100 years later

I’ve heard enough people in my circles say we live in a post-racial world. And I just want to give a little perspective. Why? Because when we say things like that today, people get hurt. It angers them, and for good reason. People made in the image of God… our brothers and sisters.

Not discounting the certain fact that progress in many areas has been made, we ought not think we’ve finished the race. I love how Deidra Riggs put it earlier today: “…if we were all running a marathon together (and we are) we wouldn’t stop at the one mile marker, look back toward the starting line and say, ‘Wow! Look at how much progress we’ve made! We’ve come so far! Let’s go do something else now.'”

For me, these 2 images when placed together are quite profound.

The first one is from July 2, 1917: a peaceful march in New York City, following a horrific event of injustice in St. Louis earlier that week that should never be forgotten. I unpacked that event more here.
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The other one is from about an hour ago – June 16, 2017, nearly 100 years later. Another peaceful march, this time in Minnesota, following the announcement of the verdict in Officer Yanez’ trial. I didn’t sit on the jury, and I can’t know all the intricacies that went into the reaching of that verdict. But we all saw the Facebook live video. And given the (enormous) track record of oppression from law-enforcement on people of color, the smell of bs here is strong.
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My heart aches for everyone directly involved (including Officer Yanez), and my heart aches for the millions of people who feel the pain of this moment from afar – pain that in many ways I will never be able to feel. I believe we need to pray for those in law enforcement like never before, and I believe we need to pray for minorities just as much.

Can we stand with one without hating the other? I believe we can.

But in the process, may the Lord help us never ever stop asking these gut-wrenching “Why” questions until the stubborn stench of injustice is burnt out of our nostrils for good.

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Some times God rescues you from the mouths of lions. Some times he lets you be beheaded.

In our home, from time to time we like to tell Bible stories to our kids before bed. It doesn’t happen all the time, and there’s definitely A LOT of nights we’re just doing whatever we can to get them in bed. However, if the story is right, we occasionally try to act it out together, be goofy and fun, and still communicate a point the kids can walk out when they wake up in the morning.

Tonight, we told them the story of the time Saul took a dump in the cave. David, his enemy, was already hiding in the cave unbeknownst to Saul, and he could have evened the score in that (awkward) moment. Such a good story…

And it made me think.

There’s a lot of stories we like to tell (like this one) – ones that have a happy ending, ones that always work out the way we expect them to.

And then there are other stories that we don’t tell as often. Not intentionally I don’t think. They just don’t come to mind much because we haven’t thought much about them. They’re uncomfortable. They don’t end anywhere close to the ways we think they should. Even more disconcerting, they push the boundaries of the God we thought we knew. Frankly, some of them push God right off the page.

For instance, we love to tell the story of how God rescued Daniel from the mouths of the lions. But we skip the story of how God allowed John to be beheaded.

Both individuals were faithful, humble, selfless people. They had morals, and stood up for truth. They lived with an internal conviction we all deeply long to have. And as far as we can see, their character was one we all want to emulate.

For the one, he was granted life when death was pretty much a guarantee. The other was granted death when life was a hope still on the horizon.

If you’re bumping into stories and shades of God that don’t seem like God, maybe it’s time to take a closer look, instead of skipping over those narratives. It’s ok to have your categories questioned. It’s ok to doubt the God you thought you knew. We can’t let our understanding of God up until this point in life define who God is for us for the rest of our lives. It’s a journey of understanding that will continue to grow and develop and be shaped over time. And that’s ok.

I believe God is calling his followers to a deeper faith, a solid trust in a God who exists outside the confines we grew up thinking he lived within. A God that doesn’t always make sense. A God that often leaves us with more questions than solutions.

And it’s ok to read those stories and wonder how they all fit together.

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Riches Have No Meaning

I’ve been reading through Shane Claiborne‘s book “The Irresistible Revolution”. Nearly every page has something that challenges and hurts to read, in a good way. This was from my reading today:

“So I did a little survey, probing Christians about their (mis)conceptions of Jesus. It was fun just to see how many people think Jesus loved homosexuals or ate kosher. But I learned a striking thing from the survey. I asked participants who claimed to be ‘strong followers of Jesus’ whether Jesus spent time with the poor. Nearly 80 percent said yes. Later in the survey, I sneaked in another question. I asked this same group of strong followers whether they spent time with the poor, and less than 2 percent said they did. I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor. … I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.”

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A God That Cares About Justice

Over the last few months, with a new and fresh burden on my soul for those caught in the cross-hairs of injustice and oppression, I’ve often looked up to heaven wondering when God is gonna show up and right some of the wrongs in front of us. As I wait in silence, like a lonely passenger waiting in the subway for that train that never seems to come, it’s easy to get to a place where you wonder if he cares at all.

It’s actually quite easy to assume he doesn’t.

