Good morning from Westminster, MD!
Do I really believe in it, or do I just pay it lip service? Do I expect to see it, or would I miss it completely? Is it changing my life, or do I live as if it does not exist? These questions have been rattling around in my head for the past month or so. What is “it”? The Power of God.
I have recently been challenged on this subject by conversations with a couple of friends in Nicaragua. They did not intend to challenge me as far as I know, but the stories of their recent experiences with the Power of God through the Holy Spirit produced a certain tension in me. Their stories were filled with expectancy, humility, and trust.
They expected to see the Power of God as they walked through their day. They humbly recognized that the Power of God came from the Holy Spirit and not from themselves. They trusted the outcome to God. The results- life change, healing, growth, hope and joy to name a few. In many ways, their stories remind me of the early church described in the book of Acts in the Bible. They are living out the words of Acts 1:8- “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
While the impact on their own lives has been exciting to watch, their impact on the lives of others has been incredible. Instead of being turned off by their new passion to live for Jesus, people who were previously far from God have been drawn in. In fact, I would say the change in their lives is what was so attractive. People who were far from God saw a glimpse of the Power of God and found themselves wanting more. It was Jesus shining through the lives of my friends rather than my friends themselves that was so attractive.
This is what challenges me. Do I live expecting to see God move? If I did see God move through me, would I just think it was something I had done? Does my lack of expectancy impact my ability to point people who are far from God to Jesus, the only real source of life-changing hope? I would have to say yes.
I am still wrestling with this new found tension, but one thing is for sure- I want to experience more of the Power of God. I want to live with expectancy. I want to have eyes to see God move. I want my life to reflect Jesus in a way that draws people to God. I want my life to be different because of the Power of God.
– James Belt
Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!
Today happens to be my birthday. As I considered what to write a thought came to mind- what would I want to be able to write about on this day next year? What do I hope has changed or happened by September 30th, 2021? Well, here I go.
Over the next I hope the world becomes a little more hope-filled. This year, 2020, has been full of pain and brokenness. On the surface 2020 appears to be a recipe for hopelessness and despair, but I believe it can be the starting point for something new. It is often when we find the bottom that we discover how to climb to new heights. Real hope has the power to change the world. When people realize their God-given potential and have the opportunity the exercise it everything can change. May hope abound and the world change over the next year.
Over the next year I hope we move closer to true Racial Reconciliation. In some ways it feels like we are miles apart as it stands today. However, there are other signs of true movement towards a world in which everyone is treated as equal creations of a Creator who loves each of us equally. We should not assume saying Black Lives Matter means anyone else’s life matters any less. True healing starts with recognizing how someone has been harmed and a willingness to do what is necessary to right the wrong. May love for our neighbor become more important than our pride. May the Church be a driving force for change. May our Brother and Sisters of Color be given equal opportunity and standing in our country and world.
Over the next year I hope we find a new level of unity. Today division appears to be the name of the game. Instead of looking for common ground, we look for dividing lines. Pride abounds and polarization has become the norm. This is destroying our world. It is time to set aside our differences and in humility come together. As beings created by the same God, we are more the same than we are different. There is more to life than being right. May we fight for what is best for all of us, finding common ground on what really matters and setting aside our differences. May we find true unity.
I am excited to see what the next year brings. May I be a part of making it the best year yet!
Good morning from Westminster, MD!
Nineteen years ago today the world stood still in shock as the United States experienced an incredible tragedy. Unfathomably, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center Towers in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The devastation could have been even greater if a brave group of heroes had not fought back against the terrorists on the plane that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania. Over 3,000 lives were tragically lost and the world would never be the same.
I remember the moment well. I was sitting in a lecture hall at Towson University when a student yelled out that a plane had hit the Twin Towers. Initially, our professor believed it must have been a hoax, but this unthinkable event was confirmed when the administration announced that classes were canceled for the rest of the day due to safety concerns. I remember driving home wondering what exactly had happened and why. Upon arriving at home, while sitting at the breakfast bar in our kitchen, I watched the news as they confirmed that these were intentional acts of terror against our nation. The future no longer appeared certain. It was a dark day.
