Wednesday, July 25, 2018

MALPRACTICE IN CROSS CULTURAL MINISTRY


FAILING
There are ways we can fail in our pursuit of cross-cultural ministry.  I refer to this as “malpractice.”   I am not speaking simply of not achieving our goals but of going about ministry in ways that actually hurt people, hurt the reputation of the church, and possibly bring slander to the name of Christ.

    Cross cultural ministry has to be defined by the cultures one is trying to cross or bridge. There are ministries that are multi-ethnic, and that is (merely, or only) what they want to be.  Sometimes these groups think of themselves as “multi-cultural.”   That is they don’t really want to “cross” over into someone else’s culture but they do want to have a mixture of kinds of people in their group or church.   They would prefer everybody to be comfortable in “their own skin” and not force anyone to “walk in someone else’s shoes.”

MISSIONAL VERSUS DOMINANCE
      To settle for this model usually means there is a dominant culture for worship, or a dominant culture for leadership, or an acceptance of cultural assimilation in some form.  There is usually compromise on some things, for some time, until some particular thing brings the friction or competition.  The option is always for separation into cultural groups. This is not what I mean by cross cultural ministry, and to insist that this is the only way (i.e., multi-ethnic or multi-cultural) for people to become part of one body is malpractice.

    If cross cultural ministry is more missional, where a person or group intentionally seeks to become like the other, or give up their personal or cultural rights so as to win others to Christ, or to become one in unity, there are some things one should bear in mind to do so with some integrity, honesty, and humility.

   Cross cultural ministry done biblically is intentional servanthood (slavery) to others.   Therefore it cannot be done with arrogance or superiority lest it be malpractice.  We have some powerful spiritual weapons to help us when it comes to culture but I think all of the various pieces of ordinance come under one main heading and that would be love.  Part of love is telling the truth, but one can tell the truth without love.  A scalpel can heal you or kill you, it depends on how it gets used, in what circumstances, and with what skill. Obviously, if a doctor uses a scalpel carelessly he commits malpractice.

SEEING THE LAYERS OF SIN AND SINFUL OPPRESSION
    I will use two scenarios with which I am somewhat familiar.  The first scenario: If I as a white man come into the poor black community (and please notice that I am specifying that there is a “poor” black community as opposed to wealthier parts of the black community) and want to serve Jesus there by serving the people there, then how do I approach it?   The way we approach things begins with the way we see it, and that very act of failing to see things properly, or truthfully, can result in malpractice.   Take the case of a surgeon who is losing his eye sight but wants to operate on my nervous system; scary thought.

    There are debates about what created the poor black community, or the typical inner-city neighborhood.  If I arrive as a preacher and I see pathology, I see sinful behavior, and think the answer is a prophetic voice to call people to repentance for their wicked lives I might be seeing an aspect of the truth.  I can pretty much guarantee you that the people there won’t be feeling much love from me. For me not to love the people to whom I seek to minister means I am guilty of malpractice. At the same time, to deprive the people there of inherent dignity by excusing their sinful choices, of not recognizing individual moral responsibility, and blaming everything that happens in that community on racial history and present racial injustice then I would be equally guilty of ministry malpractice.

    Fundamentalists seem to have gone one way with the blame game, social action folks seem to go to the other extreme of blaming others who are somewhere else.  As someone who grew up in the projects of Newark, NJ I would have to admit that if I had kept going the way I was going I probably would be dead or in prison, or living off what I stole from you, (I might have been a success in crime, one never knows).  I was culpable in my own dysfunctionality.

    My father abandoned me, so my failures must be his fault.  The city was corrupt and the way they administered city housing was corrupt so my failures must be their fault.  The schools weren’t that good so it was the fault of the Board of Education.  I am not reticent to say that some of the blame might belong to them, but my soul and heart’s condition could not have been changed by them.  I am white, and would later find that I had white privilege in other places, but at that time I wasn’t aware of any privilege except to try and earn the respect of the gang I ran with and stole with.  I needed Christ, I needed a change of heart, I needed to be born again and converted, I needed to repent of the way I was living and the way I was headed.

