Sunday, August 30, 2009

Get Well?

Remember the story in Scripture when Jesus healed a man who had been waiting at the pool of Bethsaida for 38 years? He was waiting for the water to stir and all he had to do was beat everyone else into the pool. Then he'd be healed.

Jesus asks him what appears to be kind of a stupid question. He asked, "Do you want to get well?" From our vantage point the answer has to be 'yes, of course'. But I'm not sure it was all that easy.

Do you want to get well?

Here's why I don't think it's an easy answer. This guy has 38 years of monotony, of lack of meaning, of no work, no travel, no intimacy. 38 years of no options. 38 years of never having to live into what author Mark Buchanan calls the ‘weight of others expectations’. And Jesus asks him to change all that. At first glance, it looks like a good deal. Another look says it's not so good. Why? Because saying 'yes' means everything changes. Everything. It's a leap into the unknown. Life changes forever.

I wonder if all that ran through that man’s head before he said ‘yes’. How much of him wanted to cling to what he knew best even though if was far from an ideal life? I wonder.

Do you want to get well? Do you want to be freed from whatever holds you back? Do you want God to heal you of what's tearing you up? Here's my take. I find people fit into four categories.

Category 1. People who don't want to get well. They're satisfied with being unwell because it's what they know.

Category 2. People who don't want any part of God's healing. They don't think their life is out of synch. They compare themselves to the dysfunction of others rather than God's best. Compared to everyone else they're OK. They don't want what God offers.

Category 3. People who know they need God's healing. They want to say 'yes' but that means things will change. So they say 'no' and continue to say 'yes' to what's not giving them life transformation.

Category 4. People who say 'my life's got to change'. They want to get well and they know that trusting God and walking in obedience might not necessarily be easy but it's the road that leads to healing. They say 'yes'.

So, do you want to get well?

Lots of people say 'no'. Others wait for a more opportune time. Others say 'yes' but hope that nothing will really change. And others say 'yes' knowing that things have got to change.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted's Passing

Ted Kennedy passed away last night. I wasn't going to say anything until I read a post by an influential media person this morning. Basically, he said that the death of Ted Kennedy was good for America. I'm sure this person saw Sen. Kennedy as the embodiment of a liberal agenda. He was the enemy. Now there's one less of 'them'.

Is that the way we should look at a person's life? I don't think so. It's ugly. Before I go further let me say that I'd be equally chagrined if some articulate conservative voice was dismissed in a cavalier manner by some liberal spokesman in the hours after his/her death.

I wonder if we ever see the full dimensions of a person's personality in our sound-byte culture. I was interested in Jim Wallis's take on Ted Kennedy. Wallis, by the way, is a Christian who has a strong social justice bent (for those who need labels). He wrote in a blog post that ...

"In the aftermath of the 2004 presidential election, the Democrats were roundly accused of losing the “moral values voters” in America, and of being the party of “secularists” who were hostile to faith and religion. The very first Democrat to call me and ask to talk about that accusation and how to change the moral debate in America was Ted Kennedy. He invited me to his home, where he and his wife, Vicki, engaged me in a long and very thoughtful conversation into the night about the relationship between faith, morality, and politics. Their own deep Catholic faith was evident and their articulation of it very impressive. Our discussion was not partisan at all — it was not about how to win religion back for the Democrats. Rather, we focused on the great moral issues facing the nation, and how we as people of faith needed to respond to them."

That's not the Ted Kennedy most people knew about. Maybe it's a side some don't want to know about. Maybe he should have showed that side more often. Who knows? But for all my conservative friends who might just believe that this is a good day for America because of his death I beg to disagree. We need strong voices on each side of the aisle. When we lose one we lose a bit of our capacity to have that durable system of checks and balances we hold so dear and know is so necessary for our republic to thrive..

