Monday, July 15, 2013

Nothing has changed?

My previous post sparked a bit of a Facebook conversation with a high school friend.  He had some good things to say.  He is an insightful man.  He said something that I think bears further discussion, but I didn’t want to potshot back and forth via Facebook.  I do better when I collect my thoughts and put them in writing. 

He said, “We want to believe that things are different, and that things are better, but at the end of the day, they aren’t.”  I know that he is far from alone in his opinion.  I will agree with him that things are not as they should be.  There are people of all races who judge others by the color of their skin. 

I’ll ashamedly state that while color is not my trip-hazard, I have tended to judge people of a different economic status differently.  I have done this with people both substantially more wealthy than me as well as people with substantially less than me.  When people have considerably more than I do, I have had thoughts that they are spoiled and haven’t worked for what they’ve been given.  When someone is deep in poverty, I’ve been prone to thinking that they just need to work harder to get out of poverty.  This is a personal shortcoming that I am striving to work through. 

My problem here is with the statement that nothing has changed with regard to race relations.  I’ve read quotes in the news where people state that nothing has changed since the murder of Emmett Till.  If you don’t know, Emmett Till was a young black man who was killed in 1955 for flirting with a white woman in Mississippi.  Emmitt was killed by two white men.  These white men were acquitted.  The righteous outrage over this event helped spark the Civil Rights Movement. 

In the ensuing 58 years, things HAVE changed.  There have been vast improvements.  I honestly can’t tell you how many interracial couples I know.  There is one in my family and several in my church.  Of the couples I know personally, they appear to be very happy.  There are no longer “separate but equal” laws on the books.  When I looked at locations to build a house, I didn’t go around checking to make sure there were only white people living in the neighborhood.  The number of educational and employment opportunities available to people of all non-Caucasian backgrounds has grown tremendously.  Boys and girls, we have a black president.  Politically I am not a fan of the man, but I was still proud that our country has grown up enough that a black man could be elected to the highest office in the land.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man in America.  I can’t.  I never will.  But, I do know what it is like to be judged improperly.  I know what it is to have opportunity taken away because of external factors.  As a Christian, I’m constantly judged by the worst examples of those who call themselves by the same name.  I know what it is like to be judged to be less intelligent strictly because of where I grew up and went to college.  Though I managed to keep scholarships all through college, I was floored by how few scholarships were available to white males.  The preponderance of scholarships in the catalog were out of my reach due to race or gender.  I won’t try to make anyone believe that it is the same.  It isn’t, but it’s still wrong.  We collectively need to try to get past all of this.

I don’t know enough about the Trayvon situation (and neither do you) to state that he was either pure as the driven snow or a thug.  Truthfully, most of us (at least the guys) were somewhere in between as teenagers.  We were cocky, even combative.  Young Mr. Martin was likely the same.  Does that mean he deserved to die?  No.  Did Zimmerman make a huge mistake in following the kid on foot, especially when the cops told him to back off?  Yes! I won’t defend Zimmerman’s actions.  It’s entirely possible that he is every bit the racist pig that he’s been portrayed as.  A system of law that works well in most cases was unable to prove that he intentionally went in to kill a young black kid.

In my Facebook discussion, I was told that, “people are asking us not to be so quick to anger because the perpetrator had the right to shoot him.”  There are two parts to this statement that I think need to be dissected.  The first is the portion about being quick to anger.  Anger is natural. My Savior, Jesus, became angry.  Anger in and of itself is not a problem.  The key is what you do with your anger.  Do you go onto a public forum and put racially divisive elements out there?  Do you broadly state that all of Group A thinks poorly of everyone in Group B?  Do you state (and my high school friend did not) that “we need to riot in white neighborhoods?”  My friend has not made that statement, but others have, and rioting has occurred.  If this case were the other way around, and a young white (or Hispanic, or Asian, or whatever) man were killed in questionable circumstances, it would not be considered acceptable for white (or Hispanic, or Asian, or whatever) folks to start making broad public statements about black folks.  It certainly wouldn’t fly for big groups of white folks to walk through the city tearing stuff up.  The explosive anger from that would quickly become the focal point instead of the death itself.  Though I disagree with the situation, I would not have any real problem with a demonstration.  My problem is with the call for violence and destruction.  Again, my friend hasn’t done this.

