Tag Archives: Daryl Geffken

Should we give locally or internationally?

By Blogger Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

I used to work with middle school students. One of the things I’ve realized over the years is many people seem to look for this age group to be immature, lazy, selfish or otherwise incapable of engaging society in a positive manner. I used to tell my students to never make it easy for others to stereotype them. Given this, you may or may not be able to imagine my frustration at a comment after an article was published in the news a few years back. The article highlighted the efforts of our junior high ministry, which had fasted for 30 hours, raised $30,000 (one of the largest amounts in the nation) for World Vision, and served alongside eight local ministries. The comment was this: why should we care for those elsewhere when there is so much need in our own community? It seemed this comment negated the importance and value of the students’ efforts.

Over the past 13 years I have engaged in regular work with impoverished and marginalized people. In a lot of places: Spokane, Seattle, Bremerton, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tijuana and Northern Kenya. Locally, I have been a part of organizations with long-standing relationships with Cup of Cool WaterUTF (Under the Freeway), Mission Community PresEn ChristoAlberta HouseUnion Gospel Mission and Catholic Charities.  I have worked with World Vision International and their United States division in a variety of ways. I have succeeded and failed in implementing local service opportunities for teens and their mentors, researched local and global disparity and the systems that enable it to continue. I am eager to see a decrease in the opportunity gap everywhere.

Why am I bringing this up? To shed light on my background before I raise the following question: Why is it that seemingly every time I raise issues of global disparity one of the first responses is a reminder that poverty exists here in Spokane (or wherever else I was living at the time), often with the suggestion that local needs should be prioritized above all else? Is it a perceived need for fair airtime, or something else?

Women struggling with poverty in India/Flickr photo by s_w_ellis

Personally, I don’t get it. I don’t get the comparative statements; I don’t get the advocacy that says here is better than there, or vice versa. I’m being sincere when I say that I would like to learn from other viewpoints. To answer my question, some have pointed to the progression of Acts 1:8 as if there was some normative sequencing or priority to sharing God’s love with people based on location confuses me. The statistics for both areas regarding growing disparity in nearly every part of the world point to resource distribution, levels of involvement and apathy that are disgusting and unnecessary. They are still only statistics, however. Stories drive action. Stories provide a connection point.  I have been with people as they garbage pick for dinner in Spokane, Seattle, San Francisco, Tijuana and Kenya. I can’t say any of those experiences was more palatable for my psyche than the other. More importantly, I can’t say one person’s suffering and stolen dignity has less value than another, near or far.

I suggest there is a responsibility for those of us with the ability to access this post. We have a responsibility for local service and global impact. Yes, both. We cannot escape the globalization of our local living, which means that we are complicit in what is occurring beyond our region, state or nation (if you believe those human boundaries are still applicable). Likewise, we cannot live with integrity if we care for “the world” but ignore the needs of our local community.  Actively loving others, whether distant or local shows us that we are connected to and responsible for one another.

It seems for students, at least, getting them out of their comfort zone and away from the familiarity and distractions of their daily lives allows them to engage with others in a whole new capacity. For some, this can be a one-time foray into the world of the underprivileged. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the summarizing thought, “I’m just so grateful for how blessed I am!” As if that is the intent of the experience. For me, these experiences serve two goals: first, a milestone that points to a location and moment in time that God is real and at work in human life. Second, a training event that shows students what they do in one location can be continued on in their lives. As we prepare to leave we begin the work of bridging the context. Bringing them home and pointing to avenues that we might have overlooked earlier; places where we can connect and learn and contribute.

I must engage poverty and disparity. I must decrease the opportunity gap. There is an element of this I can touch: local people, local ministries and local political systems. There is an element that is more distant: people, ministries and political systems. These arenas have different needs and different solutions, and that must be respected. Some will be drawn closer to one arena than another based on their experience and their connection with the stories of others. But, I’m curious, is it unreasonable to expect action in both?

Stare down your fears

By Blogger Daryl Geffken

“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it” – Flannery O’Connor 

Daryl Geffken

A wise person once shared with me that looking in the mirror is a good place to start when hoping for change. Why do we see a world  comprised of an “us” and a “them?” I know at least one reason is because I have sequestered myself to my own portion of life. It’s irrational, I know, but there is a fear in me to truly seek God’s desire and power because I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know the cost.

