Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I've had a passion since I was a kid about this subject that I am going to raise today, but I've been afraid to open my mouth. It seems I'm getting brave in a lot of ways these days. I've been afraid, though because as soon as I open my mouth it leaves me open to criticism. But, that's okay. Open up, fire away.
Our black and African-American friends and brothers and sisters have been treated poorly. Certainly that's obvious through history. We all are aware of that. Many have spoken up about that throughout history, both famous and some not so famous. The majority of those that actually do speak up, though, are those that have had to go through it.
How many actually speak up that haven't had to experience it?
Racism. Prejudice. Profiling.
They are ugly words. They are even uglier to experience. They hurt. They destroy. Sounds kinda like sin, huh?
I've experienced these things in very minimal ways when compared to others. I was the little guy and was therefore picked last in games when I was in elementary school. I was a teenage guy, which I'm sure prompted police attention during my driving days more than once. (I didn't notice this until later in life, now that the police seem to ignore me as an adult and/or family man.) I've been passed up for a game or two of basketball due to my short, whiteness. Mind you, I told you these were minimal compared to what others have experienced.
One movie that made a huge impact on me as a kid was Soul Man with C. Thomas Howell. He played a white character who pretended to be black. He got away with it for a while and was expecting to understand what it was like to be black in our culture. He got an idea, but by the end of the movie realized how little of an idea he got since he was then able to be white, once again.
Then a few years back, I saw Amistad. Talk about crusing me! That movie destroyed me as I balled for over a half hour in response to the way these humans were being treated due to the color of their skin and cultural heritage. Sad. They were treated so much less than human.
I've always known instinctively how wrong it is for us humans to treat each other so differently simply based on the color of our skin (or any other innate reason.) I've never understood why others treat each other differently for this reason. They cannot intermarry. They cannot be best friends. They cannot let them in our house. They cannot go into business together. They cannot hire them. They cannot accept them in the same way as anyone else. Mostly, it doesn't even make sense.
Then I saw Crash. Oh my goodness. If you haven't seen this movie, you have to. Yeah, there is some "offendable" content (ie sexuality, language, violence) but the lessons and reality that it teaches is so much greater. If you must watch an edited version, I'm sure it's been on TNT or something. I actually own an edited, milder version if you want to borrow it. The movie was mind blowing and helped us see the reality that racism, prejudice, and profiling isn't owned only by white people but is a problem across multiple, if not all races. It's an ugly thing. It also helped me to see the different ways that I've probably been guilty of in the past myself and how it occurs so regularly right before our very eyes and we don't even recognize it because we are not the offended party.
Some blame biblical reasons. (Sad, they don't know or understand their Bible very well.) Some blame experience. Some blame ignorance. Some blame the media. These are not excuses. They might be reasons, but they are definitely not excuses. In my experience, more often than not, the greatest reason or excuse has simply been sin.
God created humankind equal. There is no supreme or better race. Why haven't we learned this lesson from the Nazis? Why haven't we learned this lesson from history? We are all children of the same God, whether we recognize or believe that.
I know about now, you might be saying, "you're not so innocent yourself." You're guilty too.
That may have been true from time to time. But, it certainly has not been intentional or I was not aware of it. One of the reasons that I am so passionate and have been so for much of my life is my experiences as a child. Not from experiencing these things myself, but in seeing others experience them in different ways. I don't have some vivid memory of a specific incident. I just remember how apalled I was as I heard of each incident and time that it happened.
This is a reality is today in our culture, at this day and time. Coming from our immediate, past for the United States, these have been some ugly and growing years. We've come a way. Yesterday is proof of that. But, how much is that saying when you consider how ugly the past is.
Today I am thankful for President Obama. I am thankful that he was able to be elected primarily on his gifts, experience and ideas. His race has been for the most part pushed into the background. I am sure that many didn't vote for him (because he was black), but I also heard just yesterday of at least one (white) person who voted for him simply because he was (black.) So, hopefully those ignorances balanced out. While I don't think that's the best or even a good reason to vote for him. It's an even worse reason to vote against him.
No matter what political persuasion or opinions you hold. Yesterday and today are beautiful days in America because we now have a black president. It is beautiful that it is now possible. It is a momentous occasion indeed. I was nervous and excited all day. I was in awe and appreciative.
Mind you, I don't think that racism, prejudice and profiling have now gone by the wayside, I am just grateful that we have reached this step.
I believe that has become possible in large part because of our younger generation. Certainly not all of the older generation would have a problem with this, but I find that the younger generation are much more open to these things. They are more sensitive to ignorance people that are racist. Mind you, they are not innocent, for many fall into the same trap, I'm just saying they are more open. Popular youth culture has had an impact on this, but young ideals can be a helpful thing as well.
