Love One Another…. It’s That Simple.

Once again, over the last few days we have been witnesses to acts of unspeakable violence and hate.

Once again, our differences have torn us apart.  I don’t understand.

I don’t understand how someone can hate an entire race, creed, orientation; I don’t understand how someone’s heart can grow so hardened that the fears of our differences bring us to such a place and I am thankful for that lack of understanding.

For decades, I suppose centuries, our differences have continued to define us.  At what point will we find our similarities are so much more important than our differences?

Unfortunately, these acts of violence have hardened all of our hearts.  We send our love to victims, we pray for entire cities and we tweet about our heartbreak, but what do we actually do?

It’s not about guns, or politics, it’s about hearts, minds and a lack of understanding.

There are billions of people on the planet, each one of us different and that is what makes the world such an amazing place.  I can’t fathom a world where everyone was like me, short, fat, bald, old white guy, how boring is that?  What makes the world so amazing is our differences, our vast beliefs, religions, races, why can’t we seem to accept that and get along?

Our society has grown so hardened that we witness these senseless acts and then go on about our day, we just keep moving along and wait for the next atrocity to happen, we then send out thoughts and prayers and wait for the next, unfortunately it seems on a weekly basis.

Like all of you, my heart breaks a bit more each time one of these mass murders takes place and I am lost, I am lost to know what to do, I am lost to understand…. I am lost.

I don’t think I am the only one who is lost, I think we all are, we are lost to find answers when the fringe of our society begins to define us.

This isn’t a Democrat or a Republican issue, it isn’t an American issue, it is a human issue, one that brings us down instead of building us up.

I will always believe that 99.999999999999999% of the planet is good, but sadly today that infinitesimal percentage that is filled with hate and rage define us.  Our fringe should be just that, fringe, not the voices that we hear most often, but the ones who are set aside and witnessed to about the goodness of humanity and not encouraged and held up as a voice that should be leading our charge.

What do we do as people to stamp out this hate?  What do we do to celebrate our similarities and allow good to overcome evil?  What do we do?

Several years ago there was a movement in our society, it was begun by young people and it was symbolized by four letters…. WWJD?

What would Jesus do, a simple phrase with a simple answer….. LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Jesus gave this simple command to his people, he didn’t say love one another except for those you disagree with.  He didn’t tell us to only love those who were like us, he told us to love all people, everyone.

We can’t love when we continue to allow our differences to separate us, if we are to truly love we must first look at how we are alike and then in voices of compassion, resolution and understanding we must work together to work together to overcome our differences.

I’m not a Bible scholar, but I have studied.  I can’t find a place in the Bible where we are told to love someone unless they are Black, Brown, Yellow, White, Jewish, Gay, Muslim, the only command I see is LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

At some point, if we are to survive as a people love has to overcome the hatred that we have for one another.  Hatred of our differences will only continue to tear us apart, continue our heartbreak and our tweets of compassion, when a tweet is simply too late.

Thankfully, all hatred doesn’t end in violence and death.  In our society today, we see people being harassed on a night out with a loved one, hate is hate.  We tear each other down over our beliefs, families are torn apart , people we value as friends are swept aside over simple differences.  Imagine how things could change if we just talked to each other, kept the temperature to a slow boil and discussed differences to find solutions like respectful humans.

I don’t hold myself aside from these actions, I am as guilty as anyone else, maybe one day we will all learn and embrace our similarities and stop letting our differences overtake us.

Sadly, there are few places where we are safe anymore.  Churches, synagogues, restaurants, nightclubs, the workplace, have all been attacked.  Our places of work and play are now battlegrounds and sites of mass murder, it is truly a sad commentary on our world.

We can do better, we must do better, we must find a way to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

I don’t understand a hatred that engulfs someone, I don’t understand hatred of entire group of people, I don’t understand….. and I hope I never will.

Overwhelming Gratitude

As I wrote yesterday’s post, I read and reread the words.  After it was completed, it took me several minutes to hit the PUBLISH button.  It was by far the most difficult post I have ever written.

I had no idea what would happen when I published.

Within minutes my phone started dinging text, people started commenting with support on the page, I got emails, phone calls and private messages.