   Did my city need to be fixed?  Oh yeah, it needed justice and just government.  It still does.  Maybe if my heart was changed by grace I might actually get to be part of that change, might help to be a conscience to the forces that make a city what a city should be.   For the church to neglect my soul’s salvation would have been malpractice.  For them not to have called me to care for the values of the Kingdom of God, such as justice and mercy, would have been malpractice.  For me not to have compassion on the misery of the people who suffer from economic injustice (racial and/or simple economic exploitation), or to stay silent about it when I become aware of how it operates, would be malpractice.

   My point is that the way we approach things, the way we see things, has a lot to do with whether or not we are ministering appropriately. I first have to see the city with compassion, the way Jesus did, as sheep without a shepherd.  God had compassion on Nineveh, that wicked city, where people did not know their right hand from their left. The Ninevites were morally responsible for their sins and that is why God sent Jonah to proclaim judgement yet God had compassion on them and recognized their ignorance.

MORAL AGENCY
      Is there immorality in the inner cities of America?  Way too much sexual immorality, pregnancies without marriage, abortions, drugs, gangs, violence and sexual violence, a collapse of family, a satisfaction with ignorance, a loss of aspiration and thus a poor work ethic.  Too deny these things and not see the exercise of personal choice at work, or to excuse them as merely by-products of history or oppression, is to rob human beings of moral agency. To not preach a redeeming character changing Gospel to people who desperately need to be born-again is malpractice.  At the same time to see these things as if they all just happened overnight by the choice of the people and that there aren’t historic and systemic forces that perpetuate it and not seek to change those forces; that would also be malpractice.

   The second scenario: If a white person seeks to be reconciled with black people, to stop worshiping and living in a segregated by choice church and community, and seeks friendships and relationships that are deep, meaningful, and honest then how should that be pursued, and how is that achieved?  If this particular white brother (and let’s begin with the idea that he is saved) comes to a cross cultural church, or a black church seeking to learn, how is he to be treated?

    We go back to what and how one sees as an approach is made.  What are the assumptions we make when someone attempts reconciliation?   If we see this white person as simply a victim of his raising or his culture, that he doesn’t know any better about being a racist because he learned from a racist family, we deprive him of the responsibility of moral agency.  He is responsible for what he thinks, says, and does, no matter where he comes from or how he was raised.

ANGRY VERSUS PIERCING ANALYSIS
    If all we do is bombard people with the rhetoric of angry racial analysis (and I am an advocate for piercing racial analysis), hold them off from friendship until they admit to or make some steps to dismantle white supremacy (or worse not even care if they should make such an effort but just blow them off), mock them for their white privilege, and ridicule them when they seem confused or disturbed by what they are hearing by referring to their white fragility then we are committing cross cultural malpractice as well.  

BRIDGES OR BARRIERS?
    Racial rhetoric carries emotional power, but is not always substantive especially when disconnected from biblical foundations, and not usually nuanced enough to help people know where the bridges to healing might be.  Depending on how it is delivered it doesn't always hint at an invitation to relationship but rather a sad inevitability toward segregation.

   If we allow, and even encourage, people to come to emotional closure over feelings of racial and social guilt without repentance, without pragmatic strategies for peace making, and without commitment to a justice that mends, heals, and restores, then that too is malpractice.   Cross cultural ministry has to face the realities of history, of race, of oppression, or a purposeful racial economic disparity, and of social science statistics in the various fields of urban sociology, the criminal justice system, and the role and activity of the church in that reality.

   It is cross cultural ministry malpractice to simply dwell on the failures of humankind and not to remember that reconciliation is God’s work, beginning at the tearing of our relationship and alienation from him in the Garden of Eden.  It is malpractice to forget the healing of the cross, between God and people, between Jews and Gentiles (and thus all sub-ethnic groups) and our becoming one new man in the body of Christ, through the work of Christ.  It is malpractice to despair of the hope of reconciliation, as if it is an effort on one group to simply feel better about themselves, and not to remember it is given to all of God’s people as a message and a ministry.  It is malpractice to dismiss the reality that reconciliation, especially cross cultural reconciliation, takes a conscious choice to be another people’s servant, and requires a death to self.  It is also malpractice to give up the hope that it is possible, and wonderful, and the future of heaven.

