Note: Back in April 2014, I wrote this post as a part of an online series on Race and Justice for Transform Minnesota, a local, evangelical organization here in Minneapolis. Since that time, several things have happened that have deepened my resolve to call for cross-cultural dialogue among Christians:
- Death of Eric Garner – On July 17th, a 43-year old New York man died after being placed in a prohibited chokehold by police as they tried to question and arrest him. In video of the incident, you can hear Garner screaming that he couldn’t breathe. The incident is under investigation.
- Creating Options Together Conference – CRU Inner City, a Christian organization with partners in nearly every urban center in the country, hosted a week-long conference designed to practically equip leaders to minister in urban areas. It was a great week that provided a glimmer of hope in the midst of evangelical culture.
- Death of John Crawford – On August 5th, a 22-year old Ohio man was shot and killed by police in a Wal-Mart store while holding a toy gun, a BB/Pellet gun that he had picked up in the store. Witnesses report that Crawford screamed, “It’s a toy,” just before being shot by police. His death has been ruled a homicide and is under investigation.
- Death of Mike Brown – On August 9th, an unarmed 18-year old Missouri teen was shot multiple times and killed by police. The incident is under investigation and details really are unclear. The incident, however, has set off several days of protests and confrontations between police and residents.
Each of these events has impacted me in its own way, and they leave me more determined than ever to keep sharing this message. Grace & Peace!
I love communication. I feel it is one of the greatest abilities given to humanity. Be it the cry of an infant, the excited squeal of a group of teenage girls at the mall, the cheerful banter of a family over a meal, even the sobbing that accompanies the loss of a loved one—I can’t imagine what life would be like without the gift of communication.
“In a loud, painful public discourse, white evangelicals have been largely silent, absent and evasive. Why is that?”
The things that we say—our spoken words—are probably the most recognizable form of communication, but many people would agree that everything about us communicates something: our facial expressions, outfits, posture, choice of friends or spending habits. They all communicate something about who we are, what we value, where we are headed.
Even with all of that being true, there is an aspect of communication that we often misunderstand or overlook altogether. I’m referring to silence. Silence communicates.
When I think about the nearly 13 years since I met my wife during our college years and the eight years that I’ve served in vocational ministry in Minneapolis, I’ve had to become a much better communicator. Being married and being a pastor have taught me to listen for words, to watch for nonverbal cues, and to pay attention to moments of silence.
I’ve become acutely aware of the ways in which silence can be just as effective an indicator of a person or group’s thoughts, feelings, values and intentions as a mouthful of words. At times, silence conveys a message that causes one to have great hope. At other times, silence is deafening, harmful and cowardly.
“Unfortunately, there has been an undeniable silence among white evangelical Christians.”
Let me explain one example of the latter.
Jordan Davis is a name the average American probably had never heard before 2012 and probably had forgotten again until last month. That’s understandable, though. Jordan was a regular young man from Florida. His life was not in any way remarkable or noteworthy. He lived the life one would expect of a teenage boy: full of music, sports and time with his friends.
What separates Jordan’s story from that of the vast majority of other American teens is that in November 2012, he had an encounter with an armed adult at a Florida gas station. At the end of that encounter, Jordan Davis lay in the back of a friend’s SUV with two gunshot wounds in his legs and another that had ripped through his liver, lungs and aorta.
Jordan died that night and his shooter drove away, returned to his hotel and had a drink before falling asleep. The shooter was later arrested, but not until he and his fiancé had driven 130 miles the next day back to their home.
Fast forward to February 2014. Just months after handing out a not guilty verdict in the murder of another young black Florida teen named Trayvon Martin, the state sat on the brink of another pivotal legal decision in the trial of Jordan’s killer. Despite the testimony of Jordan’s three friends who were also in the vehicle that night and the damaging testimony of his own fiancé, Jordan’s killer was found not guilty of first-degree murder.
In a strange legal ruling, the jury convicted the shooter on the charge of attempted murder for firing 9-10 shots into the vehicle, but did not convict him of first-degree murder when three of those bullets found their target. The public outrage was immediate and fierce. Unfortunately, it was mostly divided along racial lines.
In the weeks since the verdict, there has been a lot communicated by men and women who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ. There have been calls for boycotts of the state of Florida, appeals to the moral conscience of our entire nation, prayer for the safety and protection of our children and much more. Cries for God’s justice have echoed from pulpits, pews, prayer benches and street corners.
Unfortunately, there has been an undeniable silence among white evangelical Christians. In a loud, painful public discourse, white evangelicals have been largely silent, absent and evasive. Why is that?