To say I am overwhelmed is an understatement.

I have had people stop by the store just to give me a hug, I was stopped in Wal-Mart and at the grocery and hugged tightly and lovingly.

A friend stopped by and gave me a jar of fresh apple-butter she had just made, another brought me a fruit basket just to let me know they cared and love me.

And then, I got the first of four messages from other people who had been victimized, heart-breaking stories.  My heart is filled with an appreciation to these gentle souls who felt comfortable to share their stories with me. Stories like mine, that very few, if anyone else knew.

Rarely in my life am I at a loss for words, but I am.  Thank-you doesn’t seem to be enough, but that is all I have….. THANK YOU!

 

Stepping Out On Faith

The Church I attend is in the early days of a building campaign.  Today was commitment Sunday where the membership made our pledges for the next two years towards the build.

This in not the first building campaign I have been through, they are never easy and sometimes tear churches apart.  I do not believe this Church will have that problem, we are standing together in a place of undeserved privilege towards not just a new building, but a place where lives will be changed and the Kingdom of God will be honored.

Since leaving my job this summer, and dedicating all my efforts to my retail store, my finances have been unpredictable, after all some weeks are better than others, however I have made a commitment to my tithes and continue to see income that allows me to meet my giving.

A commitment for a building campaign is above and beyond tithes, it requires faith that God with honor the commitment and make it happen.

For weeks we have been building towards today’s Commitment Sunday.  I have had conversations with friends, my Pastor and have prayed about what my pledge should be.

Yesterday I settled on my number.  It was a number I felt comfortable with and knew I could make happen.

I filled in my card and took it with me to Church.

As I settled into my pew, I felt content with the number I had come up with and as I looked around the room, I could feel the anticipation of my fellow congregants, eager for the moment we would walk to the front of the sanctuary and place our pledge cards in a basket.

During Pastor Adam’s sermon, I started to get an uneasy feeling about my pledge.  Could I do more?  Should I do more?  Do I have the faith to do more?

I have acted on faith my entire life.  Faith in my abilities, faith in making things work out and faith that God would provide.

Was my pledge what it should be or was I acting on what I knew I could do and not on faith in what I should do?

Just before it was time to walk forward, one of the elderly women of our Church spoke up and asked the Pastor if she could speak.

Being gracious, our Pastor walked towards her as she stood to take the floor.

In the minutes that followed the lady told us about her childhood of poverty, how many days she didn’t have the ten cents to buy a school lunch.

She went on to regale us with a story of her prowess at horseshoes, he childhood passion.  She told us the story of a friend who showed up at her house one day and bet her that he could beat her in horseshoes.

Her father wagered ten cents on her behalf.

She won the match and now had two shiny dimes for lunch in the coming days.

The next morning, as she attended Church, she had those two dimes in her pocket and as the offering plate was passed she placed both in as her offering.

Her lunch money was now gone, she would do without lunch because of her offering.

As she continued her story she spoke about running for the bus the next morning to take her to school and as she ran past the same Church she had made her offering to, she found a dime on the ground.

And then another.

And then another.

She ate that week and her gift was multiplied.  Her faith made this true.

As the lady told her story, my heart swelled, I knew I could do better, I could step out in faith and become uncomfortable with my commitment.

Before walking up to the altar, I changed my card, I doubled my pledge knowing that God would provide and faith would make it happen.

If God would provide a few cents for a little girl of faith, certainly he will honor our commitments to growing the Kingdom.

Small Town Values

I grew up in a small town in the mountains of North Georgia.  The community was close-knit and in my youth, that close-knit feel is one of the things I hated most.

As a youngster, my mind equated those small town values with everyone knowing your business and getting into it.

In the summer of 1982, just after graduating High School, I left and didn’t look back.  My dream was to get as far away from that small town as possible and set a course for my own life.

I wanted to live in a large metropolitan city that would give me anonymity and allow me to explore who I was without the watchful eyes of a community “knowing my business.”

After college, I made my way to that large metropolitan community.  I made my way and slipped into the anonymity I thought was so great.

I made mistakes, I had successes and unbeknownst to me, I began to create my own community, that ironically mirrored those small town values that I had not yet learned to appreciate.

