Monday, June 18, 2018

IMMIGRATION


    There are many folks writing and speaking out against the Trump Administration policy of separating children from their parents, those who have sought to enter the U.S. without permission, or illegally.  I am sure my voice will not add much to what is being said, but I do feel it right to say something about it and not remain silent.

   Every once in a while our government does something it thinks is necessary to solve a problem and makes a choice to do something that is immoral, wrong, and/or even a crime against humanity.  We are a very “legal” nation so the government usually takes pains to declare something to be legal, even when it is morally wrong.  One example was the policy of torture during the Bush administration.

    Much of the time the executive branch is responsible for creating a “policy” to define how laws will be carried out.  The Legislative branch is supposed to be the branch that makes laws but many people are affected by how the Executive branch defines and executes those laws, or by how the Supreme Court interprets them.  Again, torture was a policy, not a law passed by Congress.  Abortion was allowed due to a SCOTUS decision, not by a law passed by Congress.

   Expediency and politics often are the driving forces in creating such policies.  The internment of Japanese citizens was such an expediency, the removal of Native Americans from their own lands was such an expediency.  History gives us more perspective years after an event, and after destroyed lives and bodies too.   Law enforcement is put into a dilemma as its personnel have to carry out such “laws” even when some of its members might have some conscience about enforcing things which cause obvious outrage among many of our people.

   Politics becomes a hindrance to moral considerations because parties don’t like to be criticized by the other side, and thus political parties attempt to discard moral arguments as mere political leverage in an argument.

   We have an obvious problem in our country when it comes to immigration, both legal and illegal.  Even the legal side is confusing, onerous, cumbersome, and intimidating.  Our present policies bear little resemblance to what is written on the Statute of Liberty or to the spirit and history of the land of freedom and the beacon of liberty from those who come from oppression and poverty.

   We have varying views of how to handle the flow of immigrants and it has been one that has flipped and flopped, ebbed and flowed, over the years.  At one time America had pretty wide open borders for some, and absolutely closed for others.  It was wide open for white people who came with guns and took the lands they wanted.  It was a border not wanting to be crossed by Africans who were brought here against their will.  It was a border already crossed by Spaniards in lands settled by them well before the Americans got to the West.  It was a land closed to the “yellow peril” except for labor to build the railroads and do mining, up until the 1960’s.  People from Asia of varying countries were not welcome until the second half of the Twentieth Century.

    Immigration has had an effect.  The idea that it is always good and helpful is certainly debatable. Beside a secular idea of individual freedom what culture do we already have that is worth protecting and preserving?  There has always been some sort of fight going on between Deism, the Enlightenment, Secular Humanism, and the ideology of the Protestant Reformation.   Without religious liberty, without religious morality and ethics, would America be America?  Can our culture, if our culture is worth maintaining, survive mass influxes of Muslim and Eastern thought and philosophy? 

   Jews and Catholics have been absorbed into our American culture and have made it richer, while adjusting to the reality of what was already here.  In short they gave up things to survive while America has had to come to grips with protecting their rights.  So, when our government policy became more liberal in the openness of immigration to all nations, religions, and groups some of our people become alarmed at changes perceived to be taking place around them. 

    Job competition, religious competition, linguistic competition, and the downright mobbing of borders by people refusing to be slowed by procedure and process has caused a reaction.  Some of that reaction is xenophobic, and some of it is sort of a righteous indignation that people are “dishing” the line.  Stories and incidents of terrorism and crime are alarming, and violent foreign ideologies and individual criminals need to be identified, resisted, and rejected.

    None of us should be blaming people for wanting to come here.  We as a nation should be the destination for anyone seeking a better way of life on this planet.  Our hope would be that every other nation could have such freedom and prosperity so its people would not want to leave where they are.  Unfortunately there are too many places of violence, oppression, and desperation.  Immigration has always brought enterprising and risk taking individuals to our shores.

   Once again our present Executive branch is making policy on top of the laws that exist, and some of those policies are inhumane.  They are expedient, they are an attempt to frustrate and discourage people who cross the border without documentation, but they are not all good policies.  On top of that the current President sends confusing signals to his own party, blaming others for what his erratic and ambiguous leadership creates.  Our Attorney General misapplies Scripture to defend government as he falls into the same trap as the “Divine Right of Kings” and disconnecting the creation of American law from the source of the greatness of American history.  