As I have poured over letters written to me over the past 20 years and journals I have written, many themes have surfaced. At first I was not sure if there was anything that emerged as a common thread. But over time I have come to this: I care for the outsider. A conversation once held with God crystallizes this point. I clearly understood God to be telling me, “Never forget what it was like before you met me.” This is not so I may manipulate others to some sort of faith that I hold, but in order that I can appreciate their value and perspective. I have worked with middle school students. I have had multiple forays into the lives of the urban poor. I have traveled to Japan, Europe and Africa and have been deeply affected by the great disparity that exists in the world. I am to be a messenger for the disenfranchised. But a prophet must have a call. And if I discover this call, will I have the courage to follow it? I care about the poor, but enough to join them in life? Will I be able to live more sacrificially in order to live with integrity as I ask people to level out the chasm of disparity we face? An unlikely source of encouragement in this process of tackling disparity comes from Disneyland.

My son, Tyler, is 2 years old and 35 inches tall. In our household this is called “Matterhorn height” as it’s the vertical requirement for riding the world’s first tubular steel roller coaster: Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds. With a trip to the happiest place on earth planned, Tyler approached this lofty milestone of stature. Excitement grew with each measurement and finally the mark on the wall confirmed he would be eligible to ride. Our first day in the park was reason to celebrate. We started easily with Peter Pan, the carousel and Dumbo, building some anticipation each time we caught a glimpse of the mountain. Ramping up the energy, we went onto the Teacups, with Tyler screaming with glee as he went around and around and around. The moment had finally come. We asked him if he wanted to go on the roller coaster and he sounded an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

Having waited in line, we climbed into the bobsled and entered the base of the mountain, into pitch black. We started clicking up the tracks. Then we were off! Down the mountainside, around bends, splashing through water until at last we were unbuckling and jumping out. I had forgotten how jerky the ride was and had some concern as to whether or not he would have enjoyed all that motion. “How was it, buddy?” I asked. “Good,” came the reply. Alright, not too bad. He survived and wasn’t crying. Maybe he’ll warm up to it a bit.

The next day came and we asked if he wanted to go on the Matterhorn again, he said he would and this time rode with his mother. She held his head over the jerky spots of the course and we all made it down alive. But at the bottom he was looking pretty reserved and was quick to ask to go on a different ride. I was starting to wonder what was going on. We went to a different part of the park, and there he discovered another roller coaster: Mickey’s Gadget Coaster. A new, smooth ride that traveled a little quicker than the 1965 behemoth we’d been riding previously. He loved this thing. He would run down the cue, jump into our arms, point to the back seat and plead with the cast member to let him ride there. On the ride itself, he would throw his hands up in the air and squeal with delight as we went up, down and all around. Back at the station house, he would jump up, high-five the attendant and run out to the front of the cue again, yelling, “Do it again? Do it again!” We went on this thing easily 15 times during the course of three days.

On our last morning there, Tyler asked if we could go to the Matterhorn. A little surprised, we took him to the line, where he commenced crying. When asked why, he finally confessed, “Matterhorn is scary. It has eyes and a roar!” Everything became clear. As the cart goes up the initial slope in the dark, a set of red eyes peer out from the left, followed immediately by a loud roar. Later in the ride you pass a large abominable snowman, reaching out to grab you. Tyler was just fine with the speed and bumps. He was terrified of the story! Certainly not wanting to further traumatize our child, we let him know he needn’t go on the ride at all, and went on our merry way across the park and all the rest it had to offer.

Later that night, we’re back at Dumbo. Tyler looks at me and says, “I want to go to the Matterhorn.” I thought he was mistaken in his roller coasters and asked for clarification. He repeated his request and added, “I need to roar at the silly bears.” Astounded, I looked at my wife, asking her if she had put this thought into his head. She looked at me with an expression of wonderment, confirming that he had come up with this on his own.

When we walked over, we discovered the ride was temporarily down. When Tyler realized this, he lost it; sobbing and repeating, “I roar at the silly bears!” We tried to calm him down and brought him over to the other coaster, saying we’d come back in a bit to see if it was back in service. Upon our return, the ride had just begun to function again. The line wrapped around almost the entire mountain. It would be an hour to get on, and we had a flight to catch the next day. I bent down, explained this as best I could to my 2-year-old son, and asked, “If there was one last ride you could go on in Disneyland for a long time, what would it be?” He thought for a while, and looked up at me with confidence. “The Matterhorn.” All right. We’ll do it.