The second part I want to address about my friend’s statement is about the perpetrator having a right to shoot Trayvon.  Broadly speaking, none of us has a right to shoot one another (or use any other means of deadly force) unless we honestly believe our life is in imminent danger.  If I see someone walking down the street, I don’t have a right to shoot him.  If he punches me in the face, I don’t have a right to shoot him.  I can punch back, but killing him is not legally defensible.  Running away is the best option.  However, if he is slamming my head into the pavement hard enough to crack my skull, it is conceivable that I fear for my life.  At that point, the color of the people involved becomes irrelevant.  If a big red-headed dude is trying to kill me, I’m gonna do my best to stop it.  I have the legal right to use whatever force is necessary.  If Zimmerman had been slamming Trayvon’s head into the ground, Trayvon would have been within his legal rights to take deadly measures.  Had that been the case, this would never have made it beyond the local evening news.

I don’t pretend that everything is absolutely right in this country.  It isn’t and probably never will be.  There will always be people who erroneously judge other people.  The judgment may be due to race, gender, political affiliation, economic status, education, religion, or sexual orientation.  Sadly, we can’t legislate people’s right to be an idiot.  What we must do is not fall into the trap of joining in the judgment.  Our job as neighbors is to remember to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Can we talk for a moment about race, love and respect?

If you are reading this, you are a friend of mine.  We either went to school together, worked together, have gone to church together, are family, or have had our lives cross in some other manner.  I have friends who are white, Asian, Hispanic, black, and mixtures of all of the above.  I have family who fall into all of those categories.  I have two beautiful nieces who, had they been male, “would look like Trayvon.”

I spent my formative years in West Texas in the 70’s and 80’s.  My first true exposure to something other than Caucasian and Hispanic culture came in the second grade.  Lubbock was kinda late to the school integration thing.  They began enforcing a policy of cross-town bussing.  The idea was to take kids from different parts of town, put them in school together, and let them grow up not knowing they were different.  This was a laudable goal.  However, cultural bias had set in even by the second grade.  You might be surprised though.  It wasn’t the white kids picking the fights. 

Every morning, I boarded a bus at Haynes Elementary which was three or four blocks from my house.  We then made a very slow 30 minute drive to Wheatley Elementary.  On the first day of school, kids piled off the bus and wandered into class.  On the first day of class, we were told to find a seat and that would be our spot for the rest of the semester.  I plopped down in a seat, only to be told by a young black kid (possibly the first black kid I’d ever met) that I was in his seat.  Being a quiet, non-confrontational kid, I moved.  He then told me that was his seat too.  When I wouldn’t move a second time, he told me he was going to beat me up at recess.  That was the start of a several week series of recess fights.  I never initiated them.  Those of you who know me well know that I don’t start fights.  However, I did stick up for myself.  Was this all race-based?  No, I don’t think so.  Some of it was that this kid was just a mean kid.  However, some of it was because I was a white kid in his territory. 

Towards the middle of that year, my folks moved us to the little town of Wolfforth, Texas: essentially a bedroom community right outside of Lubbock.  Our school district, Frenship ISD, was a bit unusual for that area in that time.  We had fairly well-to-do kids whose parents owned local businesses, farm kids, kids of plain old workaday folks, kids of migrant laborers, and kids whose parents were stationed at Reese Air Force Base.  While leaning heavily to WASP-ish demographics, there were a pretty good mix of races and economic backgrounds.  I never even thought twice about my friends with different skin colors and last names of different backgrounds.  This had to have been a huge leap from the Texas of the pre-1970’s. 

Between then and now, my extended family has grown to include a black brother-in-law, a Hispanic brother-in-law, and a Vietnamese sister-in-law.  I have beautiful nieces and nephews who are mixes from the marriages of those family members and other members of my family.  I love them all.  I also have friends from my church, good friends, from various races and nationalities.  We are there for each other, give each other good natured ribbing and are family to each other because most of our genetic families are far way.