However, darkness can only be present when light is absent. Not long after the tragic day of September 11th, 2001, a light of hope began to emerge. What started as fear and despair turned into resolve and hope. Yes, the world was different but it was not over. From the darkness emerged a collective hope that would not be stopped. We were one nation with one goal- we would always remember those who were lost, and we would choose to live fully, honoring those who were not given that choice. What could have driven us into hopelessness became the catalyst for a new found hope.
I hold the same hope on this September 11th. We again find ourselves passing through a moment of darkness. We appear more fractured than ever. However, this moment of darkness could be the catalyst for a new beginning. As we did nineteen years ago, we could find hope for a new and better way forward. A way forward that brings us together and reminds us to live fully.
September 11th, 2001 taught us we are stronger united. We are stronger when we put aside our differences and pride, and choose to love each other well. We can choose to remember the lesson we learned from the lives that were lost, we can choose to live fully. We believed there was still hope on that tragic day. We can do the same today.
We will never forget.
Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!
As I sit to write this, today marks the 57th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Remembering this moment has always been important, but it is of particular importance in 2020 as United States, and maybe the world, has reached what appears to be a breaking point with Racial Injustice. As we ponder the question, “where do we go from here?”, it is important to reflect on the question, “why are we still here?”
From the first time I really listened to King’s famous speech, I have always found it powerful and inspiring. His dream of a country in which everyone, regardless of race, has the same opportunity to reach their God-given potential is beautiful and hopeful. The United States is a place of great opportunity, but some people have been arbitrarily disadvantaged from taking advantage of “The American Dream” simply because of the color of their skin. King did not lose hope that one day this could change and neither will I. This dream can and will one day be realized.
There are many reasons why King’s “I Have A Dream” speech made and continues to make such an impact. As a white man, I want to focus on one of them- people actually listened. I was not alive when the speech was made, but it would be hard to deny the far reaching impact of King’s words. In a moment, King simultaneously shined a light on the realities of injustice and the hope for a new way forward. While change was not immediate, it is clear that King contributed greatly to the steps that have been taken to correct racism and racial injustice.
However, it is also clear that the work is not complete. Why are we still here? Again, there are many reasons, but it stems in a large part from an unwillingness to listen. Earlier in 1963, King wrote an open letter to pastors and others who were telling him to stop pushing so hard to end segregation and racial injustice. The letter, now known as “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” was written by King while jailed in Birmingham for his fight for a better way forward. King made many profound statements in the letter, but his plea for people to actually listen and see the realities of racial injustice is what sticks with me most. This plea is still relevant today, especially for people who call themselves Christ Followers. We are still hear because, like the people of King’s day, we are unwilling to truly listen to the pain of the hurting.
As Christ Followers, we can no longer remain complacent and unwilling to listen to the cry of our brothers and sisters of color. We are called to love our neighbor, which starts with a willingness to understand their story. This is the beginning of change. This is how Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream becomes a reality. What a beautiful reality it would be.
On this day in 1963, people chose to listen. Will you choose to do the same today?
Good morning from Westminster, MD!
My inspiration to name my blog “Into the River” came from a specific story I read in the Bible which led to a realization in my heart and mind, ending up with me spending three years of my life living in Nicaragua. The story is found in Chapter 3 of Joshua, a book in the Old Testament of the Bible. Joshua is leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, which means they will have to cross the Jordan River at flood stage. God’s instructions for crossing the Jordan River? “Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.'” (Joshua 3:8, NIV) Gulp.
Just for clarity sake, this means God is asking Joshua to instruct the priests to walk into a raging river while it is still raging, all while carrying something on their shoulders. Imagine coming up with that “locker room” speech. What did Joshua do? He told them exactly what God said, trusting that God’s plans were bigger than his perspective. What did the priests do? “Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing.” (Joshua 3:15-16a, NIV)
Joshua and the priests followed God’s call into the river, even when it appeared crazy and dangerous. Their willingness to trust God by stepping into the river led to a new and abundant life, and a greater appreciation of God’s love for them. They discovered that real life is found when we step into the river.