The Matthorn at Disney/Wikipedia

The cue moved surprisingly fast. All the while, Tyler was building his confidence like a prizefighter about to enter the ring. He kept practicing his roar, louder and louder. The crowd around us became enamored with this little wonder of a boy and his desire to conquer the silly bears. Finally strapped in and about to enter the cave, I turned around to see his face. He looked at me and roared. Click, click, click, we started going , “Tyler, here come the eyes!” “Roar!” Great job. “Tyler, here comes the roar!” “ROAR!” Amazing! We careened down the mountain. Over hill, under dale, past the grabbing yetis. All the while, my son is roaring at the top of his lungs. We turned the corner and I heard him yell, “Splash!” right before we hit the water that slows the cart down. We squeeze to a halt. Silence. I get out of the bobsled, and turn to grab him from my wife to assess any damage. I set him on the ground and knelt down next to him. “Tyler, was it fun?” I asked. “Yeah. Matterhorn is scary,” he replied. And after a short pause finished with, “But I roared at the silly bears!” My 2-year-old son somehow seemed to realize that his fear might prevent him from acting out a portion of his life. He has become my mentor.

What now? What if I roared at my fear? What if when I looked into a mirror, I didn’t see myself? What if I saw my family and a whole huge community of people? Having expressed such a hope, I’m not sure of the route. I would suggest grabbing coffee with some associates, maybe ones that don’t think the same way as you; that have differing experiences and presuppositions, and talking. Deeply engaging each other about how to take the next step. Listen to them, listen to yourself. Talk until you must act. Take a risk and put your thought into action. Then reflect. When this has occurred, maybe several times, we might gain some understanding. George Bernard Shaw said, “The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.” We must not allow our fear of pain, suffering or life numb us to the point of inhumanity. We cannot ignore the lives of others.

This is the final in a three-part series.

Empathy betters society

By Blogger Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

Value, or mutual respect, of each member of an organization is necessary because it is through our social construct that we learn. By valuing each element of a society, the ability to learn, adapt and bear significance is increased. Such value is communicated through sincerity and authenticity, through allowing for time to increase understanding, through deep listening that honors another’s perspective and encourages permission to speak freely, and a destruction of a system where certain members are deemed more necessary, more valuable than others.

In the Christian tradition, the theme of disparity appears frequently. Compassion and empathy drive Jesus’ view. Jesus upholds the principle that care for human beings is more valuable than attaining material wealth and comfort. Jesus asked, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Luke 9:25). One researcher suggests Jesus finally closed the gap between the haves and have-nots: In opposition to ownership, humanity is responsible for stewardship of the earth (Lev. 25:23-24). Humanity is given responsibility to do what is best for the planet. But currently, our world community plays favorites. Anchorwoman Susan Moeller is quoted as saying, “In the news business, one dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English bobbies, who are worth fifty Arabs, who are worth five hundred Africans.”

Jesus condemned “the rich fool” not because he was rich but because he was so naive as to believe that great wealth involved no social and economic responsibilities (Luke 12:21). Clearly there exists a culpability of leaders within a Christian context to live into and present the servant leadership modeled by Jesus for others to consider. We are not called to lead in a dogmatic manner, but in the humility that comes from understanding the true value of people and the world’s environment. Jesus encouraged his followers to be the change they hoped for, to enact an economy that was a fuller expression of God’s will.

Jesus himself is portrayed to be a master storyteller, many times bringing his listeners face to face with the issue of disparity through the use of narrative and analogy.

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied with a story, “A Jewish man was traveling on a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road. By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side. Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here. Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.

The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”

This is the second in a three-part series.

Disparity is everywhere

By Blogger Daryl Geffken 

“One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” – Josef Stalin

Daryl Geffken

Statistics numb our sensibilities. They eliminate personality. Author Richard Stearns says, “Statistics can become just another way to look away from the faces of the poor, just one more way to walk by on the other side of the road.” Research confirms this. Studies performed by the University of Oregon and Carnegie Mellon show that the story of one child in a crisis situation compels others to action far more than statistical portraits of disparity and global mortality rates. Why is this?