END.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Danger of Following an Ideological Line


    It is hard not to say something about this latest activity by our President, and I speak of the comments President Trump made in Finland about Russia.   I recently heard a lecture by Professor Peter C. Mancall of the University of Southern California (Audible –The Teaching Company) in a lecture on the American Revolution.  In it he spoke about political ideology.  He described it as a road map, a bunch of street signs, which guide our thinking. It explains and seems to reflect a reality we desire. I picture it as one of those single line maps someone draws on a table napkin which seems to correspond to reality but it certainly is not an above the earth view like GPS.  Nor is it like a biblical world view which gives you godly principles.

    I am afraid way too many people are following line maps drawn on a napkin, and they get angry with anyone saying there might be other factors to consider before one continues in this direction. These political line maps seem to compromise virtues such as honesty and honor.  I love my country, and I think every country is important to God.  I believe God is sovereign and he rules the destinies of each nation.  He can use the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, and the Persians to accomplish his will for Israel.  He can use evil men to bring about his will, like Pharaoh in Egypt for Israel, and then destroy Egypt.  He can use good and great men in such a way that they bring their own nation into disaster, even though they were good.

    At the same time God’s revealed will is actually what we have to deal with; that’s the stuff that we can obey or disobey.  God’s revealed will of truth, justice, mercy, and righteousness is our business, not what he plans to do in a hidden way, except that we must learn to have faith when that hidden plan means our nation comes to an end, or disaster overtakes us.  I want our nation to do right, and be right.  I sincerely don’t want it to be destroyed, corrupted, or brought into shame.

   Conservative political ideology has some correspondence to truth.  Liberal political ideology has some correspondence to truth.  Following their ideology is still only a line drawing.  Yet, adherents seem willing to sacrifice other things to keep following that ideological line.  I am afraid this President may be one of the worst things to ever happen to the Republican Party and the Conservative movement.  In a desperate desire to finally have some conservative judges and conservative influence on law and legislation the Conservatives are selling their soul, and maybe the prestige and honor of the nation with it.

   The victory may be short lived, unless they are willing to use the muscle they presently have to be honorable.  Being a sycophant to this President means you only take your turn waiting to be thrown under the bus, it guarantees you nothing.  One never knows how a narcissist will interpret how sincerely you are kissing his posterior.  Will they hold their President, our President, accountable?   Or are they so afraid of losing what little they have that they condemn their (our) future? I am wondering if our citizens even realize what may be at stake.

   Political ideology is a map to nowhere if it is not a map to justice and goodness.  If it is only a map that prevents the opposite party from influence or participation then it is a map to delusion and confusion.  In their fear of undermining a powerful leader whose agenda they sometimes like they may choke when it comes to recognizing and denouncing a Quisling. We don’t just need men and women of courage in Washington, we need men and women of integrity with enough courage to tell the truth about their own party, and enough of them to finally get good things done.

Please Lord, help our nation, and confuse all tyrants!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

WHAT IS YOUR POLITICAL POSITION?



 
 Where do I stand?   I don’t think the middle is a proper understanding of my position.  I am trying to stand on the Rock, on the Word of God, from his “fixed” position.  This is opposed to partisans in America, whose positions shift, though they are often referred to as “being on the right,” or “being on the left.”  “Being in the middle” is often dismissed as a real position because people think that to oppose their point of view means you are siding with their opponents, so in an election you are declared to have hurt the vote if you don’t vote for their side, even if you can’t in good conscience vote for either side.  Most political partisans hate the people in the middle and seek either to radicalize them or to dismiss their legitimacy.  Ideology despises compromise.

   I don’t think my position is the “middle.”  Though at times, for political understanding, it might seem that way.  I want to be in the correct position, God’s position, and I want to know what he thinks and what he wants, and that’s where I hope you will find my opinion.  There is of course a danger to even saying such things, as some might find it outrageous that anyone could know God’s position on any particular thing concerning politics.  Actually, for those who believe the Bible to be God’s Word it is not outrageous at all.  It is certainly true that those claiming to believe the Bible have often come out on various sides of an issue, and so things can get a little tricky in deciding a political opinion.  Yet, I maintain there is a God side of things, and it is that side to which we must conform no matter what party to which we belong.