   Americans appealed to a “higher” law to resist the King who claimed that same Biblical authority.  Abolitionists appealed to a “higher” law to fight against legal but unjust slavery. Civil rights advocates violated state laws of racial segregation based on a “higher law” of justice.  Pro-life people appeal to a “higher” law to resist abortion policies.  Certainly some laws are unjust and don’t deserve to be law, they need to be changed.  In this case something weaker than law is being fiercely defended by the Administration and that is simply expedient policy to help meet a practical political goal. 

   I absolutely believe in obeying Romans 13, but I see that text in the context of a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  We the people get to choose our laws, and we get to choose our leaders, and we desperately in my opinion need to choose to change the leaders we have unless they get to a reality of justice, compassion, and wisdom, none of which they are exhibiting at the moment. 

   If we detain families at the border they should be kept intact and held together.  This is not the same as arrest for criminal activity where children are taken from parents by the state system  Detainees don’t even get the rights of people arrested in criminal cases such as quick hearings, adequate and provided legal representation.  If they are not applying for asylum, if they have no good argument for seeking shelter here then we need to send them home quickly, as families. If they are seeking asylum they should not be treated as criminals in any way.  All this money sought for a wall is nowhere as needed as money needed for a good system of examination, decision, and repatriation, with adequate provision for such families who are in that process.

   The President is correct that Congress needs to act, but it obviously has a hard time doing so with such a mercurial leader. he should stop making suggestions and then changing them, hoping for more political advantage.  He needs to paint a picture of justice, one that he really believes in, and sell that to Congress and lead them toward it. Somebody needs to lead, and we are a country desperately in need of one, a good one.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

WHITE FRAGILITY AND PASTORAL CARE


   One of the struggles I experience in the world of racial reconciliation and peacemaking is to hear people say pretty stupid things.  Sometimes I get to hear people express their fears, and sometimes their anger, and sometimes just their ignorance.  In all of these expressions I am still called on by God to love people.

    Most of us are exposed to different spheres of thought, or activity.  Those of us who are Christians live, or ought to, in the world (environment) of the Church.  We also live in the world of politics, media – including both news and editorials.  We live in our cultures, we live in our families, in our vocations, and our opinions are formed.  Sometimes those opinions are well founded, and sometimes they are not.  Sometimes those opinions are held without pride or arrogance, they are held loosely, and are open to change.  Sometimes we tie our opinions to our egos and then we entrench ourselves against all comers, even the truth.

   Pastors are called to shepherd folks, and part of that shepherding is the pastoral care of people with racial opinions.  I have been thinking of how to do that, and how we can do that well.  I realize of course that even pastors like to choose sides, and sometimes it is necessary and right to do so.  I have decided to follow Jesus and therefore I am for righteousness, justice, mercy, and love.  I am against oppression, and evil, and racism.  I make no apology for that.  Yet, my weapons are not the weapons of the world, nor am I allowed to become so self-righteous in my causes that I being to mistreat people with whom I disagree, although at times that is hard.

    One pastoral issue within racial discussions is the subject of “white fragility.”  Now, there are other names for this and varying degrees of it such as…denial, defensiveness, anger, confusion, blaming the victim, creating false narratives about intents or motives, etc. The phrase is often used in a pejorative sense especially by People of Color to dismiss those white people who react negatively to various racial and justice issues.  In some circles there is little patience for white folks just coming into awareness about issues, especially when that awareness results in resistance to change or even in na├»ve celebration of their new realizations.

   When I say little patience there is slight willingness to hear people say dumb things, either as they try to learn and understand, or actually resist listening to truth.  This is where the phrase becomes pejorative, and speeches are made about how people should know better, should know by now, and allowance is not going to be made for very elementary discussions to teach these folk.

   This is exactly where pastors live, in a world of people being dumb, and saying dumb things, and doing dumb things.  It is like the world of parents who only hang on to their children because they are in fact blood relatives, otherwise they couldn’t continue to put up with such immaturity.  One can only try to imagine what it must be like for God to put up with any of us.