Ted Kennedy needs to be remembered. He mattered to God. He carried a big voice and a sizable stick for a lot of years. Flawed? Absolutely. Patriot. I think so. Formidable opponent for conservatives. You bet. Did I agree with everything he stood for? No, of course not. In fact, there were times I wanted to throw a shoe at the television screen when I heard him speak. Other times, I wanted to applaud. Bottom line, I'm glad he spoke up. I'm glad he fought for what he thought was right. It helped take the rough edges off my own thinking.

Growing up as a Catholic kid in northern Wisconsin the Kennedy family was a beacon of hope for me. At one time no one was sure a Catholic could ever win the Presidency. When JFK was elected it was a good day. We felt like we knew the family. Now, the last of the brothers is dead. A part of the history that shaped me and millions of others is gone.

So, for anybody who's saying 'It'a good day for America.' Hold your tongue. Some opinions are best unexpressed. A family has lost one of their own. We've lost a piece of our history. Allow those who grieve to bury the dead.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What's Next?

Since I’ve announced my intent to work half time with an urban ministry the question most asked is “Are you moving into the city?”

Not yet. We’re committed to living in the burbs for two more years. John needs to finish high school. During these two years, however, we’ll be prayerfully and thoughtfully thinking about ‘what’s next’.

I’m chuckling as I write all this. “What’s next?” In two years I’ll be 61. And God has given me a desire to think about ‘what’s next’. I’m blessed.

Just having that desire gives me the hope that God isn’t done with me yet.

Here’s what I observe. I see a lot of folks in their 60’s, 70’s and beyond who buy into a culturally prescribed dream for their life. It means that when you’re at a certain age you ‘retire’. You head south. No asking God about ‘what’s next’. No down on your knees reflection of how your gifts and talents can be used in the next phase of your life. Nope. There’s a look at the balance sheet and if it all shakes out ‘retirement’ is around the corner.

What does ‘retirement’ mean?

Is it a biblical concept?

Is it a time and place where those who have much just fade into the sunset?

I talked to a guy the other day who is retired. It sounds like he has a boatload of money. But I got the sense that he knows that God is not done with him yet. Sure, he has the time and discretionary income to do some of those things he always dreamed of doing but he also has a sense of some divine direction to his life. That’s because he’s intentional about his life. Retirement, for him, means reengagement in a different way, not checking out.

He’s asking ‘what’s next’.

Another old friend sounds like he’s retiring comfortably. What’s fun is to hear about how he’s using his time. He’s putting roofs on Habitat homes. He’s going to a Christian camp and fixing the plumbing. He’s climbing mountains and reflecting on the glory of God.

He’s asking ‘what’s next?’.

I think of John Perkins, who is considered the godfather of racial reconciliation. He’s out speaking and traveling and pushing people to think ‘anew’ about the world we’re living in. He must be pushing 80.

He’s asking ‘what’s next’?.

I remember a gal from my Young Life days. I think her name was Kay Mac. She was a pioneer in her younger days. As she got older and less mobile she used to get on an exercise bike and plot her distance on a map, praying for YL staff, kids, and volunteers in each town she pretended to enter.

She asked, “what’s next’?.

I don’t have a boatload of money. Won’t have a lot of discretionary income. I think that’s God’s gift to me. Who knows what I’d do if I had both time and money? Would I still have a desire to ask ‘what’s next?” Hopefully, yes. But I don't know. And the truth of the matter is that I want to live life with a sense of expectancy, always asking the question “O Lord, what assignment do you now have for me now?"

I'm not sure what 'next' will mean for me in a few years. Maybe it will be the city. Maybe into an under resourced community. Maybe not.

My prayer is, though, that whatever is next will be a little counter cultural. That it will stretch me more than coddle me. My hope is that ‘what’s next’ will advance the kingdom and bring me closer to this great God of ours.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Big Changes for Mike

I’ve had several adventures. Leaving home to go off to college was one. Leaving the midwest for the west coast was another. Starting Young Life in the state of Nevada was huge for me. One of my favorite books is named. "If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat". Written by John Ortberg, it’s a call to the adventure we call faith. For the longest time I’ve felt God whispering that another adventure awaited me, a new thing, a step out of the boat.

