Freedom Mourning

AJ_FlagsMy heart is broken this Fourth of July. Across the country, multitudes celebrate freedom while others remain bound by the chains of modern-day slavery. In a nation that espouses the ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, this should not be. How can we claim to be a free country when thousands are trafficked on our very soil? How can we set ourselves as the model of freedom when our nation is among the top perpetrators of global human trafficking?

Our soldiers boldly sacrifice to defend our freedom, traveling thousands of miles to foreign lands to ensure our safety and security. Where are those who will rise up on behalf of the oppressed within our own country? Where are the warriors who will fight to free those captive to the injustices of human trafficking?

The war that must be waged on behalf of those enslaved cannot be won with weapons and bloodshed. It deals with minds that need to be transformed, hearts that need to be reformed. Until we change our attitudes of ignorance, apathy and indulgence the tangled web of modern trafficking will ensnare our nation, choking our life and stealing our future.

Freedom is not freedom if it comes at the expense of another’s liberty. As long as humans are bought and sold as commodities in a marketplace, we cannot continue to claim we are free. If the exercise of freedom requires the bondage of another, it is not truly freedom. As Emma Lazarus once said, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” Until human slavery is abolished in every form, we are all captive.

In his now famous Fourth of July speech, Frederick Douglass declared, “What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim.” Though these words were spoken in the 1800s, they’re just as true today when we consider the gross injustice of modern slavery.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Love Grieves

Grieving from Google Images I used to be funny. Really, I did. You wouldn’t know it, because I usually couldn’t remember how the joke started, let alone the punch line. Still, I loved to laugh and to make people laugh. But somewhere along the way, I saw the world for what it is. Went on a few mission trips, saw the depths of poverty. Lived in the inner city surrounded by gang violence and drug addiction and children alone on the streets at one in the morning. Learned about human trafficking and saw it happening before my very eyes when I was powerless to intervene. And I stopped laughing so much.

Most specifically, I remember my first trip to Amsterdam. The first day, on a tour bus viewing some famous landmarks, knowing there were slaves in chains behind the façade. The tour guide made a casual remark about how free and happy their society was, noting with pride their legalization of prostitution. And I thought—doesn’t she know that the majority of these women are victims of human trafficking? Deceived into the lifestyle by the promise of good and reputable work. Torn from their families by a bold-faced lie. Abducted. Exploited. Enslaved.

In the evenings our church group went to the place where girls as young as 12 were imprisoned behind glass doors, in hopes of leading them to freedom. One of the girls we talked to broke down in tears because she wanted to get out of there but was afraid her pimp would beat her to death if she left. Most nights, I went back to my room and spent the night crying.

It’s not that I spend every day all mopey and depressed. If you know my kids, you know how impossible that would be. They’re a reminder of the good things in this world—those things worth fighting for. But knowing the evils I’ve seen exist in rampant measure around the world, there is always a heaviness burdening my heart. And I can’t let it go.

There is so much to be grateful for, and yet I’m reminded of how even Jesus wept. He sat on the hillside overlooking the city, longing to gather its people in his arms. Grieved over the hypocrisy of the religious and the brokenness of the sinners. He wept for the things of the world that are not as they should be, because humankind insists on living for self, which inevitably leads to suffering. True love grieves, knowing that life and love could be so much more than what they’ve become in human hands. True love hurts, torn by the sharp-edged pieces as we join in the struggle to mend our broken world.

There’s a time for joy, yes. But there’s a time to grieve. I still want my sense of humor back. But I never want to forget the pain that reminds me what true love is.

True Love…GRIEVES (Day 3, #50ShadesOfTrueLove)

50 Shades of Love (the Sequel)

Blog_BlurredHeartsI’ve decided I’d rather be known for what I stand for than what I stand against. And what I want to stand for is love. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I’ve decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” In a culture of hate, the temptation is to harden our hearts, but love is the only thing that can overcome evil.

We live in an age of tolerance, yet there remains much we should not tolerate—including abuse, racism, violence, and modern slavery. And yes, it is important to take a stand against such evils. Yet often in the process of fighting injustice, we fall prey to hateful, bitter hearts. We forget to confront the root issues—those things lacking in our culture and left in the void that contribute to the mindset behind injustice. And what is most lacking in our world? Love.

Our culture has developed a craving for abusive relational habits, such as those trending in modern media. And why? Because we’ve lost sight of the true definition of love, or we never knew what love was to begin with.