    Pastoral care for folks caught up in “white fragility” has to begin with a love for sinners and patience with them especially when their ignorance and racism is exposed.  It must be coupled with a determination not to excuse racism nor its buttressing of injustice, but with a willingness to begin with people where you find them.  It means answering a lot of very simple questions, hearing erroneous statements made boldly and not being intimidated by them, and gently correcting people.  Pastoral care is always about not losing the patient while trying to bring them to healing and that can usually only be done by maintaining the relationship.

    Why bother with putting up with such folks?  I like the bumper sticker I once saw that said, “we don’t make peace with our friends but with our enemies.”   Making peace is hard, and one has to be tenacious to do it.  Making peace is safer for everyone in the long run.  In a multi-ethnic society establishing allies across racial lines is essential for progress, and protection.

    Isolating ourselves and defining our “sides” and our parties while  demonizing our opponents is sort of an American political tradition.  The triumphalism of gaining ascendancy as our ethnic and ideological groups gather strength is often an illusion and very often temporary.  We reinforce ourselves in our rhetoric as we mock not simply our ideological opponents but those asking questions, even if they are sincere in their ignorance.

   White fragility is a way of thinking that sees white people as being set upon, as if gains for POC will mean less freedom for white people.  White fragility is fear because it finds the tables turned and white privilege (often assumed but not identified as such) seems at risk, socially, politically, and financially.  White fragility is anger at being made to feel guilty often before that guilt is specified and understood. We live in a blame culture and white people especially resist unspecified guilt.  When that guilt is accepted they know it will cost them something.

     No one likes to feel guilt, or accept guilt, or be blamed for things that happened long ago or about which they struggle to see a direct link to their door, or to their personal decisions.  When assailed by such blame without an understanding of how they could possibly be at fault they are like people about to be sued by someone assumed simply trying to make some money for themselves, without justice, in the legal system.  People get ready to fight back in such circumstances.

    Good pastoral care means helping people see that repentance for real guilt is actually a doorway to joy, freedom, and fellowship. Good pastoral care means helping people own up to history, and to be delivered from illusions about living in a completely merit based society with everyone beginning at the same starting line.

     Pastoral care for people working their way to racial reconciliation means seeing and hearing sinful things from people, and from people on both sides of issues.  It means loving them through it, seeking to maintain relationships, to keep the discussion going, to reducing the heat in the words and conversation, listening to the hurt, anger, and panic, and pointing people always to Christ and the Scriptures.  It means at times repenting in ourselves as pastors as we feel like giving up, or cutting some folks off, or just getting to name calling.   Lord have mercy!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

ANOMALIES


The Anomaly of Social Justice without faith and of Christianity without Social Justice.

    Recently I have been listening to one of the “great courses” from the Teaching Company on “Transcendentalism.”   Listening to the history of this movement one realizes how profoundly American culture and philosophy has been impacted by unbelief.  America is not immune from the philosophies and religious opinions of the Enlightenment, Deism, and frankly, unbelief.

   Some of our greatest American founders were Deists.  They were educated men, they read the Bible, they just didn’t believe much of it.  They certainly were culturally influenced by it, but when it came to accepting miracles they trusted their intellect more than the word of preachers.  By the time of Jefferson some intellectuals, and religious folks, no longer believed in the Trinity. 

   This was not new of course, there had been struggle over this theological concept back to the time of Arius, writer’s such as Milton didn’t accept it (though probably with more orthodox belief) and then came the slide of Congregationalists in New England from Trinitarian orthodoxy to an unorthodox Unitarian belief.  One can see a pattern of applying skeptical and intellectual judgement, with a sense of human determined superiority ("free thinkers") in determining what is true or not, to the Scriptures. 

    There have always been people who have felt their own reason was superior to an old book, who have tried to be scientific, and used their best reason to determine if something could be true or not.  Christianity is not one of those things that can be taken apart by reason, intellect, or science and still be left intact, especially if all of those things are undertaken by unbelief.  If one starts with the proposition that supernatural things are absolutely not possible then one cannot end up with believing that the miracles in the Bible are true.  Without the supernatural there is no God, and there is no salvation.

