Twenty Fourteen.

It’s been over a year-and-a-half since my last post. In the ensuing 18 month typhoon, I’ve learned much about myself, my family, my friends and my community. I didn’t intend to write a year-end recap (or year-and-a-half-end), but as I sat at my favorite coffee shop, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the sweetest memories from this unusual period of my life.

Honor

When we left SoCal in September of 2013, we were loved, cared for and blessed on the way out the door. I had resigned my position in nonprofit leadership and church leadership within a two-month time. Leaving Rooftop 519 and Desert Foursquare Church were stark contrasts: Rooftop was a painful learning experience, and Desert Foursquare was sorrowful and honorable. With each day that passes, the memory of being honored by my church family and denomination becomes more meaningful. Thank you to all who welcomed and loved us.

Gratitude

About once each month I sit down with one of the kindest and most discerning individuals I’ve ever known. I call our meetings “thermals”, the updrafts that help birds and hang gliders travel to higher elevations without much effort. He asked me about my time in the Coachella Valley, with full knowledge that we had some real struggles during our three years. “I’m very grateful for my time,” I told him. “You can’t be grateful and bitter at the same time,” he replied.

I hold onto that, and I’m so glad for my experiences, great and sad alike.

Ashes

When things fall apart, God can do something even better. It is nearly impossible to reconcile this against present and pressing pain, but I believe it to be true. God does his best work in the ashes.

I wish I could list each person who has meant so much to me during this time. From my cigar buddy to my employer, and my denomination to (especially) my wife. I am exceedingly glad for each person who helps me through this broken life.

Looking forward to an amazing 2015,

Shawn

The single greatest experience in 2014 was the opportunity to travel with Elijah to meet his family. This lead to an opportunity to help my Liberian friends during the Ebola crisis and recovery.

The single greatest experience in 2014 was the opportunity to travel with Elijah to meet his family. This lead to an opportunity to help my Liberian friends during the Ebola crisis and recovery. My sincerest gratitude to all who have helped during this time.

This is a Christmas present from my 17 year-old son, Andy. He took a picture from about 14 years ago and recreated it for his mom and me.

This is a Christmas present from my 17 year-old son, Andy. He found a picture from about 15 years ago and recreated it for his mom and me.

My favorite picture from 2014, a shot from just above Mowich Lake near Mt. Rainier.

My favorite picture from 2014, a shot from just above Mowich Lake near Mt. Rainier.

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Effective Altruism

TED Talks on Mondays are a staple for me. This compelling talk by Peter Singer is wrong. Let me share why.

1. Dr. Singer’s most telling question is founded on the UNICEF statistic that 19,000 children under the age of 5 die from preventable, poverty-rooted causes each day. “Does it really matter that you don’t have to walk around these children as you walk down your street? “I don’t think it does make a morally relevant difference. The fact that they’re not right in front of us… none of that seems morally relevant to me.”

I could not disagree more. Proximity matters. Relationship matters. I am not morally responsible to respond to every person in need, and I have a greater responsibility to those who are nearer to me.

Both Dr. Singer and I make our decision based on our faith. My faith is in Jesus Christ, and his is in humanity.  One of my favorite stories comes from Luke chapter 7. Jesus sees a widow draped over the coffin of her only son. His heart breaks, and he takes pity upon her. Now, I have to imagine that there were thousands of widows all over the world at that exact moment who were grieving a horrible loss. But Jesus took action this time. He was moved by what was right in front of him. 

Another example comes from a parable. Jesus tells the story of a man who is robbed and left for dead. Several religious leaders ignored the dying man, but a Samaritan brings the man to an inn and cares for his needs. Jesus did not tell a story to systematically end robbery. He did not propose a global solution to murder. He told the story of the good Samaritan, not the good statistic.

Statistics are helpful, but they are often used to over-simplify complex social problems. The fact that people are in need right in front of us matters.

2. The lion’s share of Dr. Singer’s talk is about what should be done. What success means, what is right, wrong, good, bad, etc. I believe very strongly that why is the most important question. Towards the end of his argument, Dr. Singer shares why he is motivated to help:

“I’ve enjoyed giving… it’s something that is fulfilling to me. Being an effective altruist helps us to solve the Sisyphus problem.”

Sisyphus is the king in Greek mythology who is sentenced by the gods to eternally roll a rock up a hill, and each time he gets to the top, he has to start over again. I can relate to Sisyphus each time I go to the DMV.

Dr. Singer says that our lives as humans are a bit like a “hedonistic treadmill”. We look to make more money to buy more stuff and make ourselves happy. On this point, I share some of Dr. Singer’s passion.

In stepping off the hedonistic treadmill, we must step somewhere else. What he doesn’t realize is that he’s stepping onto another hedonistic treadmill. Hedonism was proposed as an ethical construct by a student of Socrates. He believed that pleasure is the highest good. This is almost identical to the argument that Dr. Singer makes for giving. Effective altruism is motivated, for Dr. Singer, by an increase in self esteem, meaning and fulfillment. In other words, we give because we feel good, and in feeling good, we place our hope in headonism.

Rather than being motivated for effective altruism that makes me feel good, why not search for being a good steward, recognizing that my brief stay here on earth is not a story for my glory? I am motivated to serve my Lord, and live in a way in which he will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”. This motivation means dying to my desire to feel good each time I give.

3. Three people are highlighted as the ultimate examples of giving. Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Melinda Gates. Better than Carnegie or Rockefeller. The Gates Foundation is huge, and they’re doing great work. Their story contains no obvious parallel moral truth for my life. The giving of these people may be record-setting, but they do not give in a way that even closely impacts their standard of living. Also, their extreme wealth makes relationships with the poor practically impossible.

