Love Starts With a Name

Many would say it would be ‘nice’ to know the neighbors better. But as a life priority, that ranks somewhere near the desirability of adding heated seats to their automobile. You can get where you’re going without it, but it can add a little enjoyment to the drive. (The Abundant Community, p. 16)

Many people are familiar with the story in the Bible of the religious leader who asked Jesus what the greatest command was.

who-is-my-neighbor“Love God and love your neighbor,” was the short version of Jesus’ reply.

“Who is my neighbor?” the leader asked, wanting to justify himself.

Jesus replied by telling a story about an outcast (think illegal allien) who came across a guy beat up on the side of the road, helped him out and even paid for his medical bills! This was after two other religious leaders walked right past the wounded man.

“Which one was the neighbor?” Jesus asked.

“The guy who showed pity.”

“Go and follow his example.”

Just like the questioning leader, many of us still try to justify ourselves by redefining “neighbor.” We say, “Neighbor can be my co-workers, my friends, really anyone in the world.”

“When we insist we’re neighbors with everybody, often we end up being neighbors with nobody.” ~Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon, The Art of Neighboring (p.35).

These authors emphasize that we need to demonstrate love to our literal neighbors, and to start by simply learning the names of those who live around us. As they explain:

What do you think about when you hear the word love? Theologians write about it, poets muse about it, singers sing about it. We want to be really clear: we are none of those. We are relatively normal guys. We’re not deep thinkers, nor do we have any musical skills whatsoever-we’d embarrass ourselves on a karaoke stage. And, if we happened to rhyme, it’s not on purpose. But we do know this about love: to love someone, it helps to actually know their name. (p.40)

The authors then challenge readers to complete a simple exercise: write down the names of the people who live immediately around you. If you can, write both the first and last name. I have to admit, even though I’ve lived in my current neighborhood for over a year (and just around the corner from my current house for three years prior to that), hosted a neighborhood BBQ, participated in block parties and cleanups and am involved in community development full-time and volunteer in my free-time on a community development team at my church, I struggled with this first step. The exercise highlights how most of us could grow in loving our neighbors, and an easy way to get started: by learning their names!

Once you’ve jotted down names, the next step is to write any other relevant information you’ve learned through conversation with the person. In other words, things you can’t know just by observation such as the color of their car or landscape in their yard. Finally, you write down in-depth knowledge you’ve gained from meaningful conversations such as your neighbors’ dreams, desires, beliefs and motivations (p.37). It may take years to completely fill in the squares with this sort of in-depth information. Yet as we do, genuine love will form between us and our neighbors, replacing suspicion and criticism that has become a marker of our industrialized planet. As I wrote in a poem for a neighborhood block party last year:

“Which is the greatest command?”
A man asked the Teacher
“Love God and love your neighbors
Treat them like your brothers and sisters.”

Yet how can we love them
When we don’t even know?
The people around us
Are just houses in a row!

What we don’t know
We often suspect
Hurl insults
Treat like an object

Upset when their dog
Poops in our yard
We call the police
As we get in our car

Why not walk across the street
Offer to lend a hand
Get to know that neighbor
Turn into a friend

As we know our neighbors
We reduce our fear
Look out for each other
When danger is near

We represent a range
From wealth to poverty
Yet each brings a gift
That strengthens our community

So neighbors, let’s unite
Set aside our worries
Let’s raise our voices
Tell our communities’ stories

Let’s work for change
Safety on our avenue
Decrease the crime
As we reclaim and renew

Our neighborhood as our own
Where we work and connect
Worship and play
Without fear or regret

Replacing Yellow With Black: Mourning the Death of the Thai King 

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Yellow Flags to Honor King in Thailand, 2006

Memories from Southeast Asia a decade ago flashed through my mind when we paused during my  church’s service on Sunday to mourn the death of the king of Thailand.Unfortunately, all I really remembered about the Thai monarchy, though, was that everyone wore yellow shirts on Monday.