    The Transcendentalists were essentially Deists with an agenda.  They thought that human beings could intuitively leap (transcend) to enlightened thought as to what was moral, just, and best for humanity.  They were too unbelieving to stay even in the Unitarian Church, but they nevertheless borrowed much from the Christian “capital” of justice and mercy.  What they claimed as “intuitive” was often simply stuff they learned from Scripture.

   They were champions of abolition from slavery, equality for women, justice for the worker, and respecters of creation (nature).   These are not out of accord with concepts in the Bible, or with the character of God.   Of course they found it difficult to create Utopian expressions of community with just these concepts.  Human sinfulness kept getting in the way.  Nevertheless they weren’t wrong about everything, and they have had a deep and lasting impact on American education, intellectual thought, and the claim of “free thinkers” thinking they could think better than believers.

   Some of the people who opposed their ideas of justice were orthodox believers.  Though orthodox believers weren’t trying to “transcend” to leaps of intuition about what was best for humanity they still could easily have read the Bible more closely. Transcendence has never been necessary to notice suffering or to understand justice. In fact the Bible is not shy in revealing God to be in his essential character a God of justice, the only God, actually, who is also a God of compassion and mercy.  They could have read the character of Christ more perspicaciously rather than simply working to create a creedal formula for a confession of faith.

   One of the great tragedies of the institutional church has often been its protection of the status quo rather than following its radical founder (Jesus) into a life of full-orbed righteousness that affects not only personal morality but also public justice.

     For those who cannot believe the supernatural power of God means to attempt justice without his gracious help, to attempt to love one’s neighbor as oneself without spiritual empowerment, to endure suffering and to be a servant without the hope of eternal life.  Thus, justice, mercy, and rights become causes with only human agency and means and not transcendent realities which the God of heaven and earth will finally accomplish.  They become righteous causes that make us self-righteous and give us no hope against the continual reality and witness of evil in humankind.

   There are so many Americans, and people around the world, who wish for a better one.  They wish for justice, for peace, for equity.  Unfortunately their own unbelief deprives them of the prospect of joy and hope while the intransigence of  “Christians” who are racist, sexist, and oppressive gives unbelievers little witness of Biblical truth. 

    How strange to hear so-called Christians speaking against social justice, sometimes because they see it associated with people who so vociferously tell us they can’t believe in God or the Bible.  Righteousness is righteousness, and truth is truth no matter the mouth of the ass that speaks it.
END.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

IDEOLOGY AS ETHICS


Some comments about…
Ideology as ethics and mantras posing as reasoned argument; the sad state of American politics and the zombie zeal of political followers, with the contingent dismissal of biblical Truth while adhering to Evangelical rhetoric.

Some observations:
·       To criticize Trump is not the same as endorsing Hillary.

·       Even a bad man can get some good stuff done, and for that we thank no one but God.  We can give Trump his due as having raised some real issues, and even accomplished some good, while recognizing what is shameful, and dangerous.

·       I respect the office of the President, as such I show respect to the person who holds it.  I pray for whoever might be in that office while at the same time I can completely disagree, even despise, either their personal behavior or policies.  I cannot imagine the grace that Daniel needed to live, and serve, under the narcissistic king Nebuchadnezzar.

·       To believe that the liberal media never says anything true is about the same as believing that Fox News always tells the truth.  One of course is more patently partisan while the other is consistently condescending.

·       For godly people to look over immorality, lying, slander, and bullying in the hope of a national moral revival is fairly idiotic and certainly short sighted.  It is embarrassing to hear Evangelicals say, in so many words, that the ends justify the means.

·       To dismantle and resist government regulations sounds like a good idea for someone’s business interests, until one’s own children eat contaminated food, use untested and expired drugs, drink leaded water from the tap, get cheated by the undersized gallon at the gas pump, and have an uninspected bridge fall on them.

·       Cutting taxes always sounds good, until one realizes that America’s failure to pay its bills results in the collapse of both physical and social infrastructure.  Politicizing infrastructure as “pork” while claiming to be the champion of “cost cutting” has been the strategy of hucksters and our present irresponsible government, on both federal and state levels.

·       Being a “fiscal” conservative cannot legitimately mean consistent deficit funding for conservative political love babies, whatever they happen to be.