The human race is filled with passion. Story telling draws people in. It transforms our lives by inspiring and bringing people together in shared experience. We are intrigued by the story of others, quite possibly because we constantly discover ourselves within the tales told around us. When encountering art, we find a face in a mirror. And it is our face. We are confronted with a reality that holds context. In art, a statistic finds its place in a real world. A world of flesh, sweat, blood, challenge, heart. Art can lead us to evaluate who we are.

Disparity in the world is a catastrophic problem

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’” (Matthew 25:45, The Message)

A young boy in Haiti drinks dirty water/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS.com

The statistics associated with poverty and hunger are staggering. Often times the numbers are too large to truly comprehend. For example, in the last 50 years, 400 million people worldwide have died from hunger and poor sanitation. This is three times the number of people killed in all wars fought during the 20th century, yet the coverage is minimal at best compared to conflict, according to One International.

In 2010 the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimated more than 925 million people in the world suffer from hunger. In 2005, the most current year from which data was available, 1.4 billion people in developing countries were living  in extreme poverty . Over 178 million children under the age of five experience irreparable effects due to malnutrition. Every year, nearly 10 million children die before their fifth birthday; most from preventable or treatable causes such as measles, diarrhea or malnutrition. Approximately 358,000 mothers die each year from complications during child birth, and tens of millions more suffer from pregnancy related illnesses and injuries, according to researchAfrica’s child mortality rate is 20 times that of the United States and its maternal mortality rate is 65 times that of the United States.

These statistics are bad enough. Further statistics show that there is an even darker side. Researcher David Livermore shared shocking numbers: The wealthiest fifth of the world’s people consume an astonishing 86 percent of all goods and services, while the poorest fifth consume 1 percent. In fact, the world’s three richest individuals exceeded the combined GNP of all of the least developed countries combined (a population of over 600 million). Four-fifths of American adults are high school graduates, while one-fourth of the children worldwide have to go to work everyday instead of school. More than half of the world lives on less than two dollars a day, while the average American teenager spends nearly $150 a week. Forty percent of people in the world lack basic sanitation, while 49 million diapers are used and thrown away in America every day. Lastly, the U.S. spends more on trash bags annually than nearly half the world does on ALL goods (all these stats come from Livermore’s research).

Christian author and pastor Rob Bell has stated America is an empire. It is clear from these statistics that there is a vast chasm fixed between the poor and the wealthy in our global community. Disparity and injustice have reached colossal proportions.

Looking at disparity in my life is very hard. I see things, pictures, statistics, webcasts, concerts that all implore me to stand up and take action. I charge people within my sphere of influence to live differently than they currently do: to give up some of their standard of living in order that we may spread our wealth to others who are fighting for their survival. But I just went to Disneyland for five days. In fact, I own a timeshare on that property and intend to use it until the lease runs out in 2060. I wrestle with the feeling that I am a part of a system that promotes infantilism and consumption. I am unwilling to give up certain things that I cling to. I am not nearly as willing to challenge my manner of living as I am to argue for others to live up to a standard I myself find excruciatingly difficult.

The challenge for me has become more acute lately. Seeing suffering children has become a very agonizing thing for me since I’ve had kids. I respond with great emotion when I encounter the results of disparity in the world. I want to see these children live. I want to see them flourish. I want them to have every opportunity for life, just like my sons. The crass reality I have discovered, though, is that I want my sons to have more. I want my sons to have the best life possible. I do not want them to be lacking in any area. I desire for them to have opportunities for joy and fun and respite that most others do not. I want him to be aware of his privilege and work for others’ care, but I do want him to be privileged.

I don’t think I’m alone. I want security and safety and fun for my children more than I do for others. I want to be tied to those who need my defense and resources. I have come to the point that I realize I must do something. I must serve others. I must sacrifice my own status for the sake of others. Yet, I am a reluctant leader. I struggle to believe that I am worthy of the mantle of leadership due to my weakness.

Sometimes, change must start small. We must identify roadblocks and remove them one by one. Most people cannot just dive in, it would seem. Certainly I have a difficulty with this. I find myself thinking, “I wish I didn’t know what I do,” because then I would not by culpable for my response or lack thereof. I wouldn’t have to deal with my fear of letting go of the life I lead and the love I have for my sons growing up in a privileged manner.

This is the first in a 3-part series.