Have you ever noticed how true the words of a kindergartner can be, even if they themselves cannot live up to them? (Why are people so mean to each other? Why can't we all just get along?)
Today, more than ever, I want to do something to bring racial reconciliation. I'm never sure what to do or how it will be received, but I want to do something.
There is one thing that I/we are preparing to do as a family. We are planning to foster to adopt a baby of another race.
Hopefully, this will help us to overcome any "unseen" racism/prejudice in our own lives and snuff it out. Hopefully, this will help create and build relationships with others of a different race than our own. Hopefully, this will spur conversations and ideas in others for how to create racial reconciliation.
Our primary reason for fostering to adopt is that hopefully, God will use this to give a child, that otherwise might experience a different kind of life, a new life. One filled with hope. One filled with love. One filled with a family.
But, we would also love for God to use it in racial reconciliation as well. We are willing to accept criticism. We are willing to sacrifice. We are willing to stand for what is right. We are willing go outside of our comfort zones.
Are you? Are you willing to create racial reconciliation? Are you willing to stand for what is right? Do you have the courage? What can YOU do? What WILL you do?
Monday, January 12, 2009
I'm sure you have. We all have. It's part of growing up from childhood to adulthood. Things seem so simple, then we realize how complex they are only to find out at the end of life, it was rather simple after all. Love others and be loved. Solomon, was it, said that the after everything he had went through, that life is all about serving God.
Okay, maybe this is not quite so profound, but it's been rocking my world. It answers alot of questions that I've had that I let go of because I never got a straight answer. It has much to do with my early discipleship in Christ and early ministry q&a.
The scary part is I've only just begun. I'm just starting to read about these things. Yet, somehow I know that it has significant implications for my life, for our lives, for our ministries. If I'd known about this years ago, many struggles would never have been struggles to begin with. Many questions would have been answered immediately. It wouldn't have been so hard and confusing. Remember at the beginning of the Matrix when he said, if you take the blue pill, you'll wake up and everything will be as you've always known it. But, if you take the red pill (or did I get it backward) then your eyes will be opened to an all new reality. I am becoming aware of this new reality.
Now, as it pertains to life, I've already experienced this eye opening experience. It was when I met Jesus. He rocked my world. He changed everything. He turned me upside down. He made me aware of my own selfishness, cleansed me from all my failures, set me back on my feet and started cleansing my heart and life. Nothing's been the same ever since. I see the world different. I see people different. I see "God" different. I see my purpose differently. My eyes have been opened to new realities that I know others are closed to.
This new thing is similar. It's not life changing in the sense of coming to Christ. It's not life changing in the sense that you may notice that many differences in me. But, it is life changing with how and why I do ministry a particular way. Ministry has been my "vocation" for over ten years. Initially, I wrestled with that. This answers alot of those questions. I didn't have the gifts, abilities, experience, education, etc to be and do the ministry. If only I'd known. I had so many questions going in because what I thought I was supposed to be and do (based on my limited experience in the church) were not really necessarily what I was supposed to be and do. Plus, I kept looking for the scriptural backing. "Our culture is so different from that of the Bible. That must be it," I told myself. But, I always wondered, why?
You see, since I didn't grow up in the church, I had little background and so I simply trusted those who were teaching me and showing me the way. Mind you, I questioned them, some would guess too much, but overall I trusted them and kept going. These were great people and none of them purposefully (ignorantly, maybe) mislead me. But, they gave me alot of pat answers instead of investigating the realities and complexities of my questions. If you're a parent, you know what I'm talking about.
Here's what I'm talking about. I'm reading this book called Pagan Christianity. (http://www.paganchristianity.org/)
It shows the historical evidence for how we got the church we got today. It explains the "evolution" of Christianity and church practices from the early church to our current version. As I was an young Christian growing, I wondered how/why what I was reading in the Bible was so different than what I experienced in church at that time. I would ask questions like why do we do this in church? Why is this important? When, as I read the New Testament, I could not find any real evidence or emphasis for my questions. And like I said, people gave me pat answers. So, even though it didn't make sense, I accepted it (kinda) and kept moving on.