I believe there are a few reasons, some understandable, others a bit more difficult to excuse. Here’s my best estimation of why many white evangelicals chose silence in this and other cases of racial injustice:
Many white evangelicals realize that confronting racial injustice is dirty, messy work. The terrain is full of land mines and any misunderstanding—any comment taken out of context, any assumption made—can potentially “set things off.” I’ve seen situations where well-meaning friends have been accused of being prejudiced, ignorant, even racist. For many, that possibility is enough to keep them quiet, even when biblical justice calls for them to do otherwise.
Perceived Lack of Skills
Similar to the previous reason, many white evangelicals don’t believe they have the right skills to navigate this type of situation. They believe they lack the right words or the necessary experiences. Being silent often seems less treacherous.
Some white evangelicals are so emotionally disconnected from the likes of a Jordan Davis that they really have no reference point in which to identify. The idea of their teenage children leaving home and losing their life at the hand of some troubled adult just isn’t a reality for them. They remain quiet, often while harboring thoughts like, There must be more to the story. Stuff like this doesn’t just happen. Social distance makes it difficult for us to identify with those in other stages of life.
Finally, many white evangelicals remain silent about racial injustice because in order to address situations like the Jordan Davis case, we would have to address the historic, systemic roots of racism and injustice based on race in this country, including in the American church. Unresolved guilt, even for Bible-believing Christians is a struggle.
One of the underlying reasons that evangelicals are more committed to international missions than they are to missional living at home is that in order to do the hard work of justice in America, it would require us to acknowledge the deep, dark legacy of racism and racial injustice that haunts the American church. It’s easier to do compassion work on the other side of the globe than it is to let justice roll down our own streets.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood well the complexities of balancing the call to follow Christ with the challenge to fight injustice. In fact, his work to eradicate racial injustice was fueled by his love of God and his proper understanding of the Imago Dei. In 1956, Dr. King said: “There are not gradations in the image of God. Every man, from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that.”
I join Dr. King in pointing us toward a day when every human life is equally valued in our churches, our communities and given equal protection by our justice system. Even more so, I look with eagerness to the day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, freeing us from all vestiges of sin, death and hatred.
Until then, let us not give in to any impulse that would keep us silent! Until then, let us refuse to be silenced by fear, ability, distance or guilt!Read More
If you’ve ever created anything, led anything, done anything worthwhile, consider this quote:
“It’s not the critic who counts. It’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled. Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat, and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs to come short and short again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming. It is the man who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and knows the great devotion, who spends himself on a worthy cause, who at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement. And, who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” (Theodore Roosevelt)
Overwhelming dude language aside, President Roosevelt was 100% on point.
There will ALWAYS be sideline critics, contrary voices of people who are not in the game at all. When you’re not in the game, you have tons of free time to pick apart the work of those who are.
If you’re battling these voices, don’t let fear of what they might say or do keep you from putting it all on the line everyday. Don’t allow yourself to be consumed by desires to please sideline critics.
Instead, refocus on the assignment before you. Dare greatly and be willing to fail on the way to success.
When all else fails, dare to turn to these critics and invite them into the game. The best way to silence a lazy critic is to invite them to join you in doing what needs to be done. Chances are that they will decline and soon disappear.
Then, you can get back to work and turn your attention back to the people (and things) that really matter!
Question: What advice would you give a person who is struggling because of sideline critics?Read More
Here’s to 2014, friends!
Our Deepest Fear — Marianne Williamson
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
A Generation of Fathers
I’m an 80′s kids. The 80′s and 90′s, for a number of different reasons, seem to have been a turning point where fatherhood began to decline tremendously, especially in urban areas and communities of color. The war on drugs, mass incarceration, even certain welfare reforms led to remarkable changes to the family structure, as more and more fathers found themselves either locked up and/or separated from their families. I was one of countless young men who grew up without their dads, having to navigate those early years without the guiding hand of their father. I fear that the negative effects of this won’t be fully understood for many decades to come!
Even with that being the case, I see a growing trend that gives me great hope. Many young men who grew up without the strong hand of their fathers have grown up and are now making pledges to reverse this debilitating trend. Nearly every one of my friends is a young, active, ambitious dad. The others are young husbands with real dreams of someday becoming dads that are present, active, and involved. We have ongoing conversations about raising our kids together, as an extended family. We dream about our kids playing sports together and bringing championships to the city. We mentor and counsel other teens and young adults, giving them a vision for the day when they will become husbands and fathers. My friends and I are working to exponentially increase the number of good fathers. We’re serious about legacy, not just for our families, but for so many others that cross our paths. We really are working to raise up a generations of “good dudes,” as my buddy Jesse often says!
It’s Not About Me…It’s About You
I get teased from time to time about my passion for fathers. Some wonder if I’m being a little self-serving. I’m a good sport about it…often it comes from one of my sisters and I give them that privilege of ragging on me! In the end, though, I remind them that what’s good for the father is, ultimately, good for the family. A good father is a blessing to his family, his community, his city. My passion is to see my city saturated with good fathers, men who are present, active, engaged, and….celebrated! I think raising up good fathers is one of the secrets to transforming our communities!