This was the realization that entered my heart and mind. If I desire real life, the life God desires for me, I have to be willing to step into the river. It is in stepping into the seemingly raging river that I open myself up to be used by God. It is in stepping into the river I find an abundance and love that is not always easy, but it life-producing. When we live on the banks, unwilling to take the first step, we cut ourselves short. Life is found in the river.
This new found perspective was challenged in 2011 when I felt God calling me to move to Nicaragua. I said I believed life is found when we step into the raging river, but did I believe it? It was time to “put my money where my mouth is”. Moving to Nicaragua came with a lot of challenges, but the abundance and blessings have far outweighed the cost. I stepped “into the river” and found God faithful. I stepped into the river and found new life.
I believe we are in a collective “into the river” moment as Christ Followers. Addressing racial injustice and its byproducts looks like a raging river to many people. It is complicated, complex, and not without a cost. From the “banks of the river”, stepping into it seems irrational and maybe even dangerous to some. However, there is no choice- crossing the river requires a step of faith into the river, believing God will do something beyond our understanding.
If our desire is healing, and a new, abundant life in which we can all live as one, we have to be willing to take a risk. Many people will not understand our step “into the river”, but the cost is worth it. As Christ Followers, we must put aside the fears and rationalizations that keep us from coming to terms with the realities of racial injustice. Instead, we must step into the discomfort, not forgetting our foundation in Christ but rather bringing the hope that comes from that foundation to an issue that breaks God’s heart. It will be messy, but it will lead to abundance.
Will we as Followers of Jesus choose to step into the river of racial injustice or will we stay on the banks, reinforcing the world’s belief that we care more about being right than loving people? What would Jesus do? Real life is found in the river.
Good afternoon from Westminster, MD!
I am a conservative and a believer in the power of Capitalism when it operates with a conscious. I am also a believer in equality for all and would now consider myself an “Antiracist”. To many people these two sentences seem to be in conflict. This fact is both saddening and interesting to me. This perceived dichotomy is earned in some cases and unfairly attributed in other cases. However, in whichever way this perception came to be, conservatives and Conscious Capitalists (the concept of Conscious Capitalism is described in John Mackey and Raj Sisodia’s book by the same name) need to change it. We need to become Antiracist Conscious Capitalists.
The problem with Capitalism at it pertains to racism is not inherent. In other words, Capitalism as a system is not built on a premise of racism. I strongly believe Capitalism is the best system for creating true opportunity and solving issues of poverty. Conscious Capitalism says all stakeholders should be taken into account, including employees, humanity, and the environment. It is a “socially responsible economic and political philosophy” as described by Mackey and Sisodia. Capitalism has allowed many people to build businesses and change lives, including my parents who have been blessed by and been a blessing to others through the business they started over thirty years ago. The problem is not Capitalism itself, but rather who has had access to the benefits of Capitalism.
As a white male, I have had full access to the benefits of Capitalism as did my parents. This does not mean it has always been easy, but it does mean that the system has provided me and my family with an incredible amount of opportunity over the years. I recognize that every person’s story is different and that some white people have not had the same opportunities I have been afforded. However, in general, the white community has been allowed to benefit from the fruits of Capitalism for many generations.
The story is different for many People of Color. Whereas my family had access to capital in various forms and were treated fairly by the system, many People of Color and Black people in particular have been systematically and/or functionally excluded from the system. This does not mean that some Black people and other People of Color have not benefited from the system, but the road they have taken to get there has been considerably harder than mine as a white male. By not allowing People of Color to equally benefit from Capitalism over the years, we have created injustice, inequality, and pockets of hopelessness and poverty. When we say People of Color should just “pull themselves up by their boot strings” we ignorantly discount their story and reality. Conscious Capitalism can work for all, but everyone needs to be given equal access to the opportunities it creates.