Why Jesus loves rugby more than football

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

Someone I admire thinks the demise of traffic safety was ushered in with the Anti-Lock Brake System. In fact, he goes so far as to suggest each car should have a knife affixed to the steering wheel, tip pointing straight at the driver. His reasoning? Cars have become too safe, too able to correct for our carelessness; our lack of responsibility. Extreme? Perhaps. But he gets his point across.

I would suggest many of us have made our environments too comfortable; too safe.  Eighteenth Century pastor Jonathan Edwards is most famous for his sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. However, he made no distinction in Christian duty between saving the poor in spirit and the poor in material wealth and status. In a less cited, but equally powerful sermon, Edwards demanded, “Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor?”

Author Tim Keller argued that Jesus’ teaching was clearly understood by his audience as demanding the sacrifice of one’s social position and material well-being.  Keller explained that Jewish culture during the time of Jesus relied heavily on a patronage system. Social networking was founded upon the material investment of wealthy people into others, who would in turn provide favors and protect the interests of their patron. These networks were often created and maintained through lavish dinners, and though the initial investment was substantial, the return was well worth it.

It was within this context that Jesus made the following appeal: When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind (Luke 14:12-13).

According to Keller, a challenge such as this would amount to “economic and social suicide” for those hearing Jesus’ charge. It contradicted the standard practice of establishing networks with rich and powerful benefactors in favor of creating relationships with the poor and marginalized. Jesus expected his disciples to give without the expectation of being repaid in any way.

In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Jesus’ basic economic view is simply that we take care of each other, friends and enemies alike. This is driven by compassion and empathy founded upon the Golden Rule of Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This may be dismissed as impractical idealism.

Pastor Brian McClaren stated, “Christian discipleship is training for apostleship, training for mission. From this understanding we place less emphasis on whose lineage, rites, doctrines, structures, and terminology are right and more emphasis on whose actions, service, outreach, kindness, and effectiveness are good.”

A scrum during a rugby union game between the Crusaders and Brumbie/Wikipedia

I just watched the World Cup Rugby Sevens Match. Don’t know the rules? Imagine hard-hitting football without pads. Not.one.single.pad.  Show of hands: who ever played Saturday football? I did. We didn’t use pads.  There was this one kid (I use the term loosely, because unless he was in a Sumo Dojo, there is no place where would not be in the top fifth percentile of size).  Whoever quarterbacked his team, would run one play and one play only: handoff up the middle. I remember trying to stop this guy. Correct that: I remember up to the point I tried to stop this guy. Then I remember grass. The next time he came at me, I wasn’t sure the risk was worth my broken body.

When you are close to pain, how you risk and what you risk changes. My fear is that many of us have so insulated ourselves from pain and real risk that we make decisions without considering the ramifications. Perhaps many of us think we are pseudo invincible? Perhaps we don’t realize the reality that if we have a privileged life, someone else by necessity is underprivileged. Maybe someday soon, you could invite some people over for lunch that could never repay you.

What I might say if I were externally audited

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

Something about the critique of Invisible Children moved me to a different layer of thought: the distribution of resources. In one way or another, almost every criticism centered on this very topic. Are the organization’s financials transparent? Is its appropriation of funds, well, appropriate?  More importantly, is it spending its energy in a manner that furthers others’ development? It made me wonder, how would I stand up to that scrutiny? How would you?

“I’m not a non-profit, or advocacy organization,” you may respond. Why not? Why don’t you look at yourself that way? Do you really believe what you have is yours and is solely the result of your hard work? Such hubris were not met well by Jesus.

Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, a theology professor, stated loving God and loving others is the human vocation. She suggested, “Love implies active commitment to the well-being of who or what is loved.” It follows, where there is suffering and oppression — whether local or global — such a definition of love requires an aspect of justice. This, in turn, requires challenging social structures that perpetuate such suffering. Based on this logic, Moe-Lobeda claimed many Christians, by their lack of action are, “defying the call to love.”

I have quite a few more thoughts on personal responsibility and the distribution of resources (time, money, relationships and conversation), and I will pick them up later.But for now, let’s just leave it at this question.

Perhaps we could share a deeper level of transparency between ourselves at this moment. In one sentence or paragraph, would you reveal what you fear and hope an external auditor might summarize of your distribution of resources?

