Dave Schools recently wrote an article for Forge entitled“The 2-Word Trick That Makes Small Talk Interesting.”The two words are, “I’m curious …”

Dave points out that some of the best interviewers use this phrase to draw information out of people. Why does it work?

It digs. It dives. It shovels into motivations, personal history, the human psyche. It communicates that the listener is interested, open and even eager to hear more about something important in the other person.

It’s a way to get beyond small talk, below the surface, into an interesting dialogue.

Another version of this is, “I’m really interested in …”

The trick really isn’t in the words; it’s in being really interested in other people. To be inquisitive, to be big eyes over another, to be socially investigative — it’s a treasure hunt. People are fascinating. Everyone has a story, a human narrative, even a universal narratology — now there’s the thing, bang, cha-ching!

I once met a young Muslim woman at a conflict resolution training in downtown San Diego. We went out to lunch with some people for sushi, and I got her talking about her faith. It actually lead to me visiting her Mosque. It opened my mind to new things. .

In the last few years I met some people who build houses for families in Mexico. I expressed interest. I asked questions. The result was that I ended up as part of a team who built a house for a family in Tijuana.

It was an amazing experience, super touching when we handed the keys to a new, furnished home to a family who had been living in a 6×8 foot shed with their new baby. One of the leaders of the trip is still one of my good friends.

Once I called the contractor to do some stucco work. Someone had mentioned to me that he was a Christian and did good work. We hit it off on the phone. He told me about his family and about his passion to help people. He came and stuccoed a new retaining wall at my church and the marquee sign — all for minimal cost.

Why? We went beyond small talk. We connected. I was interested in him and he in me.

On 13 March 1781 William Herschel made note of a new object in the constellation of Gemini. It was Uranus, the first planet to be discovered since antiquity and Herschel became famous overnight. He was appointed Court Astronomer. He was elected to the Royal Society and grants were provided for the construction of new telescopes.

There are more new planets to be discovered, human planets, fascinating people who might eventually orbit around us and add so much to us.

The fruits of curiosity — they’re good!

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

This is the high point of the Biblical story of the prodigal son.

The father welcomes the wayward son home.

Who do we identify with in the story? It’s easy to think of ourselves as the prodigal son seeing that we have all had our times away from God. It’s also easy to think of ourselves as the older brother. We have all been jealous when someone else got the attention that we needed or felt we deserved.

Of course, we are both the prodigal son and the older brother, but as Henri Nouwen has pointed out we are also the father.

One of the great pathways to safety with ourselves is in welcoming ourselves home. To forgive oneself, to love oneself, to hug and kiss oneself with the affection and safety of a good father, we all need that.

Looking back is helpful to see that our lives were led. God was always there. When we went away he followed us, and when we came back he was right there also. Our mistakes are forgiven by him in Christ.

The question is: Can we forgive ourselves?

This is not always easy. We must work at it. We must say, “Yes I am loved. Yes, I am forgiven. Yes, I am accepted. I am in the family of God.”

We must see that sometimes we are a harsh, judgmental father; we are the one standing in our own way of being home. We are the one with judgment of ourselves. We are the one who needs to become the gentle, compassionate father. We must model ourselves after God, the perfect father and gently love ourselves as the needy child.

Do this: Fill yourself with compassion for yourself. Run to yourself. Embrace yourself. Drop the negative narrative about yourself. It’s incorrect. Welcome your whole self home, just as God does.

As our nation is now embroiled in fierce debate about right and wrong, and as Christians are drawn into the discussion, I find some need for clarity on what is good, what is godly.

Below are a few thoughts: None of this is directed at a political party or political figure. I find myself disillusioned with partisan, party politics and with leaders on all sides who seem to spend their time attacking each other rather than working together on our problems. I find myself longing for wise leadership that can bring sides together, that values everyone. I find myself longing for God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

What does that look like?

Within God’s perspective, public virtue is always based on private virtue. Evil in private, virtuous in public is not virtuous. Within Christ’s teachings, congruency is expected, integrity required. Jesus taught that a good heart produces good, an evil heart evil.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Luke 6:45

Jesus condemned those who looked good but had greedy and selfish hearts.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Mathew 23:25

Inside the cup matters. Greed and selfishness is a chronic personal and political leadership problem for all of us. Care for others, unselfish thoughts of our nation’s future, other nation’s futures. our planet’s future should — if we are unselfish — enter our discussions about race, gender, debt, wars, pollution, health and community fairness and integrity.

The kingdom of God is unselfish. It thinks of the welfare of all people, men and women, all races, all faiths, all nations. It seeks peace, it is willing to negotiate, to listen, to be fair.