As I have tried to ascertain God’s position on things I have sometimes found myself agreeing with those on the right, and sometimes agreeing with those on the left.  People on either of those sides tend to assume, if I agree with them on one issue, that I will therefore accept all of their ideology and all of their venom for those on the other side.  Far too often I have found fellow believers selling their minds to an ideological drift and becoming fairly nasty in their partisanship.  These people will often tell you they are discerning, that they vote for the person or the particular issue, but their track records don’t reflect much independence (in my opinion) especially as I watch them spread “fake news.”

I am not always sure about things, not always educated about issues or personalities.  There is plenty of ambiguity in the political realm and therefore plenty of room for humility, though that seems hard to find these days.  If I am wrong in my understanding of Scripture or of what may be deduced by good and necessary inference from it when it comes to righteousness (moral and ethical), then I want very much to be corrected.   I don’t want to be stubborn, proud, or arrogant before the Scriptures and its truth, and neither do I want to be those things before people.  I need wisdom, knowledge, prudence, and discernment, continually and increasingly.

Let me be specific about some of my stands on things so the reader can understand the dilemma of position.   I am opposed to abortion, so I am declared therefore to be a conservative.  I am opposed to the practice of homosexuality and opposed to homosexual consensual relationships given the title of “marriage.”   So, now I am even more conservative, and called other names.   I am opposed to racism, I am for human and civil rights, I am for the protection of the poor and the weak, therefore I am called a liberal.

I think having a position on such things is important because when one fears God they are supposed to “hate” evil.  Some things in our culture are evil and should be opposed.  If I oppose an evil someone will remind me that America is not the Kingdom of God and my very opposition to certain behaviors and political opinions might lose me a hearing for my preaching.  I agree about America, it is not the Kingdom of God.  Yet, I believe that nations count, they are important to the life of the people who live there.

 The government of any nation is important as to whether or not the people who live under it are allowed to live in a context of moral and ethical righteousness, and evil will prevail when good people say and do nothing about it.  Though America is not a “Christian” nation many people live here.  They are all made in the image of God, each one is important and significant, their lives matter. 

As a Christian God’s love compels me to care for the well-being of all people, and that not just in an individualistic relational sense, but as a society. The Kingdom of God is active in any society when justice reigns, when love prevails, and there is peace or shalom.  Righteousness is indeed where wisdom walks. These are marks and aspects of the Kingdom.  Not only that but America is one place where the government takes it shape from the opinions, consensus, and vote of the people and so Believers are able to help shape it.  As an American Christian I am more responsible for the government of my nation than people from many other countries simply because I have more of a possibility to change it.

So we must pray.  I must pray for our President, even if I didn’t vote for him or if I don’t like the way he acts much of the time.  I am thankful for him when he does something right.  I must pray for the next Supreme Court Justice and I hope he is opposed to Roe vs. Wade, but I don’t want him to hurt the civil and human rights of people of color or to hurt the poor by allowing them to be exploited.  I support obedience to law and the rulers over us, but demand they be held to account when they break the very laws they are sworn to uphold, and I believe that some laws are in fact unjust and should be changed, and in some cases disobeyed for conscience sake until those laws are changed.  I am for love and against violence, and deeply thankful for the freedom I have to advocate, practice, and vote for these things.

END.

Monday, July 2, 2018

MISTER BIG STUFF, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

   Do you ever get bothered by pictures of young white people surrounded by little black children, whether American or African, as they send out stories and messages of their latest mission trip or urban experience? 

I’m all in favor of “best practices” when it comes to community development and ministry.  I am in favor of a discerning and growing “cultural intelligence” while working in cross cultural contexts and across economic strata.  This sounds a bit stupid but I,  in a very simple way, am in favor of justice.  That leads me to being against paternalism. Consequently, I am opposed to exploiting the poor for the purpose of fund raising, marketing, and publicity whether it be for the aggrandizement of my personal name or the enrichment of my organization.

    The bottom line in analyzing my behavior is of course love; to be continuously asking the question of myself and my organization, "are we, am I, showing love to the the very people I say I am trying to help."  The pertinent question is not simply how I feel about the people whom I serve but, “am I loving in the way I am trying to love?”   This question should become intuitive for those of in cross-cultural and trans-social ministry.

     Sound confusing?   Well, it can get confusing in the world of missions and ministry across ethnic and social lines, in the world of professional or semi-professional “helping” via faith-based non-profits, church mercy and ministry programs, and mission trips, etc.  The confusion comes from several different sources.