·       The de-funding of social infrastructure is always the first victim of an irresponsible government, while the funding of it usually ends up being forced by the courts.  To this end we have an epidemic of mentally ill homeless people, over-crowded prisons with resultant violence and riots, teachers (even in “right to work” states) who have to create state wide strikes to get a fair wage, and inadequate state protection of children, the elderly, and the poor.

·       The Church cannot replace the State for the creation and support of social infrastructure for all of a nation’s citizens, nor can it create the economic environment for entrepreneurial enterprise to create wealth.

·       The Church must rise up to do more (and it can) for its own people, the people in and around its locations and outreach, and the general welfare, with wise and best practices for human flourishing.

·       It is the exercise of democracy that creates the boundaries for government provision and the taxation it requires for that provision. It is the exercise of democracy that creates the boundaries and the incentives for free enterprise by government regulation or government restraint.   
    
·       To create a government of reactionary laws and policies in order to protect the nation from terrorism and illegal immigration creates a legacy of torture, false imprisonment, kangaroo courts, and incipient jingoistic nationalism and creates a too comfortable context for public racism.

·       It is far too easy to use the motive of fear to create hasty, unreasonable, and potentially illegal recourse to national concerns.  Demagogues thrive in such environments while people without power are crushed.  Embarrassment and shame will become our internal national emotion, while inhumanity, meanness, and selfishness our national reputation.

·       We have real problems and real enemies and it will take wisdom to solve and resist them.  We need rational national discussion and consensus, following our original democratic and constitutional principles.  We cannot abandon the most essential of our moral values to somehow create a safe and moral future.

·        Without the protection of life; unborn, black, students, police officers, and general citizens collectively we cannot really claim that the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” continues to guide us.  Life must be a value without qualification, and must be a higher value than personal choice or unregulated gun sales. 

·       Without the welcome to immigrants, and especially the poor immigrant, we cannot continue to claim to be the beacon of liberty and the harbor of safety.  

·       Our history has always conflicted with our ideals and it is our national fight to strive to live up to those ideals.  America cannot simply be about providing freedom for those who have achieved economic self-sufficiency, it must also mean the inclusion of others into this land of opportunity.

·       We must find a way to humanely and wisely integrate the immigrant into a land of welcome.  There is no reason, except political intransigence, for us not to come up with an efficient, legal, honest, humane, and understandable process for all concerned.

·       We are not a nation created by the French Revolution.  We are not simply the product of the enlightenment, nor unbridled and crass capitalism.  Our national motto is not based on Atheism, but “In God We Trust.” We are not simply a nation of and for personal freedom but of collective justice and goodness. These two things are the constant American tension.

·       We are the child of the Protestant Reformation, and are still continuing the experiment of the American Revolution, the perfecting of our American Constitution and the fulfilling of the American Civil War to end slavery, unite the nation, and constitutionally protect the God given humanity of all people.

·       We have been too often shamed by racism, imperialism, and greed.  We have also been blessed and applauded for love, kindness, humanity, and the sacrifice to prove it.  This must continue to be a land where we seek to live up to our best lights given to us in the best of our national religious and moral heritage.

·       Without a constant and honest self-examination of our behavior and practice in the light of Biblical truth we end up blindly following political ideology, becoming stubborn, antagonistic, self-righteous, even mean. 

·       We must hold our political ideology much more loosely, much more humbly, than our theological convictions.  Our desire to achieve political objectives cannot and must not cause us to abandon godly practices and ethical behavior.  We cannot simply seek strategy that wins but which is righteous.  We must not sacrifice character for victory because it is the quality of our character that is the essential battle.

    I seek to be sincere in my opinions, and not merely cynical.  However, I know that I can be sincerely wrong especially in seeking political solutions.  My earnest hope is to remain humble before the absolute values of God’s Holy Word.
END.

Monday, April 23, 2018

THE PUBLIC READING OF SCRIPTURE


I want to share some thoughts on the importance of the public reading of Scripture.  Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.”