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 

James 3:17

We would do well to use James’s standards to judge the wisdom of our leaders, to judge what is love, to judge governmental decisions, laws, and to measure ourselves.

Next, we must hold to this: a good end is never justified by an evil means. If someone does evil, God may work some good out of it — perhaps their downfall and replacement by a better person — but God holds all of us responsible for our actions.

Evil behavior is never justifiable. Paul gets at this in one key place saying. “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”

Romans 6:1

No person in any culture or government has an exemption from being moral, good and legal. A public official does not have an elite, morally exempt status. Nor does a rich or powerful citizen. Nor does a group. We are all judged by our laws and by God alike. Right is right for all.

God held the ancient Jewish kings to his standards and commands. Saul didn’t get away with disobeying God. Neither did David get away with immorality. Neither did the nations of the Old Testament sin before God without God noticing and responding.

We can’t see this as clearly today, but I am convinced God is watching and in his time and way he will bring justice and kindness to many.

What are the means by which we might measure a godly kingdom or government?

The greatest Christian and Jewish moral code provides a standard for behavior; this is the Ten Commandments. Many laws are derived from that. That’s a starting point for standards.

But there is a Biblical standard beyond that. Jesus came with something new. He taught that the highest Christian measure of godliness and of virtue is love. He brought love and forgiveness in as a deep part of God’s plan. Apply this to politics. The best leaders love; they that means they understand grace. The best government is the most loving, like the best person. It is certainly not the most dominant. Love is the greatest law and the greatest power.

The great command by which we measure good is love. Does this person, public or private, love people, all people, neighbors? Does this government love? It’s odd that we never ask that, seldom apply that standard to government, particularly when we have a people’s government, government by the people of the people and for the people. A group of people is not subject to a different moral law then one person. They may have different functions but there isn’t a different morality to govern them.

The state has the right, for instance, to arrest, judge, incarcerate and punish. But only and always morally and justly and by law. We are commanded to respect this and our leaders in Romans 13.

In this role authorities should protect, as they are appointed to do, but protection must still be guided by love and protection from evil is to be accomplished by doing good. Good government doesn’t protect just one group or one kind of person. Jesus set up a love standard and he didn’t exclude anyone or any group from it. Thus there is a Christian ban on racism.

We should respect governments, engage them to engage the kingdom, vote, lobby, protest, serve in them in order to establish love on earth.

But when government is wrong, we have a higher calling to respect God. When men, especially when leaders or governments are wrong, we must speak and act for the good.

When commanded to stop preaching about Jesus, “Peter and the other apostles replied: ‘We must obey God rather than human beings!’”

Acts 5:29

Particularly in the United States, where we have freedom of speech, we are responsible to speak up when things are wrong and to stand for what is good. That is our civic duty, to stand up for love. The kingdom of God looks like wise love!

Finally, who do we Christians look to for protection?

We do look to governments, just and fair governments, but we must apply great wisdom and oversight. Too often governments have used people, us, all of us, to do evil and they have also abused us for being good. Sometimes they have protected us, and we are grateful for that, and we must continue to use and work with governments to create order and protection of the good, but ultimately, we look to God for our help, even in crafting good governments and electing good leaders.

Scripture constantly points to God, not government, for guidance, wisdom and protection precisely from the ways and means of unreliable humans and dangerous enemies.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Deuteronomy 31:6

“Never will I leave you;

    never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.

    What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 13:5-6

We all have questions, doubts, about ourselves, others, politics, religion, God.

Doubts can make us feel alone, make us feel like outliers, add angst to our quest to figure out life.

But doubts are normal. If someone has no doubt perhaps that person isn’t thinking deeply, perhaps they are afraid of nuances, of grey areas, paradoxes and contradictions. Perhaps they aren’t free to explore life’s hard questions. Doubts are healthy and normal and good

Doubts, questions, theories, testing — theses are the door to discovery.

“Test everything,” says Paul in the Bible.

In Wendell Barry’s novel Jayber Crow a conversation between Jaber and a professor of religion illustrates this nicely.

“Well,” I said, [Jayber] “I’ve got a lot of questions.”

He [the professor] said, “Perhaps you would like to say what they are?”

“Well, for instance,” I said, “if Jesus said for us to love our enemies—and He did say that, didn’t He?—how can it ever be right to kill our enemies? And if He said not to pray in public, how come we’re all the time praying in public? And if Jesus’ own prayer in the garden wasn’t granted, what is there for us to pray, except ‘thy will be done,’ which there’s no use in praying because it will be done anyhow?”