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Eric Garner

Michael Brown

Walter Scott

Philando Castile

Alton Sterling

Jordan Edwards

But then I got an answer that was both encouraging and daunting: God expects his followers – the people who truly claim to be committed to him – to create the justice we all long for. He’s expecting you and I to stand in that gap. To not wait for someone else or for the right time or for the right resources – but to fight and labor for justice now!

Certainly, there is a day coming when Jesus will come back on the scene… not as a baby in need of care, but as a King ready to rule. But that’s not yet. For today, he’s called us to rise up and act.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Matthew 23:23-24

In Jesus’ day, the teachers of the law and Pharisees were an interesting bunch. I don’t like to admit it, but they thought very similarly to the ways I often think, when left unchecked. They’re more similar to us in the church today than we often concede. I’m convinced of this.

It was common practice for the Jews to tithe- to give 10% of their earnings and income each year back to God. And they were very meticulous about it. It was common practice for families to tithe from all of their crops. Even if they had a small garden of spices in their back yard, they would still give a tenth of it each year at harvest time as an offering. In fact, they were so meticulous, if there was any miscommunication or question as to whether or not the tithe had been given already, the owner of the land would give a second tithe, just to make sure it happened.

Jesus isn’t knocking that carefulness here. He clearly states that they should be following the law, which this practice was part of.

The issue Jesus has here is that they were neglecting something more important in the process. Clearly, Jesus felt the issues of justice, mercy and faithfulness were of greater importance and more central to his heart than tithing spices. Essentially, if we’re gonna get something wrong, we ought to not let it be turning a blind eye to injustice and allowing our brothers and sisters to live under the stubborn, selfish, systemic oppression that snakes its way into society.

It gets better.

If his audience wasn’t repulsed enough already, he ended with a sucker-punch to the gut with this last indictment:

“You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

The imagery here is profound. According to Jewish ceremonial law, both a gnat and a camel were unclean; it would be impure to ingest either one. If living today, the Pharisees would put a metal strainer over that tiny opening at the top of their Starbucks cup to ensure a gnat wouldn’t accidentally get through on their way to work… not realizing (or caring) that the night before they feasted at the dinner table on camel steak.

There were probably many examples of a lack of justice, mercy and faithfulness in Jesus’ mind as he had this conversation.

  • The woman caught in adultery – in the very act. The woman was caught… but what about the man? He was never presented before Jesus and the mob never intended to kill him. But their stones were in hand, raised and ready to kill her. A complete lack of justice.
  • The story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus for sure had specific examples in mind of this scenario playing out. A man is beaten and left to die on the side of the road, but religious people walked by and looked the other way, rather than investing and helping. A complete lack of mercy.
  • Jesus continually got in “trouble” with the law when he healed hurting people on the Sabbath. A complete lack of faithfulness.

One of the best examples is probably the day Jesus walked into the temple for worship, overcome with wrath at the blatant injustice occurring right before his eyes. People behind tables, taking advantage of the poor and destitute, using the sacrificial system set up by God in order to turn an exorbitant profit margin for personal gain.

Crazy stuff.

So… why does all this matter?

To those who don’t follow Jesus or claim allegiance to him, I think in many ways you’re off the hook here. To those of us though who do name the name of Christ, and sing his songs on the weekend, and claim him as our Savior, we have a responsibility. And when we don’t step into these conversations and speak up and create the kind of justice we all want, and when we don’t fight against the systemic forces of oppression in our nation, our message loses credibility. 

People walk by and see us tithing our mint, and dill, and cummin… and they see us doing nothing about the young black boy shot in the street last week.

And they don’t care about our message. Because to them, (rightfully so) it doesn’t matter! Our message isn’t changing their experience on the ground! 

There’s a God that cares about justice.

If you’ve been hurt and beaten down while the church passed by on the other side of the road, oblivious, I’m sorry.

It’s not your fault, and it’s not God’s.

It’s ours.

 

How To Affair-Proof Your Marriage

Nobody wakes up one day and says to themselves, “Hmm… I wanna go get an affair today.” It just doesn’t happen like that. Affairs are always the result of a long, gradual process, many times without those involved even being fully aware of the destination they’re being taken to.

What if I pass on to you something that others have passed on to me: one, simple practice – a practice that when continually applied, will keep your marriage secure and keep potential landmines away?

Ready?

Publicly talk about how much you love your spouse.

All the time.

It’s so simple, and yah – it can get awkward sometimes. I’ve got one guy on my newsfeed who takes this principle a little too far. Weird. You don’t need to do it in a way that needlessly makes those in your social feed feel jealous (or worse, gross)… but you do want to let them know you’re taken… that you’re committed… that you’re seriously not open to another option.

Faithfulness is something we all long for, no matter who you are. We longed for it from our parents, even though we may not have admitted it at the time. We long for it from our employers and our coworkers on the job. And we long for it in our own relationships.

The problem is, we don’t often believe it’s possible.

So we stop trying.

We stop saying the things we used to say when we fell in love.

And instead we start saying the negatives or the whatever’s or the frustrations. And that’s the message that gets heard.