    Evidently Paul thought this to be an important task for Pastors, as it is something to which they should “devote” themselves to do.  I don’t necessarily think that pastors are the only ones who are allowed or authorized to read the Scripture in a worship service. I do think they are responsible to make sure the Scripture is read, and read well.   There have even been pastors who did not know how to read, or through physical difficulty could not read, but they were oral learners, they listened, then learned, and they memorized.  Can you imagine being a pastor who needed someone to read for you, and then you preached the Word?   Whatever a pastor’s capacity or incapacity for reading it is his responsibility to make sure the Word is read, and read well, so the people – the public- can hear it.

   We live in an educated age.  Literacy is a common expectation, yet the reality is that there are many who are functionally illiterate and many who are lazy readers and resist any kind of regular Scripture reading.   The Bible is not just for the educated, not just for intellectuals, and not just for those who know how to, or enjoy, reading.  Every person needs to hear the Bible, and in that hearing they need to be able to understand it.  This is why the Church has put so much effort into common language translations for each and every people group and why we continue to attempt to get the written Word into every spoken tongue upon the earth.

   I would imagine there is an expectation by Paul in his direction to Timothy that the public reading of Scripture is not simply meant as a “rote” exercise, where someone is droning on in a monotone voice and simply saying the words in the text.  I think the force of the direction is that devotion (commitment, focus, effort, consistency) is needed to make sure the reading is done well.   I also think sincerity and intensity are important ingredients in the public reading of Scripture.

   I received a wonderful compliment the other day from a pastor, for whose congregation I had just preached.  He told me that he had never heard the public reading of Scripture done as I had just done it.  I was very happy to hear his comment as I had decided to preach (and thus read) the whole chapter of John 9.  The whole chapter is one story about the man who had been born blind.  It is not a short chapter, but it is certainly entertaining.  It is hard for modern Christians to sit through the reading of a long Biblical text and for that reason it must be done with some attempt to hold the attention of the congregation.

   Have you ever read a text for your sermon, then preached, and afterward felt you could have just as well sat down after the Scripture reading because the text was so powerful in and of itself?  I sure have, and it was not just the reading of the words but having read it with passion, intonation, and feeling that brought it alive.  There are people who seem to have a gift for Scripture reading and I wish we could hear them doing it more often.

   Now there are people who are overly dramatic in their reading and some who seem to have no drama at all.  Scripture is made up of all kinds of styles of literature such as narrative, poetry, theology, and dialogue.  The reader has to read according to the style.  Pastors have to be aware, and decide, on how much to read at one time.  I usually warn the people before I read, if it is a long text, as a way of helping them put some effort into paying attention.  Then I try to give them no choice about paying attention by putting myself into it.

   I believe in the spiritual nature of the Biblical text.  I believe God wrote it through His Holy Spirit and that its words and truth have power when people hear it (I mean really hear it) and believe it.  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear…”  I believe God uses His Word as a sword to expose the thoughts and intents of the heart.  When the Word is read, listened to with understanding, and heard by faith amazing and wonderful transformation takes place in people’s lives.

   One of our Ruling Elders testified, when he first became a member of our church, that he had come to faith in Christ on the very first Sunday he attended our congregation.  “How?” we asked him.   He told us that the Call to Worship had gripped him, and then as I had read the Scripture prior to preaching he gave his life to Christ. 

   I encourage Pastors to take the reading of their preaching text to be a crucial part of their ministry.  Your sermon should certainly help it to come alive, be understandable, and applicable to the people but the reading in and of itself is important to worship and to the faith of the people.  If you are a boring reader, enlist someone who is gifted to do it for you, especially if it is a long text.  Whatever you do don’t you dare take it lightly, do it perfunctorily, or simply treat is as something to get out of the way so you can get to giving your own opinions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

I DON'T FEEL NO WAYS TIRED - EXCEPT SOMETIMES.

     I was speaking with someone recently about “being woke,” and about trying to deal with folks who ain’t woke yet, and trying to love on them, and how some folks talk about “being tired” and feeling bitter about the frustration of not seeing people, or things, change.

   My friend quoted me back to myself when he mentioned at one gathering someone had asked me a question and began it, “I am so tired of people….” And I had asked him, “how old are you?”  The answer was “26.”  I said, “26, and tired already?”  

