A Haunted Thanksgiving

Relax.

This isn’t one of those posts where you’ll be reminded of how many kids will die of starvation while you get a second helping of mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving.

It’s just a reminder to step away from the culture war and the talking points to remember why there aren’t a whole lot of other countries that have a day on their calendar like Thanksgiving.

I’ve talked to kids in the United States who have told me their dreams for the future. They talk about wanting to get into good schools and become engineers or speech pathologists. For the most part, I expect them to get their wishes.

A few weeks ago I was in Haiti. I spent a significant part of my time there building and remodeling desks for a school. Some of the students helped me. They were some of the nicest, hardest working people I’ve ever been around. And they have dreams too. They want to get into good schools. They want to be engineers. But my expectations aren’t as high for them.

Haiti is a complicated country. When people talk about how bad things are there, they always go back to the earthquake of 2010. It’s hard not too. But the problems started before then. Long before then. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone is smart enough to trace the problems back to one particular issue. Certainly not an American like me who spent all of seven days there. Haiti is suffering from a toxic mix of poverty, corruption, and good intentions gone bad.

One day when I was painting a desk, one of the students helping me told me his dreams for the future. I should say dream. His was a simple one.

“I want to go to America,” he said with a glimmer in his eye.

I spent a second thinking about how America would respond to this young man’s wish.

Some would say, “Don’t bother.” They’d tell him about all of the hatred and violence, about the president’s crazy tweets, and about our own brand of poverty and corruption.

Others would say, “Don’t bother,” for different reasons. They would proceed to tell him about how overcrowded we are, convincing themselves that he wouldn’t do a good job of assimilating.

We do have our problems here in America. And yes, there are those who abuse our system of immigration. But when I looked at that young man, I couldn’t blame him for his wish. Sure, coming to America wouldn’t fix all of his problems but it sure would open up some pretty good opportunities for him. If I were in his shoes, I’d want to come to America too.

I’ve been thinking about the look on that kid’s face when he told me about wanting to come to America. It was one half determination and one half desperation. I don’t see that in my country. The only people who want to leave the U.S. like that kid wanted to leave his country are angry political activists vowing to move to Canada and folks running from the law looking to hide out in Mexico or Europe.

This week I found out about the Trump administration’s plans to send back several thousand Haitians who have been living in the States under special status since the 2010 earthquake. I don’t know all of the details behind this. I’m no policy expert. All I know is that if I had been living here for nearly a decade, I wouldn’t want to go back to a country that isn’t prepared to receive me, even if it meant staying in one that doesn’t want me.

Immigration is a complicated issue. Carelessness on the part of our government is a clear path to losing our freedoms. Apathy on the part of our citizens is just as clear a path to losing our souls. Behind the tweets, talking points, and statistics, there are faces. Faces with a glimmer in their eye. Faces that belong to hard working bodies. Not all of those faces need to be in the United States. Some of them do. Knowing the difference requires more discernment and less pandering to the base.

I don’t have all of the answers to our country’s immigration problem and I certainly don’t know what steps need to be taken to fix what’s wrong with Haiti.

All I know is that kid’s face.

It haunts me.

It haunts me because I want him to be okay, whatever that means for him.

And it haunts me because if a kid wants to come to where I live that bad, I must really have a lot to be thankful for.

But it’s really hard for me to give thanks for where I live without remembering the faces from where I’ve visited.

image credit

Three Degrees Of Ric Flair

When I was a kid I hated Ric Flair.

Saturday nights at my house were devoted to wrestling. It started at 6:05 on WTBS and ended at 2 in the morning on channel 36. I saw the Von Erich family of wrestlers from Texas, I heard a young Jim Ross from Oklahoma and I cheered on the Rock and Roll Express in Atlanta. I was there for all of it. I can even remember the lady in charge of the Christmas play at my church coming up to me at one Saturday night practice and saying, “Don’t worry Jay. You’ll be home in time for wrestling.”

And I was.

Most of my childhood was spent hating Ric Flair because he was the loudmouth who beat all of the guys that I liked. As I grew older I started to appreciate and even admire him. The fact that he made me hate him so badly meant that he did his job well. I guess it’s sort of like how we all hated Darth Vader when we were kids but started to like him as adults.

On Tuesday night, ESPN’s 30 for 30 series covered the life of Ric Flair. Watching it didn’t make me hate Ric Flair again nor did it reinforce my appreciation for him. It made me feel sorry for him.

Ric Flair is really Richard Fliehr, a college drop out who figured out a way to turn a fascination with alcohol and women into a moneymaking lifestyle. That lifestyle turned out to be as fake as the wrestling matches Fliehr participated in almost every night during the prime of his career. He had a jet but he wasn’t really jet setting. He wore nice clothes but isn’t as rich as we were all led to believe. He was around a lot of women but didn’t know how to be with just one woman.