I sort of ran down. He didn’t say anything. He was looking straight at me. And then I realized that he wasn’t looking at me the way he usually did. I seemed to see way back in his eyes a little gleam of light. It was a light of kindness and (as I now think) of amusement.

He said, “Have you any more?”

“Well, for instance,” I said, for it had just occurred to me, “suppose you prayed for something and you got it, how do you know how you got it? How do you know you didn’t get it because you were going to get it whether you prayed for it or not? So how do you know it does any good to pray? You would need proof, wouldn’t you?”

He nodded.

“But there’s no way to get any proof.”

He shook his head. We looked at each other.

He said, “Do you have any answers?”

“No,” I said.

Jaber asks good questions.

Interestingly if you look closely a few answers are present in his questions.

Killing people — Jesus was against it. Then let’s not do it. A better world would ensue.

Prayer — “your will be done” is simple, good enough, or perhaps we might be more just silence before God, waiting, listening.

Proofs, proof of divine intervention — those can be unclear. They are debatable. The older I am the less I understand so many things, including God’s ways in the world and including myself. I am currently suffering some health issues that the doctors can’t resolve. This is changing me.

God has not decided as yet to intervene. So I am developing a different relationship with God. I seek less selfish proofs. God and I now share more mutual silences. We sit without talking. I leave the next move on the game board to him. I want him closer than I feel him but I am learning to be brave and patient when I don’t get what I want.

I sit with my stuff, my own unsolved mysteries, and then I move toward grounding myself in the now, the beauty of the now, in the surrounding astonishing divine whatness, our amazing earth. I practice gratitude in small doses for where I do see God — in the care of my wife, in a song, in my food, in a doctors care in brief times of peace.

Wendell Barry’s Jayber is my man! I love his questions. I love how he eventually changes and learns to love his community.

Our questions, as we mature — they soften overtime. The answers come as discernments, specific insights, for each case, not platitudes, not formulas, not propositional truth, not universals we pound others with, and the answers — they eventually are not so black and white as we once thought and not so much required.

The answers come in their own time.

It isn’t all up to us.

Best not to hate and kill people.

Kindness with ourselves and others is paramount.

Prayer is mostly alignment, not asking, me aligning with God.

Be at peace with yourself and God.

Life is mysterious.

Like God.

The secret to an increased level of contentment and peacefulness is to live in the present, see the good in the moment, embrace the “is.”

The current is has the best fizz.

One of my favorite is’s today was a sip of espresso this morning. Sip pause, swallow —- “Ah.” And hold.

They say “seize the day.” Usually we wrestle the hour, but I say unto you sit in the second.

When we arrived at the top of the Coronado bay bridge today the Pacific opened up in front of us with clear views all the way out to the Coronado Islands — halcyon, blue sea, silvery shimmery expanse, Coronado red tile roof tops aglow, green palms lining the white beaches, puffy clouds above in a brilliant azure sky.

I sat in the second. Seized it. “Gorgeous world! I love you!” It is still with me.

To live inside the here — gawk, clap, hoot and cheer!

Take a moment now. Close your eyes. Take a long slow deep breath’s. Imagine the most beautiful things you saw today. Those were today’s beautiful moments of “is.”

Now open your eyes and gawk, see clearly what’s near you — perhaps someone you love, perhaps the view through the window, perhaps a piece of art in your home, perhaps your precious hands.

Hug the now; kiss the “Wow!; take a vow.

Take a vow to banish what is negative, for even just a moment, banish the negative past and negative present too, and also refuse the future that scares you, even just for a moment, and wrap your mental arms around what is in front of you, what is real, what is good.

That is your reality if you let it be.

Fools drink a case of was; the wise drink up a lake of is.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Two thousand years ago was the human incarnation of God in Jesus, but before that there was the first and original incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and “every kind of wild beast,” according to our own creation story (Genesis 1: 3–25). 

Richard Rohr

What a fascinating and under-applied understanding of scripture we have here —  nature as an incarnation of God!

We usually refer to what Rohr describes as general or natural revelation. The creation isn’t God, that is a theological misunderstanding — it isn’t incarnate God like Jesus was God — but it is from him and of him and retains his image in we who were created by him, so yes, in same ways God is incarnate in nature, most startlingly in us. 

Nature shows us God like Jesus did, his characteristics, his nature. Nature holds together because of Christ and he will redeem it in the end. Rohr’s use of “incarnation” implies that the creation’s relationship with God is deeper than we have fathomed.

This is Biblical. 

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made … His qualities, they are in nature.

Romans 1:20

He [Jesus] existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. He is a force in nature, divine gravity!

