What should have been a 15-minute walk to the beach turned into a 45-minute stroll, our boys meandering the long dirt road leading to town from our rental home in Cabarete, Dominican Republic.
Our two-year-old, Abe, yelped with glee upon spotting each dog and motorcycle (it was a lot of yelping) along the way. Our six-year-old, Desmond, exchanged holas with our neighbors, confidently deploying one of the ten Spanish words he’s devoted to memory. Our two-month-old, June, enjoyed a siesta as she bounced along with me in the baby carrier.
We reached our home in Cabarete earlier this week after a long, red-eye journey to get here. For two months, this Dominican beach town will be home. We live next door to a man who sells trinkets to tourists on the beach and across from a man who drives a mototaxi for his livelihood. Our home is beautiful, borderig Parque Nacional El Choco. Vistas of the sprawling lagoons linger outside each window, beckoning us to load up the kiddos in the canoes.
Baby June: An exemplar of rest.
In Cabarete, we live at the nexus of two worlds. In this town are the heights of global prosperity and all its accompaniments. Beautiful gated resorts line the beaches, kitesurfing excursions entice thrill seekers, and breathtaking waterfront restaurants serve bounty from the sea. And, in the shadows and side streets, prostitution runs amok. In just a few days, we’ve already seen it evidenced. And, with a wide wealth gap between the tourists and most of the Dominicans we’ll meet, these two worlds exist in a harmonious tension.
It’s in this diverse town where we’re taking sabático. I crossed ten years with HOPE in June. And, with the $3,000 milestone gift awarded HOPE employees upon reaching ten years, we rented this home for two months. Here, we’ll canoe the lagoons, adventure to the beaches, and host family in our Dominican home.
Andy Crouch once said sabbatical (and Sabbath) are designed by God as “circuit breakers for idolatry.” The idol we worship, of course, is our work. Paid or unpaid, it is a longstanding human tradition to elevate the importance of our daily work to unhealthy levels. When something good becomes something ultimate, you’ve got an idol. And it’s Crouch’s view that most of us wait till we retire to actually practice sabbatical. Crouch’s counsel is to work longer—but healthier—by taking Sabbath more like the every-seven-years prescription outlined by God for his people (and not just the priests and professional clergy!).
Ten years into my work at HOPE, it’s easy for my good work at HOPE to feel ultimate. And, I hate to even write it, but I can even feel indispensable. I’m not, of course. But it’s easy for feelings of my own importance to undermine my dependence upon God and others for the good work I do. Thus, it’s time to break that circuit. For two months, most of my job will be done by the capable leaders around me.
A sabbatical is not something I deserve. It is something I need. A sabbatical is not something God mandates to constrain my work, but rather an exercise to position my work in its rightful role in my heart and life. Paid clergy and professors are decent at taking sabbatical, I’ve found. But, the rest of us? Not so much.
So, for two months I will rest, read, adventure with my family, and begin work on my next book project with Peter Greer.
So, now the work of detaching begins. For nine weeks, I’ll be much more unplugged. If you want to reach me, a carrier pigeon sent to Cabarete might be your best option. Till May, bendiciones, amigos.
There was a convention this week. It convened those who shared one thing in common: Their political conversion story. After learning from secret sources about President Obama’s hidden plans to destroy America (via an email forward), they each had freed the Leftward blinders from their eyes and come to faith in the GOP.
Across the street, another convention ensued. Young political activists extolled their Millennial peers to remain above the political fray, to avoid the erroneous missteps of their overzealous parents. Their convention advocated for things that mattered. Justice and compassion were the only planks in their platform. “Jesus wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican,” they chanted with fervor.
The problem with this scenario is that nobody showed up for either convention. Imprudent conviction and aimless civility fall prey to the same captor: Neither works.
“People these days who are civil often lack strong convictions, and people with strong religious convictions often are not very civil. What we need is convicted civility.” – Richard Mouw (quoting Martin Marty)
You’ve seen how this works. A friend posts a sharply divisive comment. Annoyed, a bunch of other people post stuff about how they’re not going to lower themselves to cyberspace politics. Or, at a party, a friend creates an awkward silence by claiming Jesus couldn’t be a Republican because Republicans are indifferent about poverty. And the cool kids scoff and walk away, elevating themselves above the partisan nonsense.
This election matters, even in spite of its shortcomings. Yes: Both candidates grossly exaggerate their own successes and their opponents’ shortcomings, Yes: Fox News and MSNBC parrot their biases. Yes: It is Jesus, not political parties, that saves. But, political hermitry does nothing to advance what is good and right in our country, nor does it help soothe our imperfect political system.