I’ll go first: I fear that someone might find in the last two years, working on my degree has provided a justification for the lack of giving myself to others outside my family. And second, I have not found ways to incorporate the development of my family into the discipline of service for others.

Finding God on the open road

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

When I need God I take a drive. Well, let me back up. I need God all the time. When I am feeling very lost and in need of God to show himself in my life, when I seek truth, I head south. Not figuratively, literally. I go to the Palouse. Up High Drive, down Hatch Hill, all the way across Hangman Valley, and I end up on Valley Chapel Road. It’s beautiful at any time of day or year. It winds around through different little hills and dales and it leads me to a cemetery. Where, I slow down, I drive in, I park my Rodeo. Weird? Freaky? I could see where you might think so, but it gives me perspective multiple times in multiple ways. Today was no different, and very different.

Photo of the Palouse by Marj Johnston

I’ve discovered that I’ve become a bit more emotional. How so, you might ask? Easily explained. I’ve never understood the far-reaching affect of becoming a father. Having a child makes the death of a child far worse. I go to the Mt. Hope Cemetery from time to time. I go looking for God to meet me and teach me and refresh me. Today there is a new memorial site. It is adorned with fresh cut lilies and a little metal butterfly. It also has a small plaque with 1 Corinthians 13 engraved. What is really impactful to me is the big remote control monster truck and the two matchbox cars placed in its pickup bed. This was a kid — probably not much older than Tyler or Justin — the two boys that have totally won over my heart, and who were so hard to leave this morning — whose almost 5-year- or 2-year-old smiles make me want to stop the world just so I can spend more time with them. I can’t tell you exactly how messed up I would be if something were to happen to either of them. I can’t explain the horror of a memorial site with a beloved tiger or Captain Rex standing vigilant watch. I’d be a wreck and empty. A hollow shell. Part of me, the father part, would be dead.

This brings to light a story of a man who desperately needed Jesus. In Luke 8:4 a ruler of the local synagogue pleads with Jesus to come and heal his only daughter who was dying. He fell at Jesus’ feet. He was experiencing a helpless pain and must have thought he’d try anything. Jesus, who usually is fairly harsh with the religious elite, goes with the man and raises his daughter from death. Jesus seems to help this man because he is aware of his own need, his own inability and also recognized the ability of a God-man. This must mean there’s hope for me; a religious leader that is fairly prideful and not often convinced that he needs a savior. I can become appreciative of my own need and Jesus may not turn me away. Hope is found. Jesus can meet my need.

That’s my story for the day. I’m working my way through the gospels and through my life and you (like it or not) are the recipient of some of my thoughts. I hope and pray you find hope in the need of your life.

What a Husky can teach a Cougar about compassion

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Editor’s Note: This week SpokaneFAVS contributors are exploring the definition of compassion. Read Monday’s panel on this topic here.

Daryl Geffken

I am a Husky. For some, that may have been the last line they read. For you brave enough to continue, I’d like to share a story from a day I recently had.

As you might imagine, I am fairly reticent to share my allegiance to my Alma Mater in a town like Spokane. I have had my UW sticker scraped off my car more than a few times.  I’m proud of the school that provided me opportunity, but I struggle with the snap judgment that comes from some folks with the label, “Husky.” So I have decided I will slowly share my purple pride with people.  I work on relationships first, so that when others become aware of the depth of my Montlake Madness, there is a foundation of friendship. In fact, I am drawn to folks equally passionate about their schools, even if they are rivals.

Photo courtesy of the University of Washington

My office is a great spot. I work at a place where Cougars, Zags and Huskies all seem to get along. We share a friendly rivalry in sports.  More than that, we share our lives together and a growing friendship. So the other day, I blurted from my office door to my Cougar friend that Cal lost over the weekend, thereby putting the Husky men’s basketball team in first place of the Pac-12 for the moment. My timing sucked. Royally. I walked into the common area and into a conversation between my friend and a few others I did not recognize.  They looked at me quizzically and it was explained that I was a Husky. And then it happened — the look; a scornful look on the face of a person I have never met, but who had somehow sized up me or my affiliation to a brand name and decided that she knew me, all of me, and it was found lacking. “Cheaters,” she spit. And that was it.