“To respect the king,” I was told.
The other thing about the king I could recall was conversations with my expat teammates when they returned from watching a movie at the theaters.
“Everyone stands to honor the king while they play his song and a short video about him,” they reported.”Thai people love their king.”
Had I studied political science or slightly more mature I might have paid more attention and asked questions while in Thailand about this beloved figure. Instead, I was preoccupied with bungee jumping, rafting down rivers, sampling street food and riding scooters or motorcycles.
Learning of his death a decade later, however, I realize that our globe is losing someone special. Although I don’t feel equipped to write a proper tribute, I wanted to acknowledge the legacy of this leader. A little research from a variety of sources lead me to believe that King Bhumibol Adulyadej was indeed a community entrepreneur. In his 70 year reign, King Bhumibol worked hard for the well-being of his subjects, showing care for poor and ethnic minorities. He helped develop farming practices as alternatives to growing opium. He also initiated a variety of other agricultural development projects such as irrigation, drought and flood alleviation and crop substitution. And he was a peacemaker both internationally and within his country [photos of his life including pictures with Queen Elizabeth and President Dwight Eisenhower can be seen here].

Some reflections from Thai people, passed on to me via a friend from Thailand:

  • He was King of our country, but became a commoner to have a relationship with us
  • He chose to dwell among us. He had residences in many provinces, and he chose to not keep to himself in his palace in Bangkok
  • He was the ‘hope’ of the country
  • ‘Father of the Nation’ – Father’s day is celebrated on December 5th, the king’s birthday
  • His Majesty was our ‘soul’
  • He cared for the welfare of his people
  • He put the people’s needs before his own
  • He was a ‘peace’ maker when their was division within the politics

Honoring the king isn’t something we do in the United States. Monarchy has never been part of our DNA. However, monarchy is ingrained in the history of Thailand and goes back 700 years! Reflecting on this makes me realize how ancient cultures are more connected to their story than the I am with my lens as a citizen of a the United States, a nation and political system that began within only one third of that time in history. It is little wonder then that the people of Thailand will be in mourning for their king for an entire year, wearing black, lowering their flag to half-mask and showing only coverage of their king on television for a season. As Will Ripley, author of the CNN coverage, How Thais are mourning the death of their King, put it:

“the nearly universal adoration Thais feel for their late king is undeniably palpable — and unparalleled in the modern world.”

Why I Want to Create Wealth

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Land was wealth 300 years ago. So the person who owned the land owned the wealth. Later, wealth was in factories and production, and America rose to dominance. The industrialist owned the wealth. Today, wealth is in information. And the person who has the most timely information owns the wealth. The problem is that information flies around the world at the speed of light. The new wealth cannot be contained by boundaries and borders as land and factories were. (p.95, Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the rich teach their kids about money—that the poor and middle class do not!)

Chew on that above paragraph for a few days and you’ll start to realize how profound Robert Kiyosaki’s words on finances are to a variety of realms. Think about it: the latest news—the most timely information—has power to sway masses of people that can influence a nation’s election. Yet this is true in a thousand other areas as well. In terms of social good, for example, if victims of human trafficking were equipped with the right information at just the right time, we could significantly reduce if not eliminate modern day slavery.

Kiyosaki’s best seller has given me huge insight into the significance of wealth creation. Most people work the majority of their lives for an employer, sending most of their income to the bank for loans and to the government in taxes. For the most wealthy, however, Kiyosaki points out that no matter how much we try to tax them to redistribute wealth more equally, they always find loopholes to evade the system. So taxes never affect those who are the most well-off. His words came to mind during last night’s Presidential debate. Donald Trump has successfully evaded our tax system his entire life. Yet after watching I thought to myself, “As offensive as I find the man, he was probably right when he accused Hillary’s financial supporters of also tapping into tax evasion loopholes.” The wealthiest people always do.

Kiyosaki’s advice is not to avoid paying taxes, but rather than spend our energy complaining about the wealthy not sharing (because essentially they never well), he encourages readers to focus on wealth creation. While reading his Rich Dad Poor Dad book last week, I came across a similar challenge from a vastly different source: a workshop at a Christian conference focused on international development by means of business.