After 10 years in the city, I ventured out again.  This time to a transient community in south Florida that embraced the melting pot that people from around the world could create.

When I decided it was time to come home, back to my small town roots, I embraced those Small Town Values wholeheartedly, but quickly realized, they had been with me, and in evidence all along.

Small town values epitomize, faith, family, friendship, hard-work, love of country and taking care of your fellow-man.

As a child I was taught these cornerstones of life were what leads to success and happiness; those values are found not only in small town America, but in the small communities we create for ourselves in cities large and small, urban environments, suburbs and in the workplace.

FAITH – My parents instilled a faith in me that has carried through my life.  While in my early 20’s, I did what many people my age do.  I abandoned my faith and decided I knew what was best and I could forge my own path.  I soon realized I was wrong.  Once I found a faith community, within a large city, I quickly realized that this small community would lead me through life.

The community of faith, allows one to plug into a group of people who like myself, had grown up with this road map.

FAMILY – I have a strong family unit.  From an early child my father tattooed on the forehead of my brother’s and I “don’t ever do anything to embarrass your mama.”  I think if more of us held this as a family motto, we may be better off.

While my family, like most has our ups and downs, I know that when it comes down to it, we will come together and be one.  The family bond that I hold with those I love most is what brought me home, the place where I could find arms to hold me, celebrate my joys, and shoulders to cry on.

Love of family is a small town value that we all can relate to.  No matter the size of the town, or the distance we find ourselves separated by, this constant is one of life’s most precious gifts.

FRIENDSHIP – I have been blessed by friends at every stage of my life who have made me a better man.  Many of these friends, I equate to family.  Chosen family, establish bonds that support you during the good and bad times of life.

Friendships of community are the people who clean your house, replant your flower beds and make sure you come home to a place filled with love when your mom dies 500 miles away.  These are the people who gather on your front lawn on Friday evenings just to enjoy fellowship together and create silly memes for your birthday.  These friendships move far beyond a small town sensibility, if we are lucky, they incorporate every aspect of our lives!

HARD-WORK –  I don’t pretend the think the work I do is difficult.  In no way does my work equate to those who go out on a daily basis and put their lives on the line or develop callouses so deep that their touch feels like sandpaper.  What I do compared to others is easy, but I work hard at it and I learned this work ethic that has carried me through my career as a child.  I watched others dedication to their craft and knew that this was a key to success.

I haven’t always succeeded in my career.  As a City Commissioner for the Town of Lake Park, FL; I allowed petty differences to hold us back, this is my biggest regret during my time there.  We let the people down and I will always feel remorse for those years that we could have moved forward but remained stagnant.

Success however, has been with me through most of my career.  I learned to work hard and go above and beyond what was expected, this has allowed me to build a firm foundation that I am proud of.

LOVE OF COUNTRY – For much of my life our country has been at odds with itself.  I date this back to Watergate, but over the past 12 years the schism seems to have gotten larger.  Good intentioned people work to lead and unfortunately get so engrossed in idealism that the good of the country often times falls short.

We are a melting pot of humanity that sometimes erupts in ways that isn’t helpful.  However, when pushed America comes together.  No greater time in my life did I see this than when our nation was attacked, small town America and larger communities all came together to support our own.  This is the America that we all love, hopefully one day that same pride and patriotism will be a daily norm and not just an ideal found when we are broken by tragedy.

CARE FOR OUR FELLOW MAN – I learned early that when someone suffers, community rallies to support them.  When my brother died, our family was picked up and carried through our grief. I witnessed this when a friend’s young son passed away as a result of pancreatic cancer, and again when a young girl recently died in our community as a result of a horrific accident.

We are a good people and we take care of each other.  This care and compassion is what makes us great.  In our larger, yet shrinking world we find this through social media outreach when prayer circles or support pages pop up for people we don’t even know.  We care, we support and we love each other in ways that we learned from childhood through our adult life.

I was fortunate to be raised with small town values.  These values have carried me through my life, around the country and back home again.

The small town values of our lives make us who we are and I am proud to know that I have now embraced these full-force and in all aspects of my life.