I’ve long had a fascination with urban life. The hustle and bustle, the noise, the smells, and the diversity of people intrigue me. By the millions we visit city centers. A big city captures our imagination and confuses our sensibilities. We delight in its pleasures and shrink back in fear from those things in it that we don’t understand. Over time, through a variety of experiences and relationships, I’ve learned that I have an urban heart.

For a few years now different friends have talked to me about coming to work in an urban ministry. The timing and situation just wasn’t right. Until now.

Breakthrough Urban Ministries is planted in an under resourced neighborhood on the west side of Chicago called East Garfield Park. It is a ministry growing in both size and influence. They operate a women’s shelter, a men’s shelter, and various educational and recreational programs. Breakthrough's staff love Jesus and try to be salt and light working alongside community residents. The hope is to break ground shortly on a Family Life Center which will house a clinic, a school, and a gymnasium. There’s lots going on. Lives are being changed.

Arloa Sutter is the founder and Executive Director of Breakthrough. Anita has known her for a long time. I met her about three years ago on a trip to Israel. Our friendship grew. Several months ago Arloa came to me with an offer. “How would you like to come to work for Breakthrough at half of what you’re making now? And I’m going to ask you to raise that money yourself.” How could I resist a pitch like that?

On Breakthrough’s website you find these words. “At Breakthrough we are seeking to create an intense, cutting-edge ministry environment that inspires each staff member to individual and organizational greatness. It is our hope to provide the culture where you can contribute your gifts for the benefit of all. Our staff provides great training and opportunities for many marginalized people, but our impact doesn’t stop there. Breakthrough’s culture transforms and challenges staff, board members, and volunteers as well. If you are seeking meaning, purpose, intense challenges, diversity, and unity in a Christ-centered organization we invite you to apply.” God was tugging at my heart. They were talking my language.

And so, we talked and talked about my gifts and talents and what Breakthrough needed. Finally, a job description began to emerge. I’m going to be the Director of Spiritual Transformation. It’s a new position. Very simply, I will be developing “next steps” for over 1400 volunteers, donors, clients, college interns and partner churches -- so that they can dive deeper into a greater understanding of what the Scriptures say about justice, poverty, race and how we live out God’s call in a world filled with great need. You’ll see me developing seminars, workshops, retreats and vision events to help folks broaden their understanding of God’s heart for the poor and what He is doing in the city.

This is right in my sweet spot. I have a deep passion to put people into positions that force them to think, to pray, and to seek God. I believe that many of the misconceptions and misunderstanding between rich and poor, black and white, urban dweller and suburbanite are the result of having so little meaningful contact with each other. I also believe that issues of race, poverty, and justice are near and dear to God’s heart. Maybe God can use me to help bridge some of the gaps. I will be part pastor, teacher, facilitator, spiritual director and team leader.

Christ Church of Oak Brook, my home base for about nine years, has walked with me on this journey discerning this new call. I’m grateful for their support, understanding, and encouragement. I’ll still be working half time at CCOB as a teacher and one of the team leaders for 2HC, our newest contemporary worship service. Additionally, I’ll stay involved with Higher Ground, a singles group I started about eighteen months ago. We’re already brainstorming how some of what I’ll be doing for Breakthrough can be offered to folks at CCOB.

To be honest, I’m a little scared. Even though I see God’s hand all over this I get up some mornings asking myself some hard questions. You see, losing income isn’t all that exciting to me. Raising my salary has me shaking in my boots. I’ve never been good at asking for things for myself. I know full well the line between faith and foolishness is often a slender one. And yet, I hear God saying “Go for it.” And so I’m am being asked to do what I’ve been telling you to do for a long time, “Trust God”.

I’m blessed because Anita is standing with me. What a great wife she is. She thinks following God’s leading is the only way you should live life.

So, that’s it. Starting either October 1 but no later than November 1 (depending on my fundraising efforts)I’ll be entering into this new adventure.