Now, I see people who normally seem to get along quite well just spouting hate because of the stupid act of one young man.  The young man (with Hispanic heritage and a Caucasian surname) followed another young man ( a young black man) and now one of them is dead.  The other’s life is forever altered, arguably ruined.  Did Zimmerman racially profile Trayvon?  Possibly, even probably.  Did he exercise extremely bad judgment in getting out of his car when the cops told him to stay in the car?  Unquestionably.  Did he commit second degree murder or manslaughter?  The honest answer is we don’t know.  We can’t, don’t and will never know.  Therefore, the jury did what the law requires them to do.  It found him not guilty.  This doesn’t mean they like what he did (or might have done).  This doesn’t mean that those six white women on the jury hate young black men.  This means that the State of Florida did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zimmerman committed the crime for which he was charged.  Reasonable doubt, while not always equitably applied, is the thing that makes our justice system so much better than most.  It keeps the court of public opinion from condemning people who may not have necessarily committed a crime.

My problem is not about what Zimmerman did or didn’t do.  I don’t even want to get into why he went after Trayvon or whether Trayvon was a good kid or not.  My problem is that people are talking about the “United States of AmeriKKKa.”  My problem is that people are quoting Ice Cube in saying that this is what “they” think of you.  That is the basest racism.  Anyone who is behind riots and violence because they dislike the outcome of this trial is fomenting racial hatred.  Letting this drive a wedge between people (not black/white/Asian/Hispanic, but neighbors and friends) is the most ridiculous thing imaginable.  Whether you are right or left, democrat or republican, black or white, letting yourself be played by the media and anyone with an ax to grind is insane.

I further take issue with the fact that huge numbers of young black men have been killed by other young black men and nobody seems to cry much about it.  According to stats from the Philadelphia Police Department, 75% of the 324 murder victims in their city in the year of the study were young black men.  Of that group of murder victims, 80% were killed by other young black men.  That means about 194 young black men were killed by other young black men in one city in one year.  That is appalling.  Why isn’t there more outrage?  Why is there no call for this heinous genocide to stop?  I’m actually asking because I don’t know.  I suspect a large part is because it doesn’t play well in the press.  I also suspect it is because no political hay can be made.  You can’t very well set up an “us” against “them” divide when everyone is “us.”

I want my children, nieces and nephews to grow up in a country where they don’t hear hate-mongers (black, white or otherwise) and racists (black, white or otherwise) saying it’s all some other groups’ fault.  I don’t want my mixed race (black father and white mother) niece to look at my white niece and think “that’s the enemy.”   As of right now, when family gets together, those precious little ones love on us and each other and have a ball like the family they are.  My fear is that they will grow up seeing the hate-mongering on the news and begin to see one another as the enemy.

Friends and family, it all starts with each of us.  Your neighbor (black, white, or otherwise) is a person in their own right.  They are God’s child.  If you don’t believe in God, you’ll at least agree that they are a homo sapiens before they are anything else.  They all are worthy and worthwhile.  So why, please, why do folks immediately start seeing “other” when something like this comes up in the news.  Good grief, “we” are letting “them” play us like fiddles.  OJ, Rodney King, and now Trayvon and Zimmerman.  Every time something like this happens, people shut down.  They, or we, quit seeing each other as worthy people and go straight to exterior appearances.  They, or we, turn off our brains and start feeding from the intellectual trough of CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, or whatever our favorite news outlet is.  We let professional rabble rousers, entertainers and politicians lead us like sheep and tell us who we should love or hate.

Since you’ve read this far, I’ll bore you a bit further.  Yesterday, I saw at least a small hint of what I hope to see for our country in the future.  Our church offers a program to help the community in which it resides.  This program, Neighborhood Needs, offers food, clothing and other items to underprivileged and down on their luck folks in Southwest Fort Worth.  I have seen the program serve white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Bhutanese, Middle Eastern and other folks for years.  Recently, we have teamed up with the Tarrant County Food Bank to offer a once-a-month program called Mobile Pantry.  The food bank brings one or two trucks of food to our parking lot.  We help unload, set up tables, arrange a sign-in station, give out food and help folks get the food to their cars or to the bus.  People of multiple races from several denominations of Christianity and other religions show up to volunteer.  Yesterday, I had the privilege to serve with black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Indian and other folks.  We had volunteers ranging in age from my 11-year old son up to some ladies whose age I won’t guess because I don’t want to take a beating.  We served several hundred folks of at least as varied a background as those serving.  In that group, I can tell you that we had conservatives and liberals.  We had people who are for and people who are against gun ownership.  We had people who are for a greater government influence in our lives and people who want as little government as humanly possible.  We had some rather rich individuals and some startlingly poor individuals.  All that, and we were able to look right past our differences and see each other as neighbors.  I didn’t see any major arguments.  I saw humor, and love and honor.  I saw Christians helping Muslims and Muslims being gracious in accepting the help.  I saw a young Hispanic male helping an older black lady carry her food.