Our country needs Christians to engage politically. We should care enough to not abstain. Abstention plagues my generation. When we shirk our responsibilities as citizens, we purport a spiritual reclusion that is anything but biblical. From Joseph to Daniel to Nehemiah, our faith heroes were beacons of conviction, serving within regimes far more corrupt than our own. Christians should care enough to demonstrate and proclaim our convictions by learning, discussing and voting. And we must extol civility while we do.
Anger doesn’t compel. Condescension pushes your ideological counterparts farther away. Remember how you’ve never met any political converts who switched sides because of your sarcasm-laden Facebook posts? It’s akin to a boat race where you simultaneously throttle and shoot holes in the hull of your vessel.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve had two conversations with friends about their own political journeys. Both had journeyed from one side of the political spectrum to the other. And it wasn’t because of email forwards or absentee citizens who locked their principles in purposeless privacy. They changed because their friends cared enough to share their convictions with earnestness and charity. They are now both active politically, thoughtfully advocating for issues they understand and care about deeply.
There is an ideological divide in this election. President Obama and Governor Romney lead differently and uplift certain values above others. They hold different opinions on the role of federal government and on how to address our financial solvency. From abortion to marriage to entitlements to foreign policy to taxation: This vote matters. And it should especially matter to us. Christians: Our faith in Christ demands we lead by exuding firm conviction and by modeling remarkable civility.
For further reading.
There are few people less qualified to speak at a Princeton University conference in Austria than me. Even prestigious universities make mistakes, however, and they certainly did by sending me an invitation. In the pre-conference packet, lofty bios filled whole pages. It became strikingly evident that my title looked akin to a computer programmer at a bodybuilding convention. My bio followed a former US ambassador’s. But sure, I wasn’t intimidated in the least to put my bachelor’s degree in sport management and 2.5 years of professional experience to work.
The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University (or TWWSOPAIAAPU for short) hosted the conference on the topic, “Faith and International Development.” They convened leaders from international organizations (like mine) as well as policy-makers and academics. We hailed from many faith and non-faith persuasions and enjoyed a week of Austrian culture together. And we debated amicably. There was only one guy there who rankled me. And he also happened to be the only other representative of a Christian faith-based organization.
His offered an irksome commentary on a subject I care about deeply. The crux of his message? Christian evangelism is dangerous, paternalistic and wildly inappropriate. He argued the sanctuary is the only venue where Jesus-talk is permissible, castigating international organizations with the audacity to claim otherwise. And I couldn’t disagree more. To this guy and those who think like him, evangelism (or, as he labeled it, proselytism) encroaches on modern sensibilities. Talking publicly about faith, he stated, is wrong. And he’s not alone. His views resound through the chambers of the elite and educated. Together, they dance to the inclusive harmonies of tolerance and diversity.
But my comrade fell into the very trap he lectured us to avoid. He advocated we sanitize our religious views from our work and lives. He reasoned matters of faith are personal, not public, and demanded we keep our religious opinions to ourselves. But all the while, he wasn’t offering some impartial perspective. He wasn’t living above the spiritual fray. He advocated for neutered convictions …as if he held no convictions at all?
Skeptics believe that any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true. But this objection is itself a religious belief…It is no more narrow to claim that one religion is right than to claim that one way to think about all religions (namely that all are equal) is right. – Tim Keller, Senior Pastor, Redeemer Presbyterian Church
I believe in civility and playing nice. This isn’t about ramming faith down throats or threatening fire-and-brimstone. I’m fighting for honesty. When we demand faith be bleached-out from our work, we commit the sin we scold against. My conference colleague tossed grenades at proselytism while attempting to convert me to his position.
[Proselytism] is virtually unavoidable: Almost everyone is a proselytizer on behalf of something… It may be possible for those almost or entirely without connection to others (hermits, those at the far end of autism or Alzheimer’s, long-term coma patients, and so on) to avoid proselytism completely; but otherwise we are all proselytizers. – Paul Griffiths, professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Illinois
I’m grateful my conference peer held such passionate positions. I will advocate for his right to share them. But it is self-defeating to demand some impossible form of sanitized society that inhibits religious discussion, as if the common man might somehow be duped into conversion. I believe in the life and promises of Jesus of Nazareth. And our world suffers if anti-evangelism evangelizers stifle me from sharing it.