I’m hoping that a lot of you will stand with me both in prayer and financially. I know you’ll pray with and for me. In all honesty, I’d love to get some e-mails or responses saying “Hey, in addition to my prayers tell me where I can send a check.” That’s a hint by the way. :)

One more thing. There were times in this process that I wanted desperately to say ‘no’. There was a part of me that just wanted to fade slowly into the sunset of retirement. Saying no would have been disobedience. Don’t ask me how I know this I just do. I know what it’s like to be disobedient to God. I’ve done it before. That isn’t where I need to be.

On October 30th Breakthrough has its annual banquet. I’d love to fill six or seven tables with my friends. I’d like you to see the work that has captivated my heart. Let me know. Bill Hybels is the speaker. Babbie Mason is the musical guest. Anita and I would love to have you join us. Be careful though. God might mess with your head and heart asking you to step out of the boat into your next adventure of faith. He does that you know.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Town Hall

Somebody asked me recently …”Why don’t all the members of Congress hold a town hall meeting?”

Hmmmm. Could it be that those who don’t are the smart ones? I mean, why would anyone want to hold a meeting and be yelled at, berated, booed, hissed and not listened to? What sane person would schedule something like this? I wouldn’t.

America has forgotten its manners. We no longer know how to talk about things with civility and dignity. It’s actually quite frightening.

Something has gotten in the water in America. After you drink from it integrity and civility gets flushed out of your system. Maybe it’s the influence of the media pundits who have done a wonderful job of doing other people’s thinking for them. Or maybe it’s the fact that we’ve forgotten how to be reflective or that we don’t read much anymore and don’t know how to take the time to develop a ‘considered’ opinion. Whatever it is integrity and civility are casualties. We pay for it all day every day.

It’s incredible what’s happening. Groups of people are hating other groups because they think differently. Imagine that!!! How could we ever get to a point in a free society where people might have the audacity to believe and think differently? What’s America coming to?

Don’t you love the fact that we’re bringing name calling back into a hallowed position on the American landscape? We’ve missed it haven’t we? It’s good to turn on the TV and watch a pointed finger being followed by a hissed put down. What did we do when we weren’t labeling people as socialists, tryrants or nazis? We’ve missed years and years of unexpressed hate. So, like you, I’m glad it’s back. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Joe McCarthy. If we’re inventive enough maybe we can bring back some racial and religious epithets giving them new life for new generations.

And I love the e-mail machines quoting unknown sources but saying what they say with conviction and venom. Stirring emotions and fear they too help us dream great dreams and point us in the direction of ‘happy days are here again’.

The truth is that we’re becoming thugs. Our weapons are words shouted at the top of our lungs, followed by gossip, rumor, innuendo and vile looks of disgust that thwart any attempts to promote understanding let alone reconciliation. The great prophet Pogo was right. “We have met the enemy and it is us.”

America is at its best when we are good, when we fight fair, when we dialogue, when we listen, and when we seek common ground. We’re not doing that very often anymore.

And leading the charge of incivility oftentimes are people who call themselves Christians. Blogger Brian McClaren said "But we Christians, it seems to me, have a high calling – to be radically committed to integrity and civility, even (especially) with those with whom we disagree."

Does integrity and civility mean that we don’t ‘fight’ for what’s right? Nope. It just defines the tone and establishes some behavioral boundaries. But when something is being done that we don’t think is right then we need to go at it. But going at it doesn’t mean we act like children, throwing tantrums in the public square. My word, what does that prove?

Thankfully there are good people on both sides and all sides of many issues who very quietly but with great resolve try to hammer out what’s best for the common good.

America is in deep water these days. Our economy is fragile, our moral compass is trying to find true north, our mistrust of the government is off the charts, and we’ve become entrenched in a ‘me first’ mentality.

How we choose to engage with one another in the public square of ideas might chart our destiny far more than the conclusions we reach on any specific piece of legislation.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Work is what we do to pay the bills, to raise the family, to make us feel good about ourselves, to get us through school. It defines us to a great degree. No conversation with a stranger goes too long before someone says “What do you do for a living?”