     It is confusing because I don’t think there is such a thing as “missions” worthy of the Biblical name that isn’t resisted by the Devil.  Part of that resistance is often false accusation, and resistance and anger from people with whom we are sharing the Gospel.  Do you realize that no matter how well we do things some people still hate the truth, they hate the Gospel message, and therefore they hate us?   Some of the resistance is internal, through inner self-doubt as to whether we are doing the right thing, in the right way, and for the right purpose.  What makes this complex is the fact that all of us make mistakes and sometimes with the best motives we screw things up.

    Another complication is the criticism we are liable to get from others who are doing similar work in community development and urban ministry based on certain principles.  Even if an organization or person might theoretically agree with the principles there is discrepancy and variation in their application across the ministry spectrum. Some people are what we might call ‘purists.”   Frankly there are some who have developed a new legalism and it comes across in a judgmental attitude when it comes to an evaluation of others, especially novice workers, in the field. 

     One of the principles of community development is learning how to listen to the people who live in the community, listening with understanding, and listening with empathy.  That principle doesn’t mean we always agree with the people of the community.  How could we if they say, “we don’t need your religion or works of mercy or good deeds (done in the name of Jesus) here?”  Missions is an invasive experience, an intrusion into the culture of a community so we have to try, and try very hard, to not insult or demean the dignity of the folks to whom we go.

    One of the sources of conflict or misunderstanding comes by way of publicity, prayer letters, and photographs.  I learned very early when I was beginning urban ministry in Chattanooga that I needed to be circumspect about having my name and picture in the newspaper.  I am a white man, and here I was working in an inner city African American neighborhood.   White churches, from whom I needed support, wanted me to tell the story of the good work we were doing, they wanted drama, they wanted testimony, they wanted pictures. 

     Black churches were trying to figure out if I was just one more “do-good” white boy who was having a transient savior complex, or worse, trying to build a reputation and earn a living on the plight of inner city folk.  I often had to check my own motives, and I had to live with the gossip and mean accusations of people who made assumptions about me and the work we were doing.  Longevity is sometimes the only defense one can make in ministry.

   Really, I sometimes wanted to ask?  I live and try to raise my family on inadequate income with few if any benefits, working at three jobs to do it, constantly being libeled and mocked, sometimes in physical danger, suspected by my professional peers as being inadequate to hold a “real church,” while living in a run down apartment in a run down neighborhood to accomplish or gain what? Fame, fortune, power and leverage?  Seriously?

     What is ironic is that living like I did does get you a reputation, it does cause people to think of you as a hero, and sometimes it brings about envy and resentment from people who wish they had that reputation.  I am no messiah, only the Lord Jesus is that, and anyone in ministry has to constantly take whatever hardships or trials they have been through and lay it at the cross of Jesus and not hold onto it as glory for themselves.  Anyone can have such a reputation if they are willing to earn it and live it.  What is silly is for any of us in ministry, white or black, is to covet a reputation we haven’t earned yet.  Our lives are supposed to make Jesus famous, not ourselves.

    What is also mean and harsh is to slam people who are well-meaning but sometimes ignorant about how they go about things.   There are lots of mistakes made on any battlefield, but if you are not or have not  been on it, I would be cautious about acting like you are an expert.  Even if you are on the battlefield, are you so arrogant as to despise those God is sending as reinforcements (maybe even your replacement) to help you, but are beginning at a very elementary stage?  They don’t know yet (or why) their sincere and sometimes sickly sweet story telling about how much they are loved by the poor people, with whom they are currently taking a selfie, drives you crazy.

 Too many people in the field of charity show little charity with folks who don’t get all the principles right.  These clumsy novices need correction, yes, but they also need our patience.  If all we have to give is criticism about all their wrong motives and their bad of way of doing things we should not be surprised when we call for help and no one comes.

   Won’t their stupid and clumsy acts of mercy and mission cause harm to the people to whom they are going?  I assume that this is true, they will sometimes cause harm.  As far as I have seen it isn’t usually the worst harm the kids and people with whom I have worked are going to face, especially if no one comes to tell them about Jesus.  We can do better, we must do better, in educating God’s people who sincerely want to serve, but I think we all need to remember how much we needed to learn, and have learned, over the years in doing this type of ministry.  Man, I mean, who do we think we are?

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.