Our inability to recognize the systemic racism issues in our system as Conservative Capitalists is making our voice irrelevant and giving Capitalism a bad name. When we dismiss the impact systemic racism has had of People of Color, we reinforce the narrative that Capitalism is inherently racist and unjust. If we are unwilling to comes to terms with the fact that People of Color and Black people in particular have been excluded from the benefits of a Capitalist society, we are writing our own death sentence as influencers of society. However, it does not have to be this way.
We can choose to stand up and be Antiracist Capitalists. This means recognizing the injustice and inequality that exists, and equaling the playing field so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of Conscious Capitalism. This will require real steps and investments as a society, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Imagine a society in which flourishing was possible for everyone? I see no downside – economically, social, emotionally – to a society in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
Racism costs everyone, not just its victims. You cannot sit on the fence. You are either against racism or for it, whether by commission or omission. I choose to be an Antiracist. I choose to be a Capitalist. I choose to believe they do not have to be mutually exclusive. Do you?
Good morning from Westminster, MD!
I typically use this space to write about hope, specifically the difference hope can make in this world. With some exceptions, these thoughts have come from my experiences and observations. This has generally been free from controversy- who wouldn’t vote for hope?
Over the past few posts, I have felt compelled to write about racial injustice and inequality, and my journey in coming to a greater understanding of its existence and implications. This has generally connected back to hope, especially as it relates to being created equal by a Creator who designed us for equal opportunity to live full and fulfilled lives. These topics are considered more controversial and even divisive by some.
I have found this interesting, but not completely surprising. As I have been on my journey of learning, I have been challenged and have had to ask myself difficult questions. How have I been so oblivious to the extent to which racial injustice and racism has been a part of our world? Where does racial bias exist in me? These questions can be inflammatory and discomforting, especially without the full picture. Like many, my assumption has been that my “non-racist” perspective and belief in the power of opportunity was enough. Since I am not a part of the problem, I am a part of the solution. By being “color blind” I am promoting unity, or so I thought.
As a Follower of Christ, I attempt to look at situations through the lens of Christ. My rate of success to that end is far from perfect, but such is life as an imperfect human. Reflecting on the question of racial injustice and racism, the parable of The Good Samaritan came to mind. If you are unfamiliar with the parable, it is found in chapter 10 of the Book of Luke in the Bible. As a parable, it is a story Jesus created to illustrate a point.
The parable is more or less about a traveler who is robbed and left, half-dead along the side of the road. Two “religious” people see him as they pass by on the road, but rationalize their way out of helping him. Following the two religious people, a third person, a Samaritan, passes by and decides to help the man, even paying for his care after helping him off the road. This would have been shocking to the listeners as Samaritans were considered outcasts at the time.
There are many applications to this parable, but a particular thought came to mind as it relates to injustice. A number of years ago, while listening to an interview with International Justice Mission founder Gary Haugen, I remember him saying in response to this parable, “if people keep getting robbed, someone needs to fix the road.” In other words, if we want to put an end to an injustice, we have to address the root cause of the injustice.
While it may be uncomfortable, this is why addressing the issues of racial injustice and racism is not divisive. If our goal is to create a world in which unity can truly exist, we have to address racial injustice and racism. This is what it looks like to fix the road. By shying away from the topics, we as Christ Followers are as guilty as the religious leaders in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Yes, I did not rob the guy, but I am complicit in his robbing and future robberies if I am unwilling to help him and to do my part to fix the road. This needs to be our attitude toward racial injustice as Christ Followers.
Hope is found in fixing the road. If I believe everyone is created on purpose and for a purpose eliminating roadblocks that prevent the reaching of a person’s God-given potential is critical. This is a part of addressing practical and spiritual hope- removing the perpetuators of hopelessness. In fighting against racial injustice and racism, we bring greater clarity to the power of hope.
This is where true unity is found. Not in the absence of discomfort, but rather in the willingness to pass through the discomfort to reach a new reality. A reality of true equal opportunity and mutual admiration.