Studs Turkel, Chicago’s own late oral historian once made the observation that "Most people live somewhere between a grudging acceptance of their job and an active dislike of it." We also know full well that for many in our high driving society that ‘work consumes’.

Whether we love it or hate it work oftentimes sucks us into its vortex with disastrous consequences. It provides a validation that keeps us pressing harder and longer. It can entice us away from more pressing issues in our life and it can pay for indulgences that we want to believe creates Sabbath but doesn’t. And thus, work needs focused redefinition and a time of rest from it.

For anything that consumes us, preoccupies us, and/or worries us is in danger of becoming an idol that we serve, standing in the way of our primary goal in life i.e. to know, love, and serve God. In it’s own strange way, whether we love it or hate it, work can become what we worship. It’s true for the homemaker that obsesses about her kids, or the student who obsesses with their school work, to the factory worker who spends far too much time whining and complaining about the work that that he/she does, or to the executive who loves the limelight his/her work put her in.

For all of us the work we do can be an idol. And then it becomes a sin. And sin robs us of joy and keeps us unsure of our focus. It moves us away from God.

Some love their jobs. Most have days when we don’t love what we do. It’s at those times we should remember this story from Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God.

When you have had one of those take this job and shove it days try this. On your way home, stop at your pharmacy and go to the section where they have thermometers. You will need to purchase a rectal thermometer made by the Q-Tip company. Be sure that you get this brand. When you get home, lock your doors, draw the drapes and disconnect the phone so you will not be disturbed during your therapy. Change into something comfortable like pj’s or a sweat suit and lie down. Open the package containing the thermometer and carefully place it on the bedside table so that it will not become chipped or broken. Take the written material that accompanies the thermometer. As you read, notice in small print this statement: “Every rectal thermometer made by Q-Tip is personally tested.”

Close you eyes and then say 5 times. “Thank you, Oh thank you Lord, that I do not work in quality control at the Q-Tip company.

No matter what we do for a living …from homemaker to homebuilder …we are asked to make our work a holy calling.

In the Garden immediately after the Fall the world of work changed from something life-giving and glorious to something that was going to be difficult …’the ground will produce thistles and thorns for you and you will eat the plants of the field …by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.”

In other words, work was now going to cost us something. It wasn’t going to be quite as glorious. Sin tainted it. Yet, God still wants to redeem it.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3: 17

And when we do our work in the name of Jesus something happens that’s noble. Even the most mundane of tasks can become very holy.

Jesus never valued some types of work above others. I try to do the Lord’s work. Anita has a radio program. That is her Lord’s work. We’re in very visible Christian ministry. We carry a label on us. It’s clear what we’re supposed to be about. I’m very thankful you all don’t have to wear that label.

I’m thankful that we are all called, however, to or placed somewhere. There, we get to do the Lord’s work. It might be as a student, as a homemaker, as a doctor, or a lawyer, a lab tech or a financial consultant. No matter what we do we now all have a similar job description. We are to make Him known in what we do. We are to let our light shine.

And personally, I’m very happy that there are people who get to serve in other ways differently than I do. I love the customer service rep at Comcast I met one day when I was at wits end …she served me. I found out she was a believer. I’m grateful that the night I had a heart attack people had chosen medicine as a profession. I’m grateful that not everyone is a minister when my plumbing goes bad.

Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing God can use it. Even in quality control at the Q tip factory.

In Buchanan’s Rest of God, he tells the following two stories.

Martin Luther said:

The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays-not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes because God is interested in good craftsmanship.

Os Guiness tells the story of a young mother and widow living in Scotland in the 1800’s. She fell into desperate circumstances and one day she went down to the river to kill herself. But as she stood on the bridge, she looked up. She saw a field across the river and a young man was plowing it. He worked with such skill and care and concentration that she became absorbed in the sight of it. Her fascination turned to wonder, and her wonder to thanksgiving, and her thanksgiving to a sense of purpose. She rose, went forth, and lived a long and productive life.