   This made me think of a few things about inter-racial dialogue and cross cultural ministry, and POC survival in inter-racial spaces.  Being tired in the emotional sense doesn’t really have anything to do with the amount of hours one has put in, or even the amount of years or effort, or the strenuousness of the labor.  Many people work long and hard, (really hard) each day and they are not emotionally tired.  So much has to do with perspective, and faith, and love, and the patience that can come from it.

  “why are you not bitter?”  Is a question I am sometimes asked, although I am always surprised by it.  Who the hell do I think I am that I should be bitter?  This is what occurs to me, that it would take an inflated view of myself to judge others so harshly or myself so important.  I certainly have felt anger, frustration, and sometimes I have surrendered to the closed door or the reality of a mountain that I seemed unable to climb.  I speak here about calling for justice, or even mercy, at least for understanding about issues of race, ethnocentrism, poverty, and suffering.

    Burn out has more to do with anger than with exhaustion, more to do with frustration than with a need for rest.  Burn out is relieved more with hope than sleep, more with assistance and fellowship in the struggle than time off. 

    I have to ask myself some questions, and maybe you can ask yourself some as well.  Do I believe the world needs changing?  Yes, I do.  Do I believe I can change it?  Yes, a little, and no, probably not a lot right away.  Will it ever be changed?  Absolutely, because Jesus is coming and he will create a new heavens and a new earth.

     Is justice delayed truly justice denied?  No, but it sure feels that way sometimes. Only a God perspective can help us understand that.  Do I believe that Jesus will not rest until he brings justice to the earth?  Yes, that is my hope, my constant hope.   What kind of perspective does it take to live in a world full of injustice, with ignorant people who don’t even know they may be perpetrators of injustice, who don’t know that their defense of the status quo is an enshrinement of their privilege?  What kind of perspective will give me a positive sense of progress and help me to endure, to keep trying, to keep listening, to keep teaching?  Nothing less or short of an eternal one, and that is hard for us temporal human beings.

   When we are young we feel change should and ought to come quickly. Thank God for youth.  When we grow old we realize change does indeed come, but sometimes it has been and is glacial, incremental, not yet come to full realization.  Some people dream dreams, and they work at them and see them come true, but if the truth be told those dreams are never universal, never total in scope for all humanity, nor for all time.  Human beings celebrate sports heroes and use the word “immortal,” “unforgettable” and such.  Really?  What is a GOAT (Greatest of all time) today won’t even be recognized in a generation, a century, a millennium.  Sports statistics are possibly the most changeable of things, and all heroes turn to dust.

   Some will perish still in prison waiting for a revolution that will never come, still in the wilderness, still never having seen the city that was promised to them.  They will question sometimes, like John the Baptist did, “Are you the one?” What do you do with your ego when you feel you should be the one that brings the change and no one listens to you?  What do you do when after all your radical speech, your passionate displays, your marching, and your advocation people act like they just don’t care?

   Will you waste your time to continue to win over the resistant, will you continue to pour yourself out to institutions that don’t live up to their own ideals?  Will you come to be patient with one more stupid question (and there are stupid questions) from someone who should know better? 

   It comes back to the question of who do I think I am?  I am a small man, not of much significance after all, despite my ambition and ego.  I am a man of short time, no matter how long I may live my life upon the earth.  Yet, with all my frustrations I am a man infinitely loved by the God who fills the universe, who is its creator and sustainer. I am a sinful broken man, yet forgiven, forgiven, forgiven again.  I am a purchased man, and I can no longer live for myself but for him who died and rose again for me.

   This means I have little choice about who I can choose to love.  I have to love my neighbor, as myself.  I have to love even my enemies, and bless them.  I have to love those who make me feel tired.  Seeking significant change is important, but we can’t stay at that quest if our importance to the world is what we depend on to give us hope.  We have to take our rest in how important we are to God and in that knowledge we lose all our own self-importance, our self-righteousness, our need for fame, perfection, and accomplishment.  In that importance we find and renew our passion, energy, and endurance in the fight of love

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

MULTI-ETHNIC CHURCHES ARE NOT ENOUGH!

   As I listen or read about the “white” Evangelical Church and its relationship to and with African Americans, or about how African Americans feel about the white Evangelical Church I am concerned, comforted, and confronted about truly cross-cultural churches and their place in this discussion.