Good morning from Westminster, MD!
In my last post I wrote about my new perspective on the phrase “Black Lives Matter”. I also referred to quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in which he quotes the Declaration of Independence. The referenced line from the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In his speech, King says says he dreams of a day when our nation will live out this beautiful statement. As the 4th of July, Independence Day in the United States, approaches it is a great time reflect on the profoundness of this dream- A country, and maybe even a world, in which all people have equal opportunity to thrive. Why wouldn’t we want this dream to become a reality? What a picture of hope.
The hope found in this statement from the Declaration of Independence drove our Founders to put everything on the line to create a country that demonstrated these truths. For many it did and it created incredible hope. Unfortunately, for others it did not and it fueled hopelessness.
Instead of enjoying the benefits of new found freedom, the abuse of African-Americans through the system of slavery persisted. Unfortunately, even after slavery ended, systemic and systematic racism continued to put this freedom and the “American Dream” out of reach for most Black people. The land of opportunity was not, and in some ways, is still not the land of equal opportunity. However, the story is not over.
As I reflect on Independence Day as the “self-evident truths” found in the Declaration of Independence, I share the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe in the power of real hope, both spiritual and tangible. I want to live in a country and a world filled with that real hope. I want to live in a world that reflects my belief that each of us were created on purpose and for a purpose. I want to be able to say I did everything I could to make that dream a reality.
This is why our current moment in history is so important. We cannot let this opportunity to affirm the God-given value of all people by standing with our Black brothers and sisters pass us by. As a Christ Follower I cannot stand on the sidelines while fellow Creations of God are treated as “less than”. As an American, I cannot claim the words of the Declaration of Independence without seeking equality for all people, regardless of the color of their skin.
This Independence Day, let’s resolve to make the beautiful picture painted in the Declaration of Independence a reality, bringing and restoring hope to all people. Let’s create a world in which Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness is equally available to all. Let’s make Dr. King’s dream come true.
Good morning from Westminster, MD!
This morning I would like to invite you to join me on a journey. It is my personal journey as a white male living in rural Maryland and it is not complete. It is a journey of questions, self-reflection, and discovery. It is not a judgement of anyone, but rather an opportunity to share my own internal wrestling match in hopes that it can help someone else.
Black Lives Matter. It is a phrase that has become a lightning rod in many ways. I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking it seemed exclusionary and divisive. Yes, Black Lives Matter, but so do White Lives, Latino Lives, Asian Lives, Blue Lives and so on. Shouldn’t we be proclaiming All Lives Matter instead of only shining light on the value of one people group, I thought. Doesn’t this create a greater chasm between people than what already exists?
This was my thought process until recently. However, following the killing of George Floyd and the unrest that has followed, I have forced myself to ask some hard questions. Why does the phrase Black Lives Matter offend me, or at the very least why do I assume it is meant to divide? Why do I assume saying Black Lives Matter means All Lives do not Matter?
As I self-reflected the word “scarcity” entered my mind. Scarcity is generally thought of as the limited availability of resources. We typically think of it in the tangible sense such as a lack of food or money. Scarcity can sometimes lead to positive results evidenced by the business phrase, “scarcity drives innovation.” In other words, scarcity sometimes forces you to discover a new way of doing something because you have no other choice.
However, there is another type of scarcity, a scarcity that lives inside our mind. This is the scarcity with which I have been grappling and it is dangerous.
If I am honest, Black Lives Matter bothered me because I was living with a scarcity mindset. I, somewhere in my subconscious, believed there was a limited supply of significance and value. For Black lives to matter, my life would have to matter less. I was viewing it as a Zero-Sum Game. For their lives to gain significance my life would have to lose significance. Houston, we have a problem.
The trouble with this mindset is it flies in the face of what I say I believe at my core. It is contradictory to my belief that God created us all equal and with equal value and significance. If I believe in a God who desires the best for us and created us to live lives of value and significance, I cannot believe the supply of value and significance is somehow limited. I cannot believe in a tiered system of value and significance. I cannot believe it is a Zero-Sum Game. God is a God of abundance, not scarcity, and created an abundant supply of value and significance.