Colossians 1:17

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Both male and female, attributes, coming from God. 

Genesis 1:27

God’s power runs creation. His image is in us! His divine nature can be seen the earth and sky. He holds all it together in a web, in an ongoing way. 

Of course the godly have always admired sunsets, high mountains and flowers along with most everyone else, and we have our Saint Francis, but what has often paralleled these token acknowledgements of God’s connectedness to nature is an utter disregard for stewarding earth’s resources, a shocking lack of the development of a excited global theology, and a dishonoring of our fellow humans. 

Our waters are polluted, the element of our sacrament of baptism dishonored. Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate our marine environments. Plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtles species. 

 Our forests, a show of God’s renewable beauty and power are decimated. Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) of forest,  — an area larger than South Africa. Since humans started cutting down forests, 46 percent of the trees have been felled according to a 2015 study in the journal Nature. 

Our skies, His wonders, are full of smoke. Air pollution cuts the average lifespan of people around the globe by almost two years, making it the single greatest threat to human health. In the United States, even people with the lowest energy usage account for, on average, more than double the global per-capita carbon emission. We are literally smoking out the image of God. 

Space, the glory of God,  is now full of junk. The U.S. Department of Defense tracks more than 500,000 pieces of space junk in orbit around Earth. 

And tragically, instead of propagating love toward the different kinds of people on earth, those claiming to represent God have often participated in religious sectarianism, culture cancellation, isolationism, divisive nationalism, religious wars and racism. How does this honor the image of God in created humans, in those who Jesus taught are our neighbors?

This is what we have done to the power and glory of God in the natural world, we have wasted, harmed and ruined it.  Most terribly this include our fellow humans. It’s horrific! We have plundered the earth, poisoned the well, rendered the sky deadly and slaughtered each other. 

Furthermore and surprisingly the godly haven’t often been the leaders in stopping this, in honoring and preserving the intricately webbed ecology that keeps every living thing alive. 

I just finished reading The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, a nonfiction book released in 2015 by the historian Andrea Wulf. Humbolt’s 18th Century journey through Central and South America and later in his travels through Russia and the wonderful books he published based on his discoveries made Humbolt the pre-eminent scientist of his time.

Humbolt got it! He, and he was not a person of faith, understood what the godly didn’t. At 19,000 feet on Chimborazo — an Ecuadorian volcano — Humboldt, writes Wulf, “realized that nature was a web of life and a global force. He was, a colleague later said, the first to understand that everything was interwoven as with ‘a thousand threads’. This new idea of nature was to change the way people understood the world.” Humbolt changed the way we look at nature. He revealed it as an interconnected whole, an ecology, a world of interdependence. This is 5he way God made it and how he sees it!

Humbolt had massive energy and enthusiasm to study, understand and explain nature, and by doing so excite others about it’s wonders and the need to preserve them. In his day, everybody read Humbolt — Darwin, Marsh, Haekael, Goethe, Thoreau, Whitman, Muir and countless others. Humbolt’s book Views of Nature was  read around the globe. His poetic descriptions of the rapids of Orinoco, where he described rainbows dancing, ”optical magic,” reveal a man astonished and enchanted with nature inspired wonder, travel, research and preservation.

He understood the power he was witnessing. “What speaks to the soul,” Humboldt wrote, “escapes our measurements.”

What can we take from this?

All churches and mosques and temples and people of faith should encourage the study of nature and promote involvement in the sciences. As in the 17th Century women and men of faith should lead in rational and empirical exploration of our world. We have hidden too much in dogma and doctrine and neglected our father’s revelation in creation.  We would know him better if we honored the creation more. And we should lead the way in preservation of the earth and the honoring of all people.

And to know God better we  would advance if we looked closer at our world, at our neighbor and then ask what they existing as they are tell us about who God is. 

Today I tried to see Him in it. 

The clouds — big white and grey —  they reminded me of his care. They bring shade, rain, beauty and remind me that God is shade, rain and beauty for me.

The grab grass growing along my driveway — even this small unwanted life form possesses his power, especially his perseverance, his holy stubbornness. Like God it can’t be killed. 

The food chain? Often I’ve hated the violence of it — a lion running down an antelope. And yet all thing live on and in other things. One dies for another to live. The egg on my French toast this morning, given for me. The meat in my soup tonight, the glory of God given for me. The food chain is communion, the Eucharist. We eat what is holy, grain and oil and wine in remembrance of him who gave it, his life, to us. 

The delicate flowers of the purple and white lantana in my yard.  God is subtle, delicate, a beauty that keeps morphing, that dies back (Christ) and comes back. 