So go for it…let’s do a better job of celebrating dads and watch what happens. Maybe one day, the norm will be that children will be able to celebrate their dads like this young brother, Joseph, does in a poem called Words for My Father. You’ll find it at the end of this post. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here now: Much of what we believe about God is impacted by what we saw in our earthly father.
May we build a generation of fathers who will represent Our Father well!
Over the last week, I’ve been sharing a 4-part blog about our collective need to do a much better job of celebrating dads. In Part I, we tried to get some explanation for why we hesitate to celebrate dads. In Part II, we tried to discuss what’s at stake and the question of why this even matters at all. In this 3rd part of the series, the conversation will move to a more practical place and offer some tips for getting started. Feel free to read it, share your thoughts, and pass it along!
Start Somewhere and Just say Thanks
Knowing that I will alienate a few of my feminist friends, I think that the journey to celebrating fathers well begins by acknowledging that men and women are not the same, and that we contribute distinct things, especially within the context of family. On his best day, a father is not a mother. The same rule applies to a woman attempting to replace a man. If you need help working through this concept, try wrestling with this question: What abilities/skills/quirks/traits/etc. did you get from your dad that your mom could not have given you? Contrary to what society seems to be leaning towards, there are some very unique and valuable things that a father contributes to the family. Recognizing that one small truth will begin a process that will allow us to move to the next step - look for those praiseworthy things and affirm him for them.
Begin by spending some real time discovering the unique contributions that your husband, your dad, your brother makes to his family. Discover the ways that he blesses his family and celebrate those things. Maybe he’s a fixer who goes to great length to keep the house functioning and moving along. I’m not that kind of dad, but I appreciate those kinds of dads. Maybe he’s an encourager who cheers his kids along in everything – academics, sports, hobbies, even relationships. It’s ok to let him know how that adds to the life of your family. Maybe he’s a strong, silent type who brings a certain calm to every situation. You’d be crazy not to acknowledge that! Maybe he’s the hardworking dad who sacrifices so that mom can stay at home and care for the kids. More and more these days, I even see dads that stay at home while mom has the career. That’s incredibly courageous and deserves some thanks!
To the question of how, let’s remember that the “right” way to say thanks is as unique as each dad is. My wife would never spend $1,000 on a power tool as a gift for me. She knows that it would never get used. Much more awesome in my book is the assortment of random e-mail or text messages that she sends me out of the blue to say thanks for being an awesome husband and father! When I read them, I feel like there is nothing that I can’t accomplish!
Honestly, there is no one image of fatherhood and no universal “right way” to celebrate fathers; However, there is one common desire that I’d argue all men have and that is the desire to know that what he is doing is appreciated and is worth something!
Ladies, you’re welcome in advance!!!
We Recreate What We Celebrate
Values are, in my opinion, both taught and caught. With our words, our corrections, and our daily actions, we are communicating our values to others. Most would probably agree with me there. What we often overlook, though, is the fact that the things we celebrate are the things that we, ultimately, recreate.
Here’s one way to think about it. When a child is young, they quickly learn that certain actions will earn them positive attention from the people around them. Over time, they can be seen repeating those actions, often hoping to earn more positive attention and praise. As parents, teachers, and others with influence over young children, we learn to celebrate certain things, rewarding desirable behaviors and attributes. At the same time, we withhold celebration and reward when that child exhibits some undesirable behavior or attribute. In doing so, we are teaching that child, communicating certain values. The goal is always to pass along those desirable values and behaviors, getting that child to internalize and reproduce them. I’m convinced that this manner of teaching and passing along of values does not end with childhood.
If this true, what are we communicating to young boys, teenage boys, young adult males and young dads about fatherhood? I would argue that our society is sending a resounding message to boys that says fathers are expendable. The message seems to be that fathers are a “nice to have,” but not essential. We give the impression that what the father brings to the family is dispensable, nonessential, extra.
Here is one simple truth that every woman would be wise to figure out: Not one man in this world flourishes in an environment that tells him that he is simply extra!
All that being said, I’m admonishing the wise people among us to begin to think critically and act swiftly to start celebrating fathers. Let younger males see that fatherhood matters and is desirable. Better yet, let them know that our expectation is that every father would be present and active in the lives of their children. Only when we change expectations and become more thoughtful and intentional about what we celebrate will we begin to see meaningful change.
After all, the things that we celebrate are the things that we eventually recreate!
If you’ve followed my blog over the last year or so, you know that I write primarily about family and fatherhood. In fact, telling stories and raising awareness around those two topics were