In a child development class I once took, we were told that instead of telling a child not to do something harmful or dangerous, we need to give them something productive to do instead. In a similar manner, we can warn others against engaging in media that promotes abusive relationships, but unless we find a positive alternative on which to focus our attentions, appetites will never change.

As a boat with no anchor is sure to drift, a life with no understanding of selfless, sacrificial love will drift toward abuse, racism, violence, slavery, and other destructive tendencies. If those who know of true love stand on the sidelines yelling, “Stop drifting. Stop drifting!” what good is it? What we need is the anchor.

There’s a game called “name the lie, insert the truth.” In the case of relationships, it is no game. The lie is that we exist to gratify our own selfish desires, or to enslave ourselves to the indulgent appetites of another. The truth is, we were specially designed for relationship based on supernatural, self-sacrificing love that builds one another up rather than tearing down.

I hate abuse, racism, violence, slavery, and similar evils because they dehumanize, demoralize, and degrade those made for a greater love and a higher purpose. But more than that, I want to stand for love—it’s power to heal, transform, and overcome. Over the next fifty days, I’m devoting my attentions to exploring what true love is—whether through a Bible verse, a quote, or an example of self-sacrificing love. My personal Facebook and Twitter campaign is #50ShadesOfTrueLove. Feel free to join me, if you want.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

50 Shades of Love

AJ_LoveNeverFailsIn an age where humankind has explored the reaches of space and navigated the depths of the seas, it’s surprising to think we’re still struggling to understand what love is. Our search for its meaning has led to the murky gray waters of confusion, and the generations that follow are left to drown in the flood of misperceptions we’ve left behind. When we pursue love through self-gratification, we’re left empty and abused—because to live according to a selfish definition of love inevitably leads to suffering.

There’s a gaping hole in our hearts, crying out for love and fulfillment. Too often, we search for this love via means incapable of satisfying our deepest and truest needs. Current trends suggest intimacy can be found in sadistic relationships based on bondage, dominance, and slavery. The lie persists that there can be a fairytale ending to such relationships, when headlines and statistics so clearly prove otherwise. Too often, the actual result is suffering and death.

It’s grievous to consider the outcome of our distorted perceptions of love. Our own children are sold into slavery in countless numbers while we turn a blind eye, so consumed in our pursuit of self-gratification. Our high courts are inundated with cases of those fighting to do as they please while our own youth are trapped in bondage to modern slavery with no one to plead their cause. Have we become so desensitized that we care nothing for the innocent of our world while we go on chasing desperately after our own selfish desires?

True love involves self-sacrifice, not self-gratification. It’s when we lay down our lives for the love of another that we find life that is truly life, and love that is truly love. After all these years of fruitless searching, the most complete definition of love is found in ancient words: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13:4-8)

The many shades of love include patience, kindness, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, and sacrifice. Love consists of infinite shades of selfless virtue, and gray is not one of them. We don’t need more gray in our lives. We need more love. True love will never enslave us. It will set us free.

“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

One Small Voice

AJ_EndItI first heard about human trafficking when I was in college. An article I read detailed the horrors of children in Asia, harbored as slaves, kept in the same cages we use to transport our pets. The thought that something so appalling could happen in our world kept me awake at night, stole my appetite. Rendered me powerless.

But for me, it was just that. A thought. An article I read. Nothing compared to the reality that is slavery for 20 to 30 million people every day.

The fact that we even have a number for it staggers me. How can we have a statistic for the insurmountable injustice and not have done anything about the people behind those numbers? How do we even acquire these statistics? Go to the slave yards and houses, get the numbers, and leave the victims to suffer?

And what can average me do about it? Cry? Feel a tinge of regret that it’s happening then go on with my comfortable life?

Since reading that article, I’ve been overseas. Encountered street children in the Philippines. Spoken with victims of sex trafficking in the red light district of Holland. Seen children lined up “for sale” in Tijuana. And I’ve been here, in our own “back yard.” Driving home at midnight, stopping because there’s a girl on the corner who looks like she could be my niece. And she doesn’t want help because she fears for her life at the hands of her traffickers.

It happens here, you know. In the city and the suburbs.

And it makes me sick. Drives me to depression sometimes just thinking that slavery has never really been abolished, like they say. But that’s not enough! Feeling sick and depressed about something so awful is not gonna do anything.

So I told my sister I want to raise awareness, want to do something. I’m writing a book, starting a blog. But what can my one, little, average voice do? Especially when there’s so many voices out there, clamoring for attention. And my sister reminded me…we need all the voices we can get. No matter how small, no matter how average—every voice that rises in outcry against the injustice of modern slavery is one more voice in the battle for freedom.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9)