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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Humility

“If you’re modest and have an awareness of the limits of your own knowledge you know that you need the people who disagree with you to correct for your own errors. [However] if you think you have the truth 100% then the people who disagree with you are just in the way.”

-David Brooks, NY Times

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The Drowning Man Trial

Everyone who loses somebody wants revenge on someone, on God if they can’t find anyone else. But in Africa, in Matobo, the Ku believe that the only way to end grief is to save a life. If someone is murdered, a year of mourning ends with a ritual that we call the Drowning Man Trial. There’s an all-night party beside a river. At dawn, the killer is put in a boat. He’s taken out on the water and he’s dropped. He’s bound so that he can’t swim. The family of the dead then has to make a choice. They can let him drown or they can swim out and save him. The Ku believe that if the family lets the killer drown, they’ll have justice but spend the rest of their lives in mourning. But if they save him, if they admit that life isn’t always just… that very act can take away their sorrow. Vengeance is a lazy form of grief.

The immensely profound paragraph above comes from The Interpreter, one of my favorite movies. You can find the clip here.

A lot of people have been thinking more about the death penalty these days, (thanks in large part to the disgusting nature of all that’s going on in Arkansas this month) and I’m certainly in that crowd. Though I last saw this movie over 6 years ago, this scene has continued to come to my mind as I’ve pondered, searched, and sought out the morality of capital punishment. Not because I plan to directly influence legislation (though I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea some day) but because I believe to my toes it matters how we think about other people. Even, (especially) the people we despise the most. A person’s thoughts on the death penalty draw that out like few other issues being discussed around dinner tables today.

However, in these discussions, the grieving process of the victim’s family often don’t get talked about enough, or at least not talked about well.

If you’re still reading, my question for you today is this:
Does taking the life of a loved one’s killer truly bring the family the closure they’ve been promised?

drowning man trial

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…

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Segregation & White Evangelicals

Over the course of the last year, a “holy discontent” has risen within me at a greater rate than ever before as it relates to the important issues of racial equality and true reconciliation. If you read on, this post will give a little more understanding of why I feel it’s a conversation we (as Christian leaders especially) need to openly and honestly engage in and why we should be leading the way forward. Especially for us as white evangelicals, we’ve been afraid to step into this space for fear of personal risk, being misunderstood, and I think, because we haven’t had to “feel” in ourselves the tension our brothers and sisters of color are certainly well acquainted with.

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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.

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Segregation & America in 1951

In 1951 (just 66 years ago), this is what America looked like:
– The State of Florida did not allow black and white students to use the same editions of textbooks.
– Interracial boxing matches were prohibited in Texas.
– A white nurse in Alabama was not allowed to take care of a black patient. She literally had to go get someone else to help the person in need.
– Bathrooms were segregated in the factories in North Carolina, the cotton mills in South Carolina, and the mines in four other states.
– In six states, white and black prisoners were not allowed to be chained together.
– In seven states, parks, playgrounds, bathing and fishing and boating facilities, amusement parks, race tracks, pool halls, circuses, theaters and public halls were all segregated.
– Ten states required segregated waiting rooms for public transportation.
– Fourteen states required black travelers to sit in the back of buses and streetcars.
– Fourteen states required separate facilities for black and white mentally ill patients.
– Seventeen states by law required the segregation of public schools.
– Four other states allowed individual communities to choose to segregate their schools if the community wanted to. You can guess where that legislative ambiguity ended up. 

For me, one of the saddest and overtly absurd realizations in this realm was this: in eleven states, separate schools for BLIND KIDS were operating. Essentially, these states were saying: “EVEN IF YOU CAN’T SEE ONE ANOTHER, YOU STILL CAN’T SHARE THE SAME SPACE.”

As a dad, I sit here today and wonder how exactly parents explained this to their kids? However they figured out how to do that, the MINDSET OF SEGREGATION was passed down to the next generation.

The insanity…

I’m going to be continuing to share over the next few months the things I’ve been learning and the realities my eyes have been opened up to.

Not because any of us LIKE to look at this stuff, but because we NEED to look at this stuff.

2016 happened.

And it was NOT a good year for equality and progress. It showed us all (if we’d just open our eyes to see), the mountains of inequality and heaps of injustice still around us today. We may not have segregated schools, but we have divided hearts. And it’s time we stop ignoring the diagnosis and sweeping the filth under the rug.

#OurHistory

#StayWoke

 

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Redlining

You have heard about RedLining, right? This is one of the things I don’t remember ever being taught in my history classes, but it has profoundly shaped the racialization of our culture and why still today there is such a divide between our cities and our suburbs. #WeBuiltAWall #OurHistory 

St. Louis Riot, 1917

The story I’m about to share is one I had never heard until I really started looking into #OurHistory through the lens of the African-American experience. It may be new to you as well, so please don’t skip over this. It’s important we all understand and truly listen to what it tells us.