There is sanctity in honest work. There is something in it that pleases, not just the eyes of men, but the heart of God.

When we work well and for the Lord we make Christ known. ‘Tis good. It’s redemptive.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Are we willing to unplug, pull back, refresh, renew, slow down, pick flowers, and to have no agenda? No? What if God asked you to do it? What if if He asked you to do it because He knew that your life was out of control? What if you could tap into God's replenishment strategy for your life?

God says to those willing, “I have a way.” Keep the Sabbath.

Do we need a Sabbath? I don’t know about you but I certainly do. I need a place to rest. And I especially need a rest from that which consumes my life. It’s represented by my laptop and my Blackberry and any clock within gazing distance.

Here’s a dirty little secret. Pastors and church workers don’t believe in Sabbath. Not really. We talk about it. We give sermons about it. We give it lip service. But we don’t practice it. You see, most of us are delusional. We actually think God can’t do His thing without us. That why so many church leader leave the ministry in droves each year. They’re too exhausted to continue. They never found an adequate replenishment strategy for their lives. They ignore the hope and promise of Sabbath.

We suffer from the taint of sin that has infected the rest of the world. And so, we do our own thing, walking in disobedience to the Lord.

I came to the conclusion this week that despite my mental assent to the principle my actual unwillingness to keep Sabbath is one of my deep sins. My desire to keep plugged in and wired up is greater than my desire to be obedient to the God who asks me to keep Sabbath. And I confess that I am, more often than not, more weeks than not, willfully disobedient. I say, in effect, that I can figure things out on my own and I’m quite capable, thank you, of holding on to all the worry and anxiety of my life and not make myself available for the rest of God.

Stupid me.

I was reading in Romans this week.

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God Romans 8:5-8 NLT

When I read it I trembled a bit. Honestly. It says that when the Spirit is controlling you-you experience peace and life. It’s real clear to me that when I use words like tired, busy, stressed to describe my life that I’m not walking in the Spirit. I’m bowing to another god, making an idol to worship. And it shakes my world.

Why? Because what it means, at least in this area of my life, is that I’m not controlled by the Holy Spirit. For if I were, I’d be obedient to Sabbath and I’d be describing my life as something different than stressed, worried, hassled and tired. Could it be that regarding Sabbath that I am hostile towards God? For if I was truly in love with God I would embrace his call to Sabbath and I don’t.

Sabbath is both a day and an attitude. We don’t set aside time for Sabbath unless we have the heart for it. And we really don’t have a heart for Sabbath unless we set aside the time meant for it. Observing Sabbath is an obedient act that leads us into further obedience and helps us to discover the rest of God. And when I don’t do it I’m thumbing my nose at God.

I live in disobedience. I don’t do Sabbath because I love being plugged in and wired up. I’m used to having my life ruled by the clock and the calendar but, in all honesty, it doesn’t serve me well.

I know I want to honor God.

My sinful nature does not want to please God.

Sabbath keeping pleases God.

It’s a bit of a conundrum. The habit of my life is to do my own thing. God beckons me to something different.

I'm choosing Sabbath. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Divided America

The recent brouhaha in Cambridge, MA brought to light some festering wounds here in America. It didn’t help that the President failed to calibrate his words well when he chimed in. But the issue of racial profiling and the divides between Americans who look differently from each other are significant.

I know. I know. We’re all supposed to be Americans and we should get rid of the descriptors of race but we don’t. The designations linger. They won’t go away soon.

Let’s face it. There are still deep, racial hurts and practices that are both overt and covert in our land of the free. I know racial profiling still happens. Keep your eyes open. You can see it in plain sight. Are people ever steered from buying homes in certain neighborhoods? Sure. It happens. Will two or three black youth out for a walk in a pre-dominantly white neighborhood attract attention? Absolutely. Will I feel like I don’t belong when I walk down the streets in Pilsen? I guarantee you that I will feel the color of my skin.

We live in a racially charged world. Still. It’s not make believe.