Fliehr wasn’t wrestling. He was running. He was running from the shame of disappointing his parents. He was running away from any form of commitment. He was running to an acceptance and satisfaction that could never be found in the places where he was looking.

Many broken lives were left in the wake of the Nature Boy’s lifestyle. There were four broken marriages. There were four broken children, each suffering in their own way because of their father’s absence. Perhaps none of them suffered more than his son Reid. Ric Flair brags about binge drinking in hotels every night for most of his career. His son Reid followed in his father’s footsteps, not just in the wrestling ring but at the hotel bar as well. Only Reid went further. He added pills and heroin to his diet. On March 29, 2013, Reid Fliehr was found dead, in of all places, a hotel room.

In the 30 for 30 documentary, director Rory Karpf asked Ric Flair what he would say to his son if he were here today. A crying Fliehr said that he would apologize for being his son’s friend instead of his father. There was a lot of pain in those words. And wisdom too.

Honestly, I don’t think I ever really hated Ric Flair. I just wanted to be Ric Flair and I knew it wasn’t happening. I dreamed of putting the playground bully in a figure four leg lock or of walking to my desk in a robe while the Space Odyssey theme played. I think that Richard Fliehr wanted to be Ric Flair too. It wasn’t happening for him either.

Ric Flair always said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” But rather than trying to be a man, Flair settled for some other version of manhood. And it ended up beating him.

Now, no one wants to be Richard Fliehr.

But if we’re not careful in discerning truth from reality and what’s really important from what feels really good at the time, we could all end up just like him.

image credit

Of Course Your Prayers Are Useless

I was sitting in the airport in Haiti when I found out about the Texas church shooting. The man across from me was reading a book while his girlfriend looked at her phone. When the news alert went off on her phone she told her boyfriend. His frustration over the news was evident. His basic response was this: “Don’t tell me anymore. I need to process it.”

If only everyone in our country could react that way.

But instead, we have to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, regardless of how insensitive or wrong it may be. It’s our new pastime. We argue about gun control. We wonder which ethnicity or political party the shooter belonged to. We fight each other.

This is most evident in the way that skeptics and progressives mocked the idea of prayer in the wake of the Texas church shooting. It’s common for Christians, and even non-Christians, to offer prayers for the survivors of such a horrific event. Now, it’s just as common for non-believers to ridicule those prayers. One celebrity tweeted, “If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive.” Another said, “The thoughts and prayers were literally shot out of them.” Their point was clear. Prayer doesn’t work.

In a sense, they’re right.

Those unfamiliar with what the Bible teaches who still like to pontificate about what the Bible teaches tend to view prayer as a trip to a cosmic ATM. You ask for what you need and wait for it to come. As they see it, the ATM never works. Something better is needed. In this case, that better something is government action. Never mind the fact that it was the government dropping the ball that helped to make this tragedy possible.

Prayer doesn’t work the way that the world thinks it does. In reality, none of us knows how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26). But for those who are in Christ, the Spirit makes up for those shortcomings while the Son prays on their behalf (Romans 8:34). James 5:16 goes further in saying that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. This verse requires a closer look.

It is not the prayer of a well-meaning person or a passionate person or a religious person but a righteous person that is powerful. No man, regardless of how sincere, is righteous on his own. Human righteousness comes only through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). This points us to another way to understand the effective, powerful prayer of a righteous man. Ultimately, Christ is that Righteous Man. He prays on behalf of his people. So in a very real sense, without Christ prayer really is useless.

Without Christ we pray for selfish reasons (James 4:3). Regardless of popular opinion, we are not all God’s children. Without Christ, we are his enemies (Ephesians 2:1-4). Only those who have put their trust in the risen Christ as their Forgiver, Lord, and Savior are children of God. God can answer any prayer he wants to but like the father in a store filled with screaming toddlers, he tends to fix his response on the cries of his own children.

Tragedies have a way of revealing the object of our worship. And make no mistake, we all worship something. Whatever you put your hope in is the place where you run to when the unthinkable happens. The reason why so many run immediately to political causes and Twitter rants is because that is their god. It is their only hope. And it is a terribly inadequate hope.

Frank Pomeroy runs to a different place. He’s the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the site of Sunday’s shooting. He wasn’t there when the unthinkable happened but his 14-year-old daughter was and she was among the casualties. Frank doesn’t have all the answers but he trusts that God does. He told the bank of microphones before him at Monday’s press conference to, “lean into the Lord” and later, “everything is in Christ.”

 

Government action has it’s place and I guess there’s a time for angry tweets but neither offer any hope. I can assure you that the victim’s of Sunday’s tragedy found no comfort in the angry tweets of Will Wheaton and Keith Olberman. True hope can only be found in knowing that God is in complete control of all things, that he loves you and that you have access to him through prayer.

But this hope is impossible to realize apart from Christ.

Frank Pomeroy is right.

Everything is in Christ.

Because without Christ, our prayers are as useless as a celebrity’s angry tweet.

image credit