clearer context, these situation often have a larger context which may not be initially visible. And then… Sometimes life just is simply what it is.
When the fault is mine, becoming thankful for the course correction makes regaining equilibrium easier and minimizes the loss of vested emotional, spiritual and mental energy. On this note, I am reminded of the experience of one hapless prophet and his improbable tutor – one very stubborn talking donkey as the story is told in the book of Numbers 22:1-39.
Balam’s reckless journey to curse the Israelites as commissioned by Balak is interrupted by an angel threatening to end his life. Unfortunately, Balam is blind to the danger right in front of him. Fortunately his donkey is not! After beating the hapless beast repeatedly, the donkey finds a voice and has a conversation with Balam about his angry response.
It is only then that Balam’s yes are opened to his foolishness. He also sees the angel with a sword who is about to chop him into minced meat to punish him for messing with the wrong people! The stunned prophet ends up having a conversation with both a donkey and an angel about the dubious course he seems hell-bent on taking. Suddenly the resistance of that donkey became something to be very grateful for!
Sometimes, it takes the bizarre elements of life to awaken us to the fact that we have much to become thankful for. Becoming thankful as a way of responding to obstacles may actually awaken the power of grace and God’s protection in the midst of seemingly insurmountable difficulty.
It’s an odd thing isn’t it -the idea of becoming strong by being willing to be weak? Laying down the defenses and weapons which we wield with a temerity that can border on madness in order that the strength of God may be made manifest within our weakness. The reality that God’s strength perfects itself within weakness remains a mystery which defies rational explanation. One discovers that within the humility of vulnerability lies a core strength that is supple, bendable, flexible and able to withstand enormous strain.
This is one of my favorite snapshots of the Holland State Park along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. It was taken just before winter settled in for good several years ago. The haunting whimsical beauty of the trees as they await the snow cover arrests me. This beauty is barren, vulnerable, stripped, unadorned and yet magnificent in its’ stark simplicity.