My last post talked about compassion as sharing life with others, collecting their stories to the point that we walk with them rather than talk about them. We must connect ourselves with the lives of others — others we would typically not choose.  I believe our compassion grows in relation to its direct contact with suffering. We must find ways of engaging and deeply listening to the stories of others and then finding creative ways to allow those stories to find a larger voice. I also suggested that Jesus refocused people on what was important to God, not what had become acceptable to them.  Jesus and his followers frequently challenge an attitude of privilege. One of Jesus’ main emphases was to treat people with value, so much so, that Jesus personally identified himself with the marginalized. The very manner of Jesus’ life reveals a literal identification with the poor and marginalized.

Jesus was born to migrant parents out of wedlock. The stigma this carried with it in Jewish culture at the time was severe. Tradition holds that he was born in a cave meant for feeding livestock and was celebrated by shepherds, some of the country’s lowest-class citizens, and foreigners that practiced astronomy — a taboo in Jewish society. At his circumcision, his parents offered a sacrifice of two pigeons — a Levitical concession offered to only the poorest class of citizen (Leviticus 12:1-8). Jesus and his family fled their nation as political refugees (Matthew 2:13-18), seeking asylum in a foreign country.

Jesus was homeless (Luke 9:58), and relied solely on the contribution of others to maintain his itinerant call (Luke 8:1-3). He was declared a state criminal and arrested. His trial displayed a flagrant abuse of the justice system of the day, having been tried in secrecy and without defense, physically beaten during the proceedings, disregarded by a politician that caved to popular sentiment despite finding no sufficient grounds for condemnation and tortured before his execution. He died without a single possession and was laid to rest in a donated grave. In “Generous Justice” Tim Keller said, “In all these ways, Jesus identifies with the millions of nameless people who have been wrongfully imprisoned, robbed of their possessions, tortured, and slaughtered.” The Bible records even after his death and resurrection Jesus continued to identify with the marginal. According to the gospel of Luke, Jesus chose to first reveal his resurrected self to women; those so discounted that in legal matters their testimony had no merit.

Judith Butler suggested that judging people is a form of emotional violence. By assuming you know another person denies them the ability to change, develop or grow beyond your expectations. Here’s my point:  Jesus could have come into the world in any way imaginable. He chose this lowly status, and lived it out. He chose not to disdain others but looked at them with hope of a redeemed future.

Is it too far a stretch to attempt a connection between an interaction based on a sports rivalry and the manner by which Jesus entered into creation? Probably.  But at the risk of reversing my initial title, you want to know what this Husky learned from his Cougar friend when she stepped into my righteous indignation towards the woman I felt had belittled my existence by judging me? am wrong to dismiss another person on the basis of one action.

Jesus lived a compassionate life

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Editor’s Note: This week SpokaneFAVS contributors are exploring the definition of compassion. Read Monday’s panel on this topic here.

Daryl Geffken

Compassion is sharing life with others, collecting their stories to the point that we walk with them rather than talk about them.  We must connect ourselves with the lives of others — others we would typically not choose.  I believe our compassion grows in relation to its direct contact with suffering.  We must find ways of engaging and deeply listening to the stories of others and then finding creative ways to allow those stories to find a larger voice.

I believe Jesus refocused people on what was important to God, not what had become acceptable to them.  Jesus and his followers frequently challenge an attitude of privilege.  Compassion and empathy drive Jesus’ view.  He upholds the principle that caring for people is more valuable than attaining material wealth and comfort, asking, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Luke 9:25).  Jesus finally closed the gap between the haves and have-nots: In opposition to the concept of ownership, humanity is expected to be responsible for stewardship of the earth (Lev. 25:23-24).  It is given responsibility to do what is best for the planet and all who inhabit it.

One of Jesus’ main emphases was to treat people with value. Theologians have worked to establish Jesus’ authority and divinity.  He is a necessary and unique part of the triune God of Christianity.  Jesus clearly asserted his own authority and status as son of God.  Yet he also defined his identity as a servant, giving his life for others as the “son of man.”  Jesus demonstrated the rule of God always opposes the other gods and powers that seek to enslave humans.