“It’s time to ask, ‘what causes wealth?’” our white-haired facilitator said.

  • Churches consume it.
  • Families consume it.
  • Governments consume it.
  • Nonprofits consume it.
  • Only businesses create wealth.

Kiyosaki had expressed similar sentiments through his cash flow charts: much of what poor people and middle class people consider to be assets actually consume our income. And just like our workshop facilitator said, Kiyosaki emphasized how in government, successful budgeting is combined with spending (a.k.a consuming):

The government ideal is to avoid having excess money. If you fail to spend your allotted funds, you risk losing it in the next budget. You would certainly not be recognized for being efficient. Business people, on the other hand, are rewarded for having excess money and are applauded for their efficiency. (p.85)

Spending as close to the amounts allotted us in our budget to avoid losing money for future seasons is also a common practice for many churches, nonprofits and aid organizations-places often dedicated to fighting poverty. Our workshop facilitator, however, pointed out that “Good intentions don’t end poverty. Enterprise and freedom end poverty.” Many organizations are beginning to recognize this with the development of social enterprise, high-bred fusions of business and non-profit worlds. But we need to keep pushing, beyond providing jobs for people.

“Instead of training job seekers, we need to train job makers,” our workshop facilitator instructed. And he backed his advice up with scripture:

“Remember the LORD your God, because he is the one who gives you the ability to produce wealth,” (Deuteronomy 8:18 NIV)

Let the People Dance! Reflections on Haitian Roots 

Poverty. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Orphans. These are words much of the world associates with Haiti. As I contemplated writing this reflection, I scrolled through my Instagram feed to see another natural disaster in the form of Hurricane Matthew swirl towards this country.

In response to such national devastation, Lakou Mizik, a Haitian roots band, narrates their nation’s story differently: through song and dance. As The Guardian put it, Lakou Mizik is “a joyous antidote to Haiti’s hard times.” The group of multi-generational musicians travel throughout the United States and Haiti sharing their songs and in their own words “using Haiti’s deep well of creative strength to shine a positive light on this tragically misrepresented country.”

Haitian Roots

Haitian Roots Band plays at the Nectar Lounge in Seattle

I attended one of their performances at the Nectar Lounge in Seattle this past July where I got glimpses of people and a country to which I have never visited. Yet as I swayed on the periphery of the lounge to their upbeat tunes, I reflected on my own journey of awareness of cultures and how I and my white dominant culture engage with diversity in the form of “ethnic” entertainment.

Ten years ago…

My thought would have been: What are people here thinking of me?

My motivation for attending: to experience another culture’s song and dance.

Five years ago…

My thought would have been: Who cares what people think? Let’s all dance and bring the crowd along too!

My motivation for attending: same as ten years ago although I would have been more relaxed. Also, to have fun and maybe flirt with some cute guys.

In the summer of 2016…

My thoughts were: Why are so many white people here consuming Haitian song and dance, taking up the center space directly in front of the stage, while people of color in attendance are hanging back on the outskirts of forum? Does this scene represent what my African American friends have been complaining about online recently: white liberals who embrace the trend of protesting, tweet #BlackLivesMatter and consume other cultures as entertainment but do little to actually change systems and structures? This feels like acculturation.

My motivation for attending: to reconcile after a fallout with a business partner and get paid for a contract gig I did in February.

I have by no means “arrived” in my awareness, or what some may call my awakening, towards diversity. I’m sure in a few years or even a few months I’ll look back at naive notions I hold today. I’m glad that people countries such as the United States have opportunities to experience the song, dance and culture of live musicians, to expand our view of the nation-even if ever so slightly-beyond scenes of flooded homes and starving children as portrayed by news and international aid organizations. But if we want to move beyond pity to partnership with people of other cultures, we must first show appreciation. And true appreciation begins with listening. It starts by taking a back seat, and leaving room in the center for people to dance to their own music until we on the outside are invited to join.