My friends from India, lovely, beautiful, their food, their clothes the different beliefs. They are God lovers for me to treasure and love. 

Today my wife was at the zoo.  She took a video of a red panda. I love him! I want him! I want to hug him. His reddish-brown fur, white nose and ears, long, fluffy, banded tail and waddling walk. If I approached him for a tete-a-tete he’d probably rip my face off. I do want the lamb to lie with the lion, the panda with me. But God has given the panda a solitary nature. He reminds me of Jesus’s need to be alone. God too must enjoy his own company at times. I also need time alone. 

To see, to take note, to honor, to enthuse, to celebrate, to understand, to nurture,  to share with others, to live at peace with our astonishing world as much as we are able — this is our holy mandate before the creation. 

Look! There’s God.

  

As we end the holiday season, we could ask ourselves where did we see the face of Christ?

My attention was drawn to one kind of seeing his face this Christmas season, although someone had to take me in hand and point this out to me because I’m so obtuse sometimes. I saw Christ in my wife’s face, my friend’s faces and my daughter’s faces. There was a divine complementarity going on where his qualities found space in them. .

Those smiles, warm cheeks, those bright eyes and those wet tears — there were some of these for each of us — in these was Christ. Christ was with us also to console each other. My wife sat with me and comforted me I was in pain, stroking my face — the very hand of Christ touched me. I held her when she cried one day. The arms of Christ. I comforted my daughter on another day when she was sick. The comfort of Christ.

One evening we ate looking into a table full of dear faces, faces of church friends. We shared talk, games, laughter. We were Christ to each other. I played cards with Christ. He let me win.

Did you serve someone this season? You were Christ to them. Did someone serve you? They were Christ to you.

This will be acknowledged at the end of time in a profound moment when the King will say to you and me, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:40

Who am I?

Who are you?

Let me help us both.

We are a multiplicity of overlapping, interacting and changing identities.

I think over my own many morphing identities and my points of awareness of them.

Let me tell you my story, the story of my identity formation, and what it might suggest about what God is doing with us

Let’s start with gender. I grew up as a male in a predominately male household. It was rough and tumble, sock and be socked. My sense of being a male increased when I went to school and there were the girls! Those beautiful creatures! I liked the look of them better than I liked the look of my brothers, but they were a bit scary. What could you say other than to blurt out that you loved them and what then! Awkward! I know. I did that!

There were my summer camp friends, Connie and Beth and Cindy. They were like sisters to me. They were good for me, less threatening than the brothers, and I think they were preparing me for a life of working appropriately and respectfully with females.

There is another thing that I ran into regarding gender. Arriving at college I realized males were being criticized for being unemotional, insensitive, domineering and violent. There was something off about being a male, and yet, while acknowledging the abuses of my kind, I found I was still been able to love myself as male and to develop deep and loving relationships with male friends, especially those who weren’t overly competitive.

At home in my early years I identified more with my mother than my father, her love of art, nature and beauty, and her affection, openly expressed. Watching males who ruled, (my father with his armamentarium of discipline) I began to understand the structural and emotional power of patriarchy, the competitiveness and dominance of males, my own tendencies to dominate, and my hatred of that very thing when in our world it has led to oppression and abuse and shame of females. Later in my professional career, I made it my goal to use the power of my gender to advance women in the positions of power and leadership. I felt as if on a mission to do this.

Besides gender, age is a great shaper of identity. I became acutely aware of my age in my twenties, although every age has his poignant moments of awareness — of it’s time stamp, of the power of time to shape our lives. In my middle to late twenties I felt the cultural push, the societal expectation to get married, to develop a career, to find and initiate my own family. To not do would be a social failure — or so it seemed. We are dominated by the traditional identities we are expected to assume. When I was 27 I met a young woman, Linda, who became a friend, over time a trusted confidant, someone I felt extremely comfortable with, someone I could be myself with. Ah, the freedom to explore what’s inside — what a gift Linda gave to me! Together we made a bond, we came of age, we married, we began to help shape each other’s identities. We created a shared identity, we made a family. We had girls. Rosalind and Laurel. Those years seemed as if they would never end. They did. Age is power to be and do certain things. Certain ages contain more power than others. As I age and lose some physical power I see that age identity keeps shifting.

Racial identity hit me between the eyes when I took my first job as a teacher at a school where 70% of the students were black, 20% Hispanic, the rest a mix of other cultures. I was white, I stood out, white faculty, and my understanding of the power dynamics of race greatly increased. A majority of the teachers were white.