The Life You Can Save is a website that Dr. Singer started to help people make informed giving decisions. If you run the income/giving calculator, a person who earns around $500,000/year should be giving almost 10%, and a person who makes $50k/year should be giving around 2%.  These percentages are nearly meaningless and distract us from the real model of generous living.

What I see in scripture is that generous and sacrificial giving is my Lord’s expectation. Every act of generosity in scripture is tied in relationship (people who know or see other people in need). Giving is a partnership, awash in humility, hospitality, caring, reconciliation, compassion and trust. For Dr. Singer, giving is efficiency and (statistical) effectiveness. Where is the biggest bang for the buck… the greatest ROI?

I actually made an appeal to a mentor recently for the charity I lead. After he said yes, I asked him a little about how he makes his charitable decisions. One of the things he told me was, “I try not to over-think it”.

I know he has thought thousands of hours about why he gives, and thousands more building relationships with who he gives. Over-thinking it is what we do when we don’t have a relationship. Over-thinking is the byproduct of believing that we actually own our money. We are more simple than we think. We do our best giving when we see a need and fill it. The poor, widow, orphan or stranger. We take care of those in front of us, and we expect God to do something greater than our calculations.

Proverbs 3:27 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

James 2:15-16 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

 

 

One Believer’s Response to Crisis

Mondays are my day off. My sabbath. Yesterday, I hopped in my Prius for a drive from my home in La Quinta, CA, to idyllic Idyllwild. A beautiful mountain village near Mt. San Jacinto. At the end of my six-mile hike through beautiful pines and gigantic squirrels (reminiscent of the Princess Bride’s rodents of unusual size), I checked my facebook to see that the Boston Marathon was the target of a terrorist attack.

Several news headlines this morning that there is an all-out effort to find out Why. At the risk of sounding simplistic, this is sin. Evil exists, and it will take every opportunity it can to kill, steal and destroy. It’s our honor, as believers, to bring life in the midst of pain. When crisis strikes, we are peace makers. We bring serenity.

Evil loves to create panic and angst. Evil can inflict trauma on people who are not physically present in crisis. In fact, the most insidious thing that evil can do is to bring down or incapacitate someone who isn’t even what we would consider the target. It’s a different type of collateral damage… the emotional and spiritual wounds inflicted upon those who watch the news. Fear. Anger. Fear. Frustration. Fear. Worry. Fear. Fear. Fear.

Because evil wants me to fear, I won’t. I’d rather be inspired by people like Emil Kapaun who looked evil square in the eye, and with steely resolve, conquered the fear of death. I want to cling to Psalm 121:1-2 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. I want to give God the thanks he is due for giving us hope and strength.

God brings us peace in the midst of pain. It’s a gift he offers to all who are a part of his family. We will grieve, and we will recover, but it is less because of the good in people and more because of God in people. I’m sorry Patton Oswalt, we are not good people. We need a savior. We need a hope bigger than our own.

Lord, bring your peace to this broken world. Would your healing come here on earth, as it is in Heaven. Help me to bring peace to those around me. I ask for your righteousness and justice in this situation; be with the families of the wounded, the dead and the hurting. Use me as an ambassador of your love, and give me words of compassion for those wounded. I give you today. 

Justice 2013

One week from today I will be in Philadelphia at the 2013 Justice Conference. Rooftop 519 and Artists Inspring Action have teamed up to create Justice Does, a huge, interactive mural that will engage people in stories and themes of Justice.

See the wallpaper on my blog? That’s a tease of the artwork we’re creating for this experience (credit to Jacob Herring and Pope St. Victor for their work).

This vision started one year ago at the 2012 Justice Conference. Now is our opportunity to use beautiful, meaningful art to depict our growing theology of justice. We have the chance to inspire more people to serving the poor, widows, orphans and strangers.

Biblical justice will never be boiled down to a description, a soundbite or tweet. It is a holistic experience and understanding of the compassion, complexity and beauty of the heart of God is bending towards those in need. Thousands of us will push together at the Justice Conference. Would you please push with us by telling our story? #JusticeDoes

Justice Does

At the end of this month, I have the very rare privilege of co-leading a team of artists and dreamers in one of the largest installations ever created. This mural will be constructed at the third Justice Conference in Philly on February 22 & 23. It is large in size (30′ x 24′), scope (art inspired by multiple themes of justice), and participation (we are hoping to equip over 5,000 people to participate in the mural’s creation).

One year ago, Rooftop 519 was preparing to participate in the 2012 Justice Conference. This is our birthplace. Our first patient, Exodus, went home to Liberia just days after the conference in Portland, Oregon. When our team of volunteers showed up, we were overwhelmed with the incredible response the conference leaders and attendees gave us. We were inspired to action, and we experienced an awakening of our theology of justice.

Artists Inspiring Action was there too. They experienced a similar sense of awakening.

Jacob Herring from Artists Inspiring Action creating "stretcher art" for Rooftop 519.

Jacob Herring from Artists Inspiring Action creating “stretcher art” for Rooftop 519.

While I was at the conference, I began dreaming about a way to engage people in the beautiful and inspirational art we created together. The founder of Artists Inspiring Action, Shane Kalai, was struck with the idea. We had to wonder, “Would the Justice Conference leaders be crazy enough to support this artistic act of worship?”

Ken Wytsma and Erin Lytle are the brains behind this growing collective of dreamers and Jesus-activists. When we set out to share this idea, I never made any assumption that they would give us anything other than their blessing. They have exceeded nearly every hope, even giving us the largest space in the center of the conference.

A video that explains the #justicedoes project is on our indiegogo page. I would love your help in spreading the word. Please consider making a gift to support this mammoth effort. We need your help to do this.

Here is a sneak peek of the touch card featuring art from Jacob Herring andPope St. Victor. I hope to see you in Philly!

handout