Ultimately, Jesus’ authority is based upon his death on a cross, suffering as the servant Messiah prophesied by Isaiah.  Jesus’ kingdom was one based on authenticity and compassion, rather than oppression, which was demonstrated through welcoming love and liberating service to others.  Reading through the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ teaching through word and example confirms Jesus held a high regard for the value of people. This foundational value affected not only his actions, but his expectations of those who follow him as well.  He was clear in challenging his audience to live in holistic responsibility to others.  From this, it can be shown that Jesus desired a more egalitarian society than he encountered.  It can be argued that this is applicable today.

Consumerism – the third brick in the wall

By Contributor Daryl Gefken

This is the third in a three-part series.

Daryl Geffken

C.S. Lewis once quipped, “If you want to embarrass a Christian, ask them about their prayer life.”  That got me thinking, “If you want to embarrass an American, make them move.”  Perhaps I can explain by way of making fun of myself.

My family moved last summer.  And I finally came in touch with my own materialism.  It was when one car — an entire car — was filled with Tupperware containers holding all of my Star Wars Lego sets.  Am I given to hyperbole?  Often.  But not here.  Worse yet, these were Lego sets that I had built, photographed, and then put into separate Ziploc bags (or series of bags for the larger sets), and hidden away with their sequenced instruction booklets.  Toys not to be played with.

In my experience, I have come to believe an attitude of entitlement and consumerism is pervasive in American society where a merit-based system of thinking has justified accumulation.  This seems to pit liberty against social responsibility.  It says, “I can do what I please with that which is mine,” rather than recognizing that we were given opportunity by what Bono has labeled a “blessing of latitude.”

(The following may get a little academic, but read on.)

The scope of consumerism is substantial.  It’s the 21st century worldview that places the individual as one of its highest values and emphasizes the moral right of individual choice. By emphasizing the self above all else, a consumerist-ethic fosters the notion — we are what we buy. In fact, in the U.S., we spend three to four times as many hours shopping as our counterparts in Europe, according to Annie Leonard.  This describes a perpetual downward spiral that leads to over-consumption, or greed.  Author David Loy wrote, “Greed is based on a delusion: the delusion that happiness is to be found this way.  Trying to find fulfillment through profit, or by making consumption the meaning of one’s life amounts to idolatry.”  It follows that this moral right must be protected.  And we do protect it.  The United States, by foreign policy, business practice and military might continues to expand its values and enforce its sovereign right in the world.

Benjamin Barber took consumerism even further by arguing that a consumer-based economy has produced adult infants, “The child wants what it wants when it wants it, without consideration of the needs of others, and man-child does not outgrow this pattern.”  In such an economy, imaginary needs are created for those who have wealth, while the overwhelmingly true needs of those in poorer countries are marginalized because they are irrelevant as consumers.  It is so pervasive that it dominates almost all areas of society.  Infantilism has distorted need.  In my work with students I have heard many speak of the need for the latest jeans or new cell phone to change their look every two weeks.  I rarely have heard these students question where their next meal is coming from.  Barber maintained, “Not everything needs to earn a profit, not everyone needs to be a shopper—not all the time.”

Here’s an example that illustrates how compartmentalized Americans have become. In the late 90’s, Hillary Rodham Clinton protested against, “a consumer-driven culture that promotes values that undermine democracy” and berated, “materialism that undermines our spiritual centers.” Author Gregg Easterbrook writes, “Shortly thereafter, she bought a $1.7 million home and signed an $8 million book contract…. Clinton demonstrates what so many of us are inclined to do…We’re bent on saving everyone else from the horrors of consumption while taking care to make ourselves rich and comfy.”

Mark Gerzon made the assertion that, “Becoming a global citizen is not primarily a question of knowledge, or of feelings.  It is a question of values.  Becoming a global citizen requires that we ask ourselves: Are the values that we live by ‘good for the world?’”  He suggested five foundational values that could help create opportunities to conquer disparity in the world: integrity, learning, dialogue, bridging and synergy.

Here are two quotes to consider. “It is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich,” by Henry Ward Beecher. And, “The true measure of an individual is how he treats a person who can do him absolutely no good,” by Ann Landers.

As I have shared these thoughts in the past, some people have not only felt uncomfortable  (not a bad thing, I think), but also become quite angry or accusatory towards me.  I can understand this position in some ways.  If you are feeling a little edgy at this moment, ready to call me a liberal commie or something like that, listen: This is not social justice, I understand this to be the command of Christ.  If you want to call me names, feel free. But along with that, please show me where my understanding of Jesus’ expectation is wrong.