And while we do that… slowly, the vultures outside the home circle the air over our heads a little bit closer. A little bit closer. A little bit closer… Eventually, they’ll be close enough to see that the front door isn’t fully shut, and before long they’ll invite themselves in.

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I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty

“I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security… More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat.'”

– Pope Francis

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The one thing that can unify a church

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Nice idea.

Would love to watch that Kirk Cameron movie.

But how IN THE WORLD is that ever supposed to become reality in the Church today?

  • How is that supposed to happen within the global collection of Christians from all around the world, speaking different languages, practicing different customs and traditions?
  • How is it supposed to happen among several hundred or several thousand members within a local expression of the church?
  • How is it even reality to think church leaders in the same church, who come from a variety of backgrounds and faith experiences, can be ‘perfectly united in mind and thought’?

Especially in a cultural moment like ours right now, where every post and idea and thought quickly polarizes, offends, and antagonizes?

If I’m just being honest (which I’m really trying to be), to me today – this all definitely feels like wishful thinking. Frankly, this verse was pretty frustrating to look at this morning.

But then I found something that started to put the pieces together for me…

Continue reading

We don’t need more truth-tellers in the Christian community

There are several high-profile national leaders in Christianity whose posts I simply cannot like or share, and haven’t been able to for several years now. And that’s frustrating to me because these are people I align with on much of their theology.

Why? Because their TONE is continually so condescending, so arrogant, and so judgmental. How I wished we all realized that HOW something is said is just as important as WHAT is being said.

We don’t need more truth-tellers in the Christian community right now. 

We need more truth-in-love tellers.

We need more people who won’t shy away from telling the truth, but are at the same time extremely aware and cognizant of its delivery. People who are hyper-intentional about communicating their love and acceptance of the ones who happen to be in the crosshairs of that truth.

Truth-only-tellers tend to garner support from their “Christian fan-base” while simultaneous pissing off those on the edges and margins of the faith. They embolden the ones in the Christian corner while alienating themselves from the very ones they’re called to reach.

I believe that it is 100% possible to communicate your view of truth with someone who 100% disagrees with you, and still do so in a way that validates their experiences, intellect, and dignity. But if you shut them down and attack them as a person first, your message won’t be heard.

You’ll be known for who you’re against and what you hate, rather than who you’re for and what you love.

walking away

 

 

On Dylann Roof, the Charleston Shooting, and the Death Penalty

when the subject comes up, people know i’m very much against the death penalty.

which puts me in a precarious place: the default line for people of faith is overwhelmingly FOR death.

death-penalty

i used to be there too, but then i read this book. it’s brought me to a complete 180. it gave me a total knockout-to-the-face, as the hypocrisy and double standards of my beliefs were showcased before my very eyes.

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to those of us in the Church, i’m convinced this is front-and-center to an arena we’ve chosen to not think well about, to our own detriment. we have lost our humanity along the way, using the bible to defend a position we’ve known deep down inside is just wrong.

we often look at the crimes that have been committed and in our understandable desire for “justice”, the words of the victims’ families are often silenced. the media will seldom pick them up, and there’s usually an attorney general or prosecutor on the other end wanting to be voted back into office.

which is why i’m so excited for this piece ran by the NY Times 3 days ago.

seriously, read it!

the families of the victims in the Charleston Shooting have been vocally AGAINST the death penalty for Dylann Roof, and it’s profound to see. i wish i could get to know these beautiful people… i wish their spirituality could rub off on me more.

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hearing their words – not just their extensions of forgiveness shortly after that horrific night – but now 17 months later, pleading for mercy… there’s just something very Jesus-like about their actions.

i think we’re witnessing here a version of Christianity profoundly close to the heart of God.

 

Tough Choices

a few years ago, as a church staff, we read Carly Fiorina‘s book, Tough Choices. this morning i was reminded of the themes she touches on in this memoir, and it is still so challenging and helpful. it was fun to pick it up and flip through the book today.

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here’s a few (of many) quotes i had underlined back when i read it the first time:

There are some people who would argue that a manager’s job is to use fear to motivate people, but I believe a leader’s job is to help people overcome their fear.

 

Never threaten if you’re not prepared to follow through. Never threaten if reason can prevail, but if you must, threaten something that really matters and stick to it.

 

Once change is advanced, retreat is fatal. Sometimes you just have to burn the boats.

 

A leader’s job is to set the frame so that the people a leader serves can do the right jobs in the right way to the best of their abilities. A leader’s job is to build lasting capability into the organization he or she serves.

 

There is always something to laugh about, even in the most difficult of times. It’s especially important to find the humor in the tough times because laughter helps people manage stress.

 

Responsible directors and reasonable people do not reverse in a few days a decision that has taken nine months to reach.

 

Values are signposts to guide people’s behavior when the rules aren’t clear and the supervisor isn’t present.

 

Not everything is easy, and not everything happens right away. Not everything happens exactly as you think it will, but when people work together, focused on a common goal and inspired by a worthy purpose, then truly everything is possible.

Get the book for yourself here!