The truth is that when we don’t know someone as an individual, when we don’t know their heart and when we can only see the color of their skin certain attitudes and biases express themselves. We go to the nearest stereotype. And so, a black man in a white neighborhood is suspect, and white people don’t feel safe in the middle of the black community, and middle eastern folks feel the stares and the mistrust. We respond to the deeply held beliefs about race and culture that have been ingrained in us. The problem is that those things which have been ingrained in us aren’t necessarily true.

I'm convinced that race issues are going to be around for a good long while. As someone who is white I need to look at some things. On my list, at least, is the whole notion of ‘white privilege’. Why have so many of the cards been dealt in my favor over and over again? The field hasn’t been level for everyone.. Still isn’t. There are some deep rooted inequities in our system. But the truth is that I’ve benefited more often than not from those inequities.

Have I ever been treated differently in situations where I was in the minority? Absolutely. Sometimes better. Sometimes with disdain. Sometimes I’m stereotyped. I know what it’s like to be in a racially awkward situation. But the truth of the matter is that being conscious of my race is not the reality of my day to day life.

I also fully recognize that we are a land of immigrants. My Irish ancestors were looked down upon and often treated quite poorly. Each group that came to America has their story. Often enough people will say to me “We played by the rules and assimilated into the wider culture. Why can’t others do the same? We didn’t ask for set asides or handouts or entitlements. We made it by hard work and the sweat off our brow.” And then there’s the kicker follow up question. “Why can’t they?” They, of course, is code for anyone who is unlike us.

There’s no denying the hard work that immigrant groups contributed greatly to building this country. That should be applauded. Hard work and playing by the rules are good things. Did it help at all that the color of our immigrant skins was the color of the dominant culture a the time? Did it help that we could move into neighborhoods and assimilate easily? Did it help that historically that laws didn’t exclude us because of the color of our skin? Was that of any benefit? I think we were playing on a different field. It wasn’t necessarily easy but the truth is that the laws of our country didn’t keep my forefathers and mothers from enjoying the benefits of their labors. Others were not so lucky. We had access. Others didn’t. And even thought we’ve made great progress in the past 50 years the truth is we still have a ways to go.

And so when we look at other people and demand that they just gut up, pull their pants on one leg at a time and forge ahead, making good decisions, work hard and change their future we are speaking the language of the privileged and ignoring the reality of many. There’s lots of folks who are gutting up, working hard, and trying to make good decisions but the pressures of their current reality are so great that they feel like they’re running in place. We can say that they need a hand up not a hand out but the truth is that they need both and much more. If there was an easy solution we’d have found it by now.

Although the President’s back yard beer session felt awkward and contrived one piece of information emerged from it. The professor and the policeman had already sat down and begun to talk. Doesn’t surprise me. Everything I’ve been able to read indicates that they are both good men.

That’s what we’ve all got to do. Talk. Experience life together. Move intentionally out of our walled off daily lives and experience life in a racially mixed world. That won’t be easy. Many of the conversations will be hard. Stereotypes will need to be confronted. Realities faced. Difficult questions asked and answered.

One of my great fears is that the racial divide will get wider and wider. I sense a lot of anger that have racial implications if some of the mass e-mails I receive are any indication. That anger is going to lead to trouble unless we try to see the world through each other’s eyes. That’s just going to be hard face to face work. I wonder if we’re willing to get the job done. You see, we really don’t like to do what’s hard.

Last summer I went on the Justice Journey, a week long tour of the civil rights sights in the south. Our group was about half white, half black. Standing next to African American men and women, looking at old photos of demonstrations, of lynchings, and of lunch counter confrontations, was a ‘light bulb’ experience. My friends on the Journey experienced those pictures in a way that I either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Intellectually I had an understanding of such things and my heart had been touched through other experiences but something happened, in those moments in the civil rights museum, that grabbed my heart in brand new ways.

We all need to have our heart grabbed on these issues. All of us. Then maybe what comes out of our mouth will lead to healing not division.