I had an epiphany. I needed to find a connection with the backgrounds of my students, dialogue with them on identity, understand them better, help them sort out their identities. So I found and assigned ethnic literature, and we explored the power dynamics of race through writers like Malcolm X, Langston Hughes and Sandra Cisneros. My eyes were opened to how heavily race shaped power in our culture. I saw so many of my students suffering from poor self-esteem, from fear of success, from the criticism of their own community.

I was able to see up-close the emasculation of the black American male by American history. Slavery was one of the powerful institutions that created white privilege and the effects of that remain with us to today. I came to hate racism, passionately, to hate it in myself, and to do everything possible to rid the world of it.

Eventually I took a job as a pastor. As a Christian, I began to grapple with my religious identity and feelings and thoughts about other religions. I was never comfortable with the stereotype of intolerance and judgmental mismanagement that I knew some would place on me. The divide between those with different Christian doctrines and those with different faiths became something to explore and understand, not to fear. Over time I grew in appreciation for others unique struggles to find God. At one time I saw my Christianity as separating me from others, but I eventually came to see it as linking me to others. So many Christians are against so many other groups. They are stuffed with divisive morals and doctrines. Following Jesus, I have moved in the opposite direction. I am more for people, for understanding, for dialogue, for acceptance, for appreciation of what so many of us have in common — a thirst for God. I don’t diminish the significance of differences, of contradictions, but I find myself drawn much more to the similarities that we have as we struggle to understand and experience life and God.

Now let’s consider social class. I grew up poor because my parents were engaged in Christian social work. My parents were absolutely committed to helping people who struggled, who we might consider stuck in a bottom social class. My dad spent a lifetime working in drug and alcohol rehab programs, helping and mixing lovingly with those struggling with addiction. I grew up making friends with and hanging out with men who were self-described alcoholics. My mom started a halfway house in Los Angeles for women and children living on the street. But I was never very conscious of class as a young person.

When I married, my wife and I both developed professional careers, and as a result we did the things that cemented us into the middle class, bought houses, took vacations in Europe — to Paris, to London, to Rome, to Kona, to San Francisco to Washington D.C. — visited national parks and provided rich experiences for our children. We mixed with other professionals socially who did the same.

But in this upwardly mobile movement I experienced the endemic economic insecurity of the middle-class, the anxiety that there wasn’t enough even when there was more than enough, the compulsion to spoil our children with things. But interestingly in my work as a teacher and as a pastor I again became very connected to people without resources and very passionate about relating to them in fair, honoring and personal ways. I traveled to countries that looked a lot different than our vacations destinations. I went to and worked in places like Nicaragua, Brazil, Puerto Rico, South Africa and Mexico leading crews to embrace, build with and empower the people there.

And in the second church I pastored, we set up programs to feed people, we built a beautiful counseling center, and we made counseling affordable, and invited recovery groups into the church as an integral part of our ministry. And all this I could feel the effect of my parents model in my life.

My life has given me an education in class differences and it has increased my appreciation for people independent of the dividing walls of class

Disability, the identity of disability also defines me. One of our daughters. Rosalind, was born with brain damage. She developed epilepsy. She went to school in special-education classes. Through her I became acutely aware of what it means to be disabled, to have that identity as a family. I morphed. At one point I was an intellectual snob, preferring, I thought, the smart, the intelligentsia, the great writers, the intellectual elite, but living with my daughter, living through the pain, the loss, working through a disabled identity with her, loving her equally to my “smart” family members, I put my snobbish intellectualism aside, used my intelligence to try to understand others, worked not to let education or intelligence come between me and anyone. Intelligence does not equal worth; being equals worth. This is a lesson I hold in my heart.

Gender, age, race, religion, class, disability and more — all make up my complex identity because identity is the interaction of multiple factors and to grow in understanding ourselves and others we must refuse to be simplistic and naïve about who we are sociologically and systemically. We all have multiple identities have the capability of shifting toward the positive.

Especially for we Christians, trying to follow God, we can be sure that God is in the mix. God is the divine sociologist, the great anthropologist, the shaper and maker of the components of identity.

The famous dictum, know thyself should be expressed as know thy multiple selves. I do not have a multiple personality disorder, (although you couldn’t get all who know me to assent to that) but I do have a multiple identity disorder. The disorder is I don’t always know who I am. The disorder is that I haven’t honestly faced my role, my privilege, my dysfunction within the culture that I exist within. At times I have resisted my identity and my daughter’s identity as disabled. At times I have completely embrace this. When one night Rosalind cried that she couldn’t read and said, I hate myself!” I cried with her and she looked up and asked, “Daddy are you crying for me?” And I was and we bonded deeply in that eye-streaming moment.