This has brought new meaning to Martin Luther King’s quoting of the Declaration of Independence in his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech. King said, “I still have a dream. It is deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” If I claim to agree with these words, I cannot live with a scarcity mindset when it comes to the value of people’s lives. By saying Black Lives Matter it does not mean my life matters any less. There is enough significance for all of us.
Why not say “All Lives Matter” if they are all of equal significance? The unfortunate answer is, for generations, we as a world have lived with a scarcity mindset, and degraded and underestimated the value and significance of Black lives. As I have gone on this journey of learning about the roots and history of racism, I have been saddened by what I have discovered. The narrative promoting the inferiority of Black people has been a part of society for longer than I ever imagined. This has shaped our world and impacted the value attributed to Black lives. For us to one day be able to say “All Lives Matter Equally” we need to bring the value of Black lives up to their rightful, God-created place.
This is why I can now say Black Lives Matter and feel no offense. All Lives do matter and if that is true we need to eliminate our scarcity mindset and be willing to lift up the values of Black Lives without fearing anyone else’s life will somehow matter less. We need to shed light on how we have undervalued Black Lives so that we can equally value All Lives.
– James Belt
Good morning from Westminster, MD.
As I write this I do so with a saddened heart for where we find ourselves today. The unnecessary and tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN is heartbreaking. What happened to George Floyd was wrong. There is no excuse for the actions taken by the arresting officer. While George Floyd may have deserved to be arrested, there is no justification for his death and the lethal force taken against him. To unnecessarily ignore a person’s plea for help demonstrates a disregard for the sanctity of life.
This should make all of us pay attention and ask ourselves some questions. Why did this happen? How did we get here? Where do we go from here? What responsibility do I have in the creation of a different future? These are not easy questions and the answers are more complex than we would like to admit.
I do not pretend to have these important answers. However, I do know finding them requires confronting the truth, no matter how uncomfortable, and having real and challenging conversations. The truth is systemic racism does exist and we are all impacted by it.
I do not know if the policer officer who killed George Floyd has racist leanings, I do not know the man, but I do know distrust between communities of color and the police has been fostered by the systemic racism that has existed in this country and around the world for generations. This certainly played a role in George Floyd’s death. Systemic racism through the suppression of opportunities for communities of color has created intergenerational poverty. Many people in these communities feel hopeless because we have not taken the steps necessary to correct the issues created by systemic racism.
I am impacted by systemic racism. I wish that was not true, but if I am going to be a part of the solution, I have to own my part in the problem. While I believe all people are created equal with a purpose and for a purpose, I cannot in good conscience say I never make assumptions about a person based on the color of their skin. I am most certainly still a work in progress.
In spite of these uncomfortable and ugly realities, all hope is not lost. In his I Have a Dream speech Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” The pain of today can be a catalyst for the change of tomorrow. However, this will require much of us.
In his book Strength to Love King wrote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Driving out the darkness and hate of current racial divide will require us to choose to be a light and to choose love over pride. We need to be willing to own our part, both individually and institutionally. Owning our part, no matter how uncomfortable, will put us in a better position to find a way forward.
We also need to be willing to put aside our preconceived notions about people and communities that are different from us and instead take the time to truly understand each other. Knowing someone and their story completely changes the narrative. This was my experience when living in Nicaragua. Instead of seeing people as a project, they became fellow creations of God, as worthy and capable as I was of living a life of meaning but without the same opportunities I have been afforded. Getting to know people and their story allows us to love and understand them. Through mutual love and understanding, a common solution can be found.
The tragic death of George Floyd can just be another step toward hatred and division, or it can be a turning point toward love and change. The choice is ours. Will we own our of part in the problem? Will we lay down our pride, walk across the line, and begin to understand each other? Will we work together toward a better future?
In a speech given at Oberlin College, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” Will we choose to do what is right today?
– James Belt