July 2, 1917.

This was right in the heart of the Great Migration, as scores and scores of African Americans fled the South in hopes of a brighter future. Certainly, they were fleeing the terror of the lynch mobs, but the driving force was the hope of better financial opportunities than the subtle (reinvented) slavery of sharecropping. When they arrived North, I wish I could say the experience was different. 

In East St. Louis, labor agents had successfully recruited thousands of black men to work in the city’s aluminum factories. The predominantly white work force was on strike at the time, so the new labor force was brought in to keep production moving. The race card was played on purpose, and as expected, it infuriated the striking workers.

Little skirmishes broke out here and there as the black workers entered the factory, but before long it evolved into open violence throughout much of East St. Louis. The police force, which was largely white, decided to look the other way as those within the black community were assaulted, clubbed, and stabbed. Riots broke out, and when it was all said and done, 9 white people and at least 40 black people died.

“AT LEAST 40…”

The ambiguity there is one of the saddest parts of this story. Many remained unaccounted for after the dust settled. The number was likely far greater, based on eyewitness accounts of black bodies being thrown in ditches and in the Mississippi River, never to be recovered. One of the pictures in this post is an image of the aftermath, the search for bodies among the debris.

The massacre did not go unnoticed.

Just 3 weeks later, the NAACP organized a silent march in NYC, down Fifth Avenue. With only the sound of muffled drums, ten thousand men, women, and children marched from Harlem to Manhattan. No words, no shouting. They carried signs, some of them displaying messages like these:

“Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy?”

“Mother, do lynchers go to heaven?”

This was a silent protest because it seemed that nobody would hear their cries out loud.

#OurHistory

silent-march-nyc-1917silent-parade-1917Look Back:  East St. Louis Race Riots, 1917st-louis-riot-1917

Plessy v Ferguson, 1896

As I’ve continued to learn these last few months- time and time again- the injustices throughout our history to people of color have not been merely individual, one-on-one discrepancies. It would certainly make the problem of inequality easier to conquer if they were simply isolated instances between depraved individuals. But what I’m finding (and I hope beginning to communicate) is that the injustices and inequality over the years have been systematic and structural. For years, the US government has twisted and manipulated the Constitution to say what it wanted it to say, and in so doing continually departed from the original intent. There’s few examples of this better than the Supreme Court case of Plessy v Ferguson. Though this decision was made in 1896, it would go on to profoundly affect the African-American experience until its eventual overturning in 1954. At the time of this writing, that was just 63 years ago.

The case is named after a man named Homer Plessy. From just looking at his light skin complexion you wouldn’t be able to readily tell that he was black. However, on June 7, 1892, Plessy sat in the “White” car of the East Lousiana Railroad and identified himself as black. This wasn’t an accident of ignorance. His intent was to deliberately make an issue out of the Jim Crow laws of the day- legislation designed to separate the races- knowing full well it would get him arrested and hoping it would end up in the Supreme Court where it could produce change.

Like so many African-Americans who have risen out of the history books, I so admire Plessy’s courage and willingness to sacrifice his own freedom for the good of his neighbor. There’s something very Jesus-like about that. He was not violent in his protest of the wrongs around him, but yet firmly resolved to challenge the ideologies of inequality protected by the law.

He was arrested, and eventually the case did make its way to the highest court of the land. His lawyers argued that the Separate Car Act violated the 13th and 14th Amendment.

In 1896, the ruling came down.

Listen to these DEVASTATING words by Justice Henry Brown, and try to follow the (twisted) logic in his statement. It is mind-boggling to me the LENGTHS they had to go to in order to safely continue the injustice within the confines of the Constitution:

“A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races — has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races. … The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either.”

Of the seven Justices, there was just one that spoke words of dissent to the decision- John Marshall Harlan. He could see the carnage awaiting if this went through and tried to speak reason… but to no avail. Look at his words in this excerpt from his statement:

“Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. … The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficent purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the Constitution.”

In hindsight today, we can see the very prophetic nature of his words.

One Justice spoke up. The other six went along with the prevailing thought of the day.

Today I wonder how the landscape of our history would have changed if just three other Justices on the bench engaged a little bit deeper with the checks in their soul in the moment… if just three others had the courage to side with Harlan?

This is yet again another example where the silence of a few contributed to the harm of many.

When we today see injustice or inequality, do we speak up? Are we so afraid of our social status and standing that we remain in the shadows… when our neighbor is dependant on our voice to change the cultural tide?

#OurHistory