The Black Panther Challenge

3 03 2018

Marvel Studios poster taken from

I finally found time this weekend to go watch The Black Panther. LOVED IT!!

This hugely entertaining film addresses the question of “What do we do with the blessings God has given us?” Not two, but three different arguments are put forward:

+  use those blessings to protect us and ours (Black Panther’s fathers’ traditional wisdom)

+  use those blessings to help the needy who are not part of us (Black Panther’s love interest)

+  use those blessings to dominate those who are not part of us (Black Panther’s cousin)

In the middle of this triangle stands the Black Panther, king of the technologically advanced Wakanda. He feels responsible to protect his nation; but he also begins to feel responsible to share with the rest of a hurting world.

*SPOILER ALERT* In one of the post-credit scenes, we learn the Black Panther’s final decision when he addresses the UN with this quote:

“More connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one tribe.”

This is not an original idea—it’s been said before by people such as Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King Jr., and Pope Francis, among others. But it is a truth worth repeating, and a truth worth making a Marvel movie about.

Here’s my follow-up question for you: When is the last time you used your talents, skills, or money to help someone who is not a member of any of your groups? someone who had no way to pay you back?

Put another way: When is the last time you intentionally stepped out of your world into someone else’s world simply to bless them?

I think of my wife, who celebrated Valentine’s Day last month in an unusual way. She bought roses (not unusual) and gave some to our daughter and to me. But she saved out two red roses to give to strangers (unusual!). Then she prayed and asked God who to give them to.

She zipped downtown on her motorbike and followed God’s leading to a middle-aged woman, pulled up next to her, said “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and gave her a rose. The woman’s jaw dropped, her eyes lit up, she couldn’t believe this was happening. My wife shared that it was like no one had given this woman flowers ever in her life, she was so happy. Something similar happened with the second woman God led her to.

Our family doesn’t move in the same social circles as those two ladies, but a simple rose has built a bridge. This prophetic act reminds us that we’re all connected, we’re all “one tribe,” and our blessings are meant to overflow on others.

So whether we’re kings or paupers, let’s take to heart God’s commission to our father Abraham in Genesis 12—we’re blessed to be a blessing.


Imagination, Hope, Prayer and Societal Change

3 06 2014

Societal change does not come by accident; it occurs because someone first imagined it.Mother Teresa

This imagination can sneak into your life anytime, anywhere.  For Mother Teresa, it started the first time she walked by a dying person on the street and wondered why no one was doing anything about it.  For a young Martin Luther King Jr. it may have begun as he read about St. Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi.  For an older Nelson Mandela there was plenty of time in prison to imagine what he’d do when he got out.

But people everywhere are dreamers.  Only a few believe those dreams can come true and fix their lives to that hope.  They begin to orient their lives to the dream, believing that if they can live it, others will catch it; and if their community can live it, they can change a nation or even the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about his dream that “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  He began to live that dream, joining hands with people of other races and religions to promote racial equality.

Gandhi dreamed of India being free from British colonization. First he, then his community, began growing their own food and making their own clothes to show they could live independently of the British commercial system.  A nation watched, and began to believe.

Nelson Mandela could have spent his 27 years in prison focusing his imaginations on justice, or worse, revenge, but he chose to hope in a “rainbow nation” for South Africa where both white and black men cared about each other.  When elected president, he chose to keep many of the white staff from the outgoing president, knowing if he could change the culture in his office, he could change the culture in the nation.

But beyond imagination and hope, I believe there is one more vital key that many extraordinary peacemakers shared, and that is prayer.  When our dreams come into alignment with God’s dreams, an unstoppable force moves with us against that formerly “immovable object.”  Study the lives of the great peacemakers and you will inevitably find they were people of prayer.

One book about Mother Teresa is entitled, Everything Starts with Prayer.  She once said, “If we pray, we will believe; If we believe, we will love; If we love, we will serve.”

Gandhi spoke and wrote prolifically about prayer.  He said, “No act of mine is done without prayer,” and “As food is necessary for the body, prayer is necessary for the soul.  A man may be able to do without food for a number of days…but believing in God, man cannot, should not live a moment without prayer.”  Gandhi’s fasting and prayer literally stopped a civil war and saved the nation.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a transforming prayer experience after a midnight call from a racist who threatened to kill him and destroy his home.  Over a cup of coffee in his kitchen, he poured his heart out to God, and felt God’s assurance that if he would stand up for righteousness, God’s presence would always be with him.  King would take personal prayer retreats, and even when locked up in jail would pray and sing.  One of his biographers would write, “Dr. King taught us about the importance of prayer, not only as part of our own personal devotional life but…also prayer must be a part of any movement for social action.”