CONCERNED
   I am concerned because I think the general public and the average white and black Christian doesn’t really understand the difference between truly cross-cultural churches and those with some ethnic diversity within them.  Multi-ethnic churches are not the same as cross-cultural churches, and are in some measure set up for ethnic misunderstanding and conflict. 

   I think much of what we hear about these days is the inevitable frustration and friction that comes within churches seeking diversity without “missional intentionality.”  Usually all it takes is something in the news or something in politics to create a dilemma.  It’s as if a congregation in the days of the early Church had both Gentiles and Judiazers in it, and everything is fine until the subject of circumcision comes up.  The Judiazers ask the Gentiles to assimilate, to give up their “Gentile-ness,” and suddenly the Gentiles realize there is a price to be paid to be among these type of Christians.  Trouble happens when the knives come out, in that case literally.

   Judiazers assume their culture is normative, and can’t understand why others would be offended.  It is not until something radical comes along, like the real Gospel, a Gospel that doesn’t demand uniformity of culture but instead oneness in Christ while we are at the same time diverse in culture.  In fact the missional intentionality of the Gospel calls for the sacrificial willingness of the missionary (older brother, majority Christian culture) to become servant to those who are different, in fact seeking to “become” like them in order to reach them (I Corinthians 9:19ff).

   When a multi-ethnic church seeks to demand everyone be “a-cultural” they are simply but profoundly demanding that minorities be deracinated.  The majority cultural group is asking the minority to assimilate, and not to complain.  This might be fine if all we were discussing was intentional migration, but when it comes to white and black in America we are also speaking about becoming a minority in religion as well as being a minority in society.  We are speaking of assimilating without any sense of history or justice but instead calling for a denial of a sense of self. 

   Of course there are always those individual ethnic minorities who have no problem with assimilation.  There are those who think the way to peace is to discard conversations about issues of injustice or history.  Some of these ethnic representatives in a majority culture church are the strongest champions of silencing racial or cultural talk. 

   So, this is why I am concerned about the recent discussions and that due to the ignorance of what a truly cross-cultural church is trying to be.  A multi-ethnic church is not automatically a cross-cultural church, not even if they have a minority representative as a pastor or minorities in leadership.  Some congregations assume that if they hire an African American pastor he is sure to know how to make the church cross-cultural.  Why would someone assume that any pastor who hasn’t studied, thought about, or been trained in cross-cultural ministry skills and vision would know what they were doing in that regard?  It is a hubris that can create confusion and chaos and it is an unfair burden to be laid on a pastor simply becomes he is an ethnic or minority representative.

COMFORTED
   I am comforted about cross-cultural ministry in these recent discussions because I know that missional intentionality in a church means congregations will (and must) face the truth and realities of history, injustice, racism, and culture with Biblical truth and hope.  Though cross-cultural churches also face the tension and stress of racial and political discussion and difference, through various moments of crisis, they have a commitment to Christ and to each other to see them through the episodes.  They are not surprised at the tensions though they sometimes see individuals and families realize, sometimes suddenly, that there is a price to be paid for love across cultural boundaries.  Some of those people do leave, but most are tenacious in seeking to live out a community of love that does not skirt truth.

   This common commitment to Biblical reconciliation as an accomplishment of Christ, and this common commitment to “being built together to become a holy temple to the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21) is accepted as part of their discipleship.  They have rejected church as simply an expression of their preferences.

CONFRONTED
   I feel confronted with the challenge of trying to make the distinction clear.  If the distinction between missional intentionality and simply a desire for more color or flavor is not clear then time after time individuals who are the “diversity” within a majority church face the realization that they feel like “strangers in a strange land.”  Pastors and leaders who have been hired for “diversity” realize that the commitment and sacrifice is in one direction only.  It only takes one more episode of injustice, or even misunderstanding, to break hearts and lead to discouragement.  

   There is a Biblical model, and it is built on such Biblical values as honesty, love, and sacrifice.  It is built on a deep and rich appreciation of the Image of God in each human being.  It is built on the Biblical appreciation of the reality of human cultures and the necessity of becoming a “slave” to others in order to reach them.  It is built on evangelism, missions, and discipleship and not politics.   It is built on solidarity with those we finally recognize as full partners in the Kingdom of God.