Let’s be very honest here. Gender, age, race, religion, class, patriarchy, and disability have always been grounds for the determination of value, and they have also been the brutal playing field upon which horrible, harming attitudes, policies and discriminations have taken place. In my own life I can see how I could take identity in one of two directions: to bring harm; to bring help.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and other modern scholars have developed a concept that can help us very much in understanding identity. The concept is now widely known and discussed as intersectionality.

Intersectionality is the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

Intersectionality is now widely understood to illustrate the interplay between any kinds of discrimination, whether it’s based on gender, race, age, class, socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, gender or sexual identity, religion, or ethnicity. The multitude of modern research done on the intersection of race and gender has mainstreamed the concept of intersectionality. For example, to be black and female can result in a double whammy of discrimination. If you want proof go explore how the courts frame and interpret the stories of black women plaintiffs.

Only gradually, overtime, have I come to realize where I stand on the Axes of Identity Privilege. I have been given an advantaged, privileged identity that many others have not. Being a white, educated, middle-class male with intellectual acuity, being tall, attractive enough, able bodied and capable of reproduction has given me great advantages.

I applied for jobs and got them easily. I aspire to supervisory and leadership and executive roles within the organizations I worked for and I was given them. I was supplied ample remuneration for my work, I applied for loans and got them, I invested with professional guidance in the stock market and in housing and accumulated wealth. I was and am a part of a system that has rewarded my kind.

“Come on,” you might say, “You earned what you got, you worked hard, you make good choices.”

The truth is that many people work hard, many people much poorer than I am work harder than I have and many people without the privilege that I have experienced have made good choices. And yet our culture has marginalize them, limited them, not rewarded them with leadership roles, not loaned to them, held them back, seen them as lesser. And being in multiple minority groups involves an intersectionality that leads to even less opportunity.

Some will argue back that no matter the odds against any of us we are still responsible for our choices. A victim’s mentality will get you know where. Make your own opportunity. Push through the barriers. I agree. Yes, fight for your identity. If no one helps you help yourself. But systemic discrimination makes it very hard to win, to get a piece of the pie. When the majority create a wall around opportunity that can be a high barrier to try to scale. Is there systemic discrimination in the United States? There is.

There are many startling examples in our country.

In 2016 major league baseball had only one Latino and no black managers. As we turn the calendar to 2020, Dave Roberts of the Los Angeles Dodgers remains as the only black manager among the league’s 30 franchises. The examples of this kind of thing are endless.

Women hold 6.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEO roles.

Black homeownership rate (32.7 percent) has fallen drastically since 2000 and is now just over half the rate for whites. Independent reviews confirmed by The Associated Press showed black mortgage applicants were turned away at significantly higher rates than whites in 48 cities, Latinos in 25, Asians in nine.

People of color make up 37% of the U.S. population but 67% of the prison population. Overall, African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. Black men are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white men and Hispanic men are more than twice as likely to be incarcerated as non-Hispanic white men.

I know this kind of thing first hand in my own profession. It is extremely difficult for a young, female pastor with children to land a role as a lead pastor in a church.

So what to do?

One, understand this problem of bias in America, of intersectionality. Don’t deny it. Don’t falsely claimed that we are not a part of it. Grapple with it. We all own the race issue. We all own the gender issue. We all own the class issue.

Secondly, review your own history as I have mine. I have told you my story, how life has shaped me and changed me. I believe that God is in the story. I believe that God had been working —as you can see in my narrative — to disabuse me of my discriminatory tendencies, to help me understand intersectionality.

Tell yourself your own story. Do you realize where you have been advantaged or disadvantage? Can you see God helping you to work against discriminatory attitudes and behaviors. Have you changed to be a more accepting, empowering and loving person?

Thirdly, seek out experiences with people different than yourself and grow in an understanding of intersectionality.

Lastly, bring fairness, justice, empowerment to people of all kinds in the places you work, school, worship, play, live and do business.

Who are you?

Who do you want to be?

Who is God shaping you to be?

Let justice roll down like waters,and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Amos 5:24

Life is full of simple choices — in two directions.

Today I drove to pick up my wife after her walk to Sprouts netted too many veggies for her to carry home. She needed that rescue. I was glad to do this.

But on the way out of the garage I backed over a piece of our stored gazebo that had fallen out of it’s box and under my tire. Really? Out of the box and under the back tire? Ruined it! But instead of beating myself up about this, upon arriving back home I immediately called the company that made the patio cover and ordered a new part ($5.99). I consider the whole thing a success. By taking care of this, by protecting my emotions, I didn’t have to regret ruining a $200 piece of equipment.