Please take a moment to reflect.  Please let God lead your heart and ask Him to slow your rush to judgment of anyone.  Please look to build bonds with your neighbors.  Please look to make this nation what our Founding Fathers wished for it to be while being able to have an even greater understanding of what a neighbor is than they did.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Broken World

In my last post, I wrote about broken people.  I specifically discussed the young men behind the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and the stabbings in Cypress, Texas.  In the time since that post, we have seen more evidence of broken people.  We've seen the two misguided brothers who set off bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and another fellow decided to send letters laced with Ricin to our president and a couple of senators.  None of these crimes have any commonality of motivation (at least none put forth in the media) or method (gun, knife, bomb and poison).  All have been perpetrated by broken people upon their “neighbors.”  Again, these are broken people committing these acts.

However, in the same time frame, we've seen occurrences that have had much greater human tolls in terms of death and devastation.  There was an earthquake on the Iran/Pakistan border where at least 30 were killed and more were wounded.  A fire led to an explosion at a fertilizer plant in the small town of West, Texas.  There are 14 confirmed dead, as many as 60 missing and possibly dead, and more than 150 wounded.  An earthquake in the Sichuan province of China has just occurred.  They are estimating more than 100 dead and more than 2,000 injured.  These events are happening at nearly all points of the globe.  These are events not caused by malicious acts, though they are investigation the fertilizer plant explosion.  These are events that happen in a broken, fallen world.

In so many ways, our world is beautiful and awe inspiring.  Look at the sunset over the ocean.  Go see the Grand Canyon.  Watch a deer timidly come out of the protection of the woods to look for its breakfast in a field.  See the wonder of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).  All can be beautiful, heart warming and amazing.  However, someone may be drowning in the ocean over which the beautiful sunset is occurring.  A flood from a river carving a beautiful canyon can destroy lives and property.  That deer may be attacked at any moment by a mountain lion.  The Aurora Borealis is just a symptom of the radioactive attack of the sun on the earth.  There truly are two sides to every coin. 

I do not believe that this is what God truly wanted for us.  In the beginning, He made a beautiful place for His children.  He made it as lovingly and as caringly as he made them.  He wanted to be able to spend time with them in a place of beauty and majesty, and He wanted them to be able to feel safe with them.  However, God wanted us to freely make the choice to love Him and be with Him there.  He gave us the option.  When we (and I refuse to throw Eve, or women in general, under the bus here: we all make the same choice in our lives) chose to look for our fulfillment outside of Him, he pushed us out of his “throne room” with regret.  The broken world we all suffer came about as a consequence of the choices we make.  Man’s rejection of the Father broke his heart and caused the breaking of man and the world.

At this point, it would be easy to blame God.  “He is so mean.”  “Why would a loving God allow these things to happen.”  “If God is all-knowing, he should have known we would break his heart and force his hand.”  “Why can’t God just forgive us and fix all of the wrongs in this world.”  But, you see, God still show us how much he loves us.  He lets us see the beautiful side of the coin.  We get the sunsets, and the beautiful scenery.  We get to have lifelong loves and friendships.  We get to know what a joy it is to hold our child close and hear them say, I love you.”  We have been given so many beautiful things in this broken world.  The brokenness of the world means that we may temporarily lose some or all of these things, but this is where God’s greatest grace comes in.  He gives us the chance to go back into his throne room when our time on this broken world is over.  He loved us so much that he came bodily to this broken and sullied world.  He spent time with us.  He lived for us and then died bodily for us.  He took our sins and burned them for us. 

He has left us with a choice again.  All we have to do is accept His grace.  This choice is so much easier than the last one.  The last choice was an all or nothing choice: perfection forever, or banishment to a broken world.  This choice is so much simpler.  All He wants us to do is accept him.  He will take us, warts and all.  His heart has been broken, but he still wants us.  He loves us so much that he gives us the chance to improve our broken world.  No, we won’t be able to stop the “natural” tragedies.  But we can have such an impact on the broken people.  He has given us the clarion call to be a light on the hill.  We can share Him with others.  We can bring others out of brokenness and into his forgiveness and redemption. 