Interestingly, the great peacemakers were generally humble people who recognized that if we all are dreaming and hoping for a change, we should all be willing to pray together for that change.  Martin Luther King Jr. brought Christians, Muslims and Jews together to pray for America.  Mother Teresa enjoyed praying with Christians, Muslims and Hindus, stating, “No color, no religion, no nationality should come between us—we are all children of God.”  Badshah Khan, the outstanding peacemaker among the Muslim Pashtuns in northwest India, joined Gandhi’s interfaith prayer meetings and credited his Christian teacher Rev. E.F.E.Wigram as the one “who had created in me the spirit of service to God.”  Nelson Mandela, a Christian, was a dear friend to the Muslim community of South Africa and joined them in prayer.   Gandhi was well-known for uniting different groups to pray.  About one of his famous fasts in response to Hindu-Muslim violence in 1924, Gandhi said this: “The fast was an adventure in goodness.  The stake was one man’s life.  The prize was a nation’s freedom.  If Indians were united as brothers, no outsider could long to be their master.”  When the fast was complete, Gandhi called his “brothers” together for a time of religious unity, where an Imam recited the Al Fatihah, a Christian missionary led the singing of a Christian hymn, then Hindu holy readings and songs closed their time together.

The point here is not that we all need to start interfaith prayer meetings—the point is that sometimes our dreams are bigger than ourselves, and we need to open our hearts to God and to others to achieve them.  As Mother Teresa has said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

So go ahead and dream!  Ignite your imaginations for a better future.  When those dreams turn to hope, you’ll find yourself naturally following Gandhi’s advice, “Become the change you want to see.”  Pray your dreams; let God’s dreams refine yours, expand yours.  And pray them with others who share your dreams, recognizing that if they are truly God’s dreams, they are much bigger than you.

Martin Luther King Jr. was laboring through his speech on the Washington Mall when one of the singers on the platform, Mahalia Jackson, called out to him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”  He abandoned his notes and began to pour out his heart to America about his dream.  As he declared images like the following:

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_Washington (1)     I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

     I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

     I have a dream that one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

…as he declared those images, King’s dream became a nation’s dream.  What might your dreams become?

Most Likely to Become a Peacemaker

30 01 2012
Martin Luther King, 1964

Remember those high school yearbook predictions: most likely to become famous, most likely to become fabulously rich, etc.?  Have you ever thought about what kind of person is most likely to become a peacemaker?

In my novel, SOMEONE HAS TO DIE, you’ll be surprised at who is willing to take a risk for peace, and who does everything in their power to prevent peace.  You might think that a Christian pastor is more likely to pursue peace than a Muslim imam–actually, that hasn’t been my experience in the Muslim world, and you’ll get a taste of this harsh reality when you read the book!

True, Martin Luther King Jr. was a Christian pastor.  But other famous peacemakers come from a variety of walks of life: Gandhi was a lawyer, Badshah Khan started schools for the poor, Jimmy Carter was a peanut farmer who became president, and Jesus was a poor carpenter’s son.  And all over the world today there are everyday people who see two people or two groups of people hostile to one another, and take a risk to stand in the middle and love both sides.

When 9/11 happened, I remember emailing my Christian friends in the US encouraging them that it was the right time to make friends with the Muslims around them who might be afraid of angry, random retribution.  One couple took my suggestion seriously and joined other members of the community to serve their local mosque as nightwatchmen.  The mosque’s attenders were overwhelmed by the kindness of these neighbors.  One of them got talking to my friends, and next thing you know they were planning a hike together and eating in each other’s homes.  The risk my friends took to build a bridge paid off!

Just this week another friend shared how he took a group of American Christians into the gay prostitution district of his city to ask the homosexuals for forgiveness for how the Christian media and institutions have treated them!  He told me how many of them were deeply touched and asked my friend’s team to pray with them right there in the street.

One of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King is this: “I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”  You may not think of yourself as a Gandhi, Mandela or MLK, but when you see any opposing people or groups where God gives you the grace to love both sides, take a risk and do something about it!  The ripple effect of you becoming who God wants you to be creates a momentum for them to become who God made them to be as well.