Helps, rescues — they run in two directions, towards others and towards ourselves. We are to be good Samaritans to others— and also to ourselves.

When we read the story of the good Samaritan we are tempted to come at it in a monolithic way. We interpret the narrative so that we are always the Good Samaritan.

And while of course this is valid, and we do well to let the text implicate us and convict us to care for others, this is not a complete reading of the text. In truth we are both the good Samaritan and the one robbed, beaten and naked along the road.

This is a more expanded but still accurate view of the text. It provides a way to view our wounded selves. Consider this.

“When the Samaritan found one who was robbed and beaten and naked along the road the text says,“He [the Samaritan] went to him [the wounded one] and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’”

Magnanimous! Just! Above and beyond. We must not neglect the wounded among us.

And yet the truth is that sometime that naked one is us. Life robs us all! Life beats up on us all. We all make mistakes. Life leaves all along the road in need of help at some point.

Today that was true of me. I was in pain all day from several old injuries. So I lovingly medicating myself. I lay down. I distracted myself cleaning and gardening.

When we are the beaten up, we must, to follow the teaching of Jesus, help ourselves. We must carry ourselves to those who can help us. Discouraged perhaps we need to make a phone call to a friend. Hurting we may need to take our medicine. Hurting we may need to do some stretches.

We must at times carry ourselves to ourselves to experience the oil and wine of our own kindnesses. We must be the innkeeper we pay to care for our very selves. We must be willing to pay for help for ourselves, perhaps for counseling, perhaps medical treatment, perhaps a gym membership, perhaps good food, perhaps a new book to inspire us.

It is not enough to be the hero of the text, the excellent Samaritan. It is not accurate that we always will be. At times we are at the hurt one.

When this is the case, do this. Love your hurt self. See yourself and have compassion.

To do this well ultimately we must carry ourselves to God himself and present our wounds and our soul’s neediness to him. To do this is to see ourselves accurately, to not look away from our own nakedness and weakness.

Thus evening my wife talked me into going out to dinner. I needed this. I needed her to feed me with a time out with good food. I let myself be taken care of.

Interesting, the day began with me helping her, and that it ended with her helping me.

“Go and do likewise,” said Jesus.

Through the holiday season I have been thinking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. In reading through Luke’s account I was struck by Simeon’s comment, almost an aside, to Mary, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Hearing this we think of one sword, and of course the literate reader immediately recognizes the connection to Christ on the cross, pierced. The sword that pierces Jesus pierces Mary, his mother.

But as I thought over her story, I could see that there were many piercings in her life. The astonishing and yet confusing circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, the complications it must’ve created with her family, Joseph and her community, the birth away from home, the flight to Egypt, the son who disappeared for three days and then rebuked the parents, the loss of her husband Joseph, the disciples replacing the family, her certain awareness of the brutal and dangerous threats again Jesus when he began to teach and to contradict the religious establishment, the cross and then the painful and often bloody birth of the church.

All swords.

In all this Mary seems the passive figure, hunkered down under the many stabbings that she had little or no control over. And what is her response?

Priest Richard Rohr makes the point that, “Not a word is spoken by Mary in either place, at his [Jesus’s] birth or at his death. Did you ever think about that? Mary simply trusts and experiences deeply. She is simply and fully present. Faith is not, first of all, for overcoming obstacles; it is for experiencing them—all the way through!“

Our natural tendency is to resist and fight and try to control the piercings of life, the downturn’s, the ailments, the rejections, the failures. And some times we must not be passive. We must fight through to a new future. But if we get stuck with an inability to accept all of life, the ups and the downs, this can actually makes life harder.

Life is an up and down affair. It involves swords. There will be piercings. Simeon words to Mary have a universal application.

Richard Rohr addresses a way to deal with this writing, “Welcoming the pain [of life] and letting go of all your oppositional energy against suffering will actually free you from it! like reversing your engines. Who would have thought this? It is your resistance to things as they are that causes most of your unhappines …”

There’s a fine line here to observe here. To love ourselves and others we can and should do all we can to alleviate suffering, to gently care for ourselves, to compassionately care for others, to be good Samaritans. And sometimes resistance is necessary; resistance may at times carry us on to new accomplishments and adventures.

But what we can’t control, the swords that fly upon us when we have no shield up nor can put one up, those we do well to accept as they are, with all they bring. What we can’t control or stop we can still endure and even perhaps learn from. Perhaps we can learn to be more like Mary, fully alive, living the life that has come to us, in a quiet kind of way, hanging on to God through it all.