In this last year or two, I've been putting some of those things aside, since now I've not be only responsible for a youth group but adult ministry and now the creation of a brand new church. So, I've been letting my convictions lead instead of doing things how others said I needed to do them. I've been speaking, er... preaching my mind. The messages that glare in the New Testament have become messages that I am speaking often, though in much grace, because they are not the messages that have been often proclaimed. For example, this idea of holiness = following more rules and staying away from sinners is hogwash. That's not the kind holiness that Jesus lived. That's not the kind of holiness that is continually talked about throughout the New Testament as different authors battle the early Christians desire to add rules to their relationship with Jesus.
Anyways, the book, of which I'm about 1/3 through traces the "development" of the church from the early church through the third century, the middle ages, Martin Luther, Protestantism, Evangelicalism, and our current consumeristic Sunday morning show. I've read about the "development" of the church building itself, the order of worship, the sermon and am currently working on the pastor. (ouch!) Not only does it trace these origins and the reasons that these things changed over time, but shows us the 2 most important aspects of them.
1) The way we do these things is not rooted in New Testament practice or scripture.
(You just can't say we do things "by the book," because it's more than likely simply not true.)
2) The we do these things actually work against the type of life that Christ calls us to.
The quick and easy argument against the book is that the church has progressed and has changed with the culture and times. (ie, methods change, but message never does (although that is an argument to be had in its own right)) However, that doesn't mean we have entire freedom to use whatever methods we want.
If our methods ultimately work against the message for which they exist, then we must not accept the methods.
Now that's a discussion worth having.
But, a few issues that have already arisen in my reading...
- The Church building did not originate in the early church and costs so much to maintain that it works against our call to love others, especially the poor. It focuses our time and attention on ourselves and our programs causing us to invest most of our resources which in turn cause us to be a "come and see" kind of people instead of a go and serve and tell kind of a people.
- The Order of Worship focuses more on the "show" that Sunday morning has become where we "go to church" (this mentality was non-existent in the early church) and observe/consume/watch the show and get emotionally excited/encouraged by the "paid professionals" instead of participating and encouraging one another the way they did in the early church. Our one direction type of monologue from the "paid professionals" to the "don't try this at home" type of people discourages people from using their gifts and letting the spirit lead them to exhort, encourage, prophesy, or teach one another. (except for those few churches that allow for a couple of minutes of this some weeks)
- The sermon origins are scary, yet kind of understood. The great greek philosophers provided much of the origins for our current "sermon." As I read about the purposes and philosophies behind the greek oraters, I was both dumbfounded and feeling ever so slightly guilty for following in their footsteps. This is the classic case of using the culture of the day to communicate a timeless message. Maybe it had its place for a while, maybe not. We could probably debate that. Maybe it has its place today, maybe not. We could definitely debate that. However, the modern sermon requires 1 hour of preparation for every minute spoken (according to my wonderful (that is not sarcasm) professors in college). Okay, most weeks, that's 30 hours. Maybe I've never given it quite that much, but it sure provides the necessity of paying someone to sermonize b/c volunteering an extra 30 hours a week only to speaking is not realistic. The costs that go toward paying someone to do what we all can and should do (if we're not following the modern sermon, but the biblical ideal) is not a wise use of money when we got people we need to love with those finances.
- The Pastor in most churches plays way too many roles and attempts to be SuperMan! Not because he cares that much or is that committed (though he may be) but usually just to keep people from complaining about what the Pastor isn't doing, after all, isn't that what we pay him for, to do the job(s) that we don't want to do or feel "super" enough to do? Even in those churches whose pastors spout from the pulpit about the Body of Christ doing the work of the ministry do way more than the scriptures mandate. Here's a scary note: the word pastor is not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament. PastorS is mentioned only once in the context of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers as they all prepare God's people for works of service. It is not a title to be used. It is a function of shepherding that is to be performed. Now let's be honest, today's pastor does 100X more than just shepherding!
Okay, so maybe you have to read it for yourself to get it. I doubt it, but maybe it'll help you understand and convict you as well. Maybe you'll just shrug it off as hogwash. You can't argue the historical origins, George Barna's (the guru of Christian statistics) participation helps that. We can debate whether you believe our current mode of churchianity inhibits the church from BEING the Church. But, you can't say we've been doing it by the book and therefore go on without even considering the implications. We haven't been and the implications are great! The church is in a dying position in our culture. It is no longer impacting the culture, but it is being impacted by the culture.
We just read this week how in 1 John 2:15-17, we are called not to love the world, but to follow and do the will of God. That is a question we must wrestle with. Are we following the world and culture or are we changing the world and culture because we give Life the way Christ gives Life.
I admit the answers aren't all easy and they are open to debate. But, I know where I'm at in the debate and the convictions that God is placing on me. It's messing me up. It's turning my world upside down. And it's a good thing. A good thing indeed.