We will still not be perfect, nor will the people we bring to Him, not while we are still on this broken world.  But we can truly know what it is to be neighbors.  God, in the person of His Son Jesus, was once asked what the greatest commands were.  He said that the first was to love God with all you are.  But He quickly said that the second command was very close in importance.  That command was to love your neighbor as yourself.  When you think about it, this can be an extension of the greatest commandment.  If we love our neighbor as much as we do ourselves, we will want to share God with them.  We will want them to be able to escape this broken world.  If we do that, we've helped someone else follow the greatest commandment.

Please pray for your neighbors.  Yes, I mean the people who live around you.  Get to know them.  Cheer them on in life and learn to love them.  I also mean for you to pray for your neighbors in the broader sense.  Pray for the guy in the cubicle next to you at work.  Pray for your mailman.  Pray for the checkout lady at Walmart.  Pray for the rude person on the customer service line when you call in.  Pray for them and love them.  Remember that they have God’s love and deserve it no more or less than you.  If God loves them, we shouldn't do any less.  Pray for people you disagree with religiously.  Pray for people you disagree with politically.  Pray for people you disagree with philosophically.  Pray for people who root for a different sports team than you do (yes, even the Aggies ;-) ).  I am slowly beginning to find that if I pray for them, I have a harder time being so harsh in my judgment of them.  I hope to find that it will make them easier to love.  It hope it makes me easier to love.  On that note, pray for me when I’m not all I should be.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Broken People

Broken people call His name
Helpless children praise the King
Nothing brings Him greater fame
When broken people call His name

Lift high, your chains undone
All rise, exalt the Son
Jesus Christ, the Holy One
We lift our eyes to You

Sinners all exalt the Son
Your ransom paid and freedom won
We will see His Kingdom Come
When sinners all exalt the Son

Lyrics to Lift High by Steve Fee

This song is really speaking to me today because we are truly a broken people.  Yesterday, a student at the Cypress, Texas campus of Lone Star College stabbed 14 people before he was taken down by other students.  He has now told police that he has fantasized about stabbing people since grade school. On December 14 of last year, a young man took the lives of so many children and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This was a person with a history of just not fitting in.  Every day, people molest children.  People destroy each other's lives for no reason other than to prove themselves to a gang or a group of friends.

We, as Americans, have long been proud of our independent spirit.  In fact, our favorite national holiday is Independence Day.  Many things about having a spirit of independence are good.  It is great to be willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work.  It is great that we don't feel the need to do what others are doing, especially when they are doing something we see as wrong.  However, we've badly mutated the concept of independence.  We've taken away the positive attributes of independence and replaced them with self-absorption and complacency about the needs of others.  

We don't believe in any standards, except those we set for ourselves.  We don't see the need to help our neighbors.  That is the job of the government or "someone else."  We don't look out for the poor and downtrodden.  And as an "independent" person, I certainly can't take my problems to anyone else.

If we have no one greater than ourselves, we have no one to whom we can turn when we have struggles.  If we think there is no right and no wrong, we lack a standard against which we can all be measured.  We don't want others bothering us about our lives, and we don't want to pester other people about their lives.  We don't want our imperfect neighbors to tell us what to do and how to live our lives.  We certainly don't want a perfect God telling us what is best for us.

The following is from Proverbs 1:
24 “Because I called and you refused,
stretched out my hand and no one paid attention;
25 And you neglected all my counsel
And did not want my reproof;
26 I will also laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when your dread comes,
27 When your dread comes like a storm
And your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
When distress and anguish come upon you.
28 “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently but they will not find me,
29 Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the Lord.
30 “They would not accept my counsel,
They spurned all my reproof.
31 “So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way
And be satiated with their own devices.
32 “For the waywardness of the naive will kill them,
And the complacency of fools will destroy them.
33 “But he who listens to me shall live securely
And will be at ease from the dread of evil.”
I don't think we are beyond hope.  I don't yet think that God is ready to "laugh at your calamity."  But, I do know that repercussions are happening because we have turned away from God's authority.  We have turned away from loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We have turned away from doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

The problem is not that we have guns, knives, cars or other possible objects of mayhem in the hands of the people.  The problem is that we are broken and refuse to admit it.  Until the collective "we" (not the government, but our communities) decide to be neighbors, we will never be healed of our brokenness.  Had the neighbors, family and friends of the young men in Cypress and Newtown been more involved in their lives, we might have avoided tragedy.  Had someone looked into their well-being (not as a duty, but out of love), those young men might have been made whole.

I am the chief of sinners in this regard.  It is no fun to ask someone how they're doing when you know the answer will be anything other than, "fine."  We need to get out of ourselves and love others.

Please join me in prayer for our collective brokenness.  Pray for individual and national healing.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Back in Action

Though my last post said it had been a long time since the last post, I believe I shall have to redefine the term.  It's been about 5 years since my last post.  A lot of water has passed under the bridge.  My life has changed.  My world has changed.  The changes have ended up for the better, but changes are rarely fun in the event.  We typically only appreciate changes after the fact, even good ones.

The one thing that hasn't changed is God.  We can and do call His three parts by so many names: God, Father, Abba, Jehovah, Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Daddy, Savior, Redeemer, Yeshua, Son of God, The Trinity, El Shaddai, El Roi, and so many more. God is mighty.  He forgives.  He went through the ordeal for a life and painful death on earth for me.  Had I been the only one in need of his grace, he still would have done so.  He would, and did, do the same for you.

I've been a Christian for most of my life, but I am a spiritual infant in so many ways.  I spent so long avoiding my own issues (the plank in my own eye) and being judgmental about others (pointing out the speck of wood in other people's eyes) that I spared very little time for growing in Him.  I was so full of self-loathing that I felt unworthy of God's grace and didn't want to call His attention down on me.  On the surface, that is so ridiculous for two reasons.  One: God sees and knows everything.  Two: God has already forgiven me.  God is Love.  I am now beginning a slow journey to peace in God.  He has always been there, holding out his arms for me to fall into.  My vision is just now clearing enough to see it.

A few weeks back, we were blessed to be able to attend a Chris Tomlin concert.  For those who don't know, Chris is a gifted Christian musician.  In the middle of the concert, the music stopped and they introduced a man named Louie Giglio.  Louie is a Christian minister at a church in Atlanta.  He spoke about three of the parables in the new testament: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son.  These are parables that most Christians know well and have heard lessons on all of our lives.  However, Louie brought to light a new way (for me) to look at these.  Louie said that these parables are most important in what we see God doing in them.  In the parable of the lost sheep, the shepherd is the stand-in for God.  The woman in the story of the lost coin and the father in the story of the prodigal son do the same.  In all three cases, the stand-in for God is blessed with many blessings other than what has been lost to them.  The woman, though she has lost one coin, still has 9 more.  The shepherd has 99 sheep in addition to the lost one.  The father has his older son and his fortune in addition to the lost (or prodigal) son.  However, in all of these cases, the stand-in for God is searching earnestly and waiting anxiously for the lost one.  This can be a new way for many of us to look at both the old and new testaments of the Bible.  Though God already has the "good" people, he is still anxiously waiting for me to accept His help.  God is so good!

I've always looked at the laws and requirements of the old testament and thought how glad I am that I was not an old testament Jew.  I mean, can you imagine the onerous nature of keeping up with all of the laws and sacrifices?  On first inspection, one might ask why an Almighty God would force His followers to follow all these tedious laws and sacrifice for so many things.  However, when I look at things in this new light, I don't see God forcing His people to follow these seemingly petty rules for His own benefit.  He had them go through these things for their benefit.  These were God reaching for us, and yet wanting us to come to him freely.  Each of the tasks required of them were a means of having them think about Him.  As designed, the sacrifices required the Israelites to remember their Holy Father and should have made them think on His power, mercy and grace.  The restrictions should have drawn their thoughts to Him instead of selfishly thinking of their own desires.  These are early examples of God going out of His way to have us spend time with Him.  He was not trying to "take all the fun out of life," but to expose them to the much greater joy of His presence.

We belong to Him.  We are His.  We were His from the beginning, but he bought us again at the horrible cost of sending His Son to be a sacrifice in our stead.  We are not worthy, but through Him.  Know that you are precious to Him, and that should give you perspective any time you suffer a bout of self-loathing.  I know it helps me to know that He loved me that much.  If the Creator of everything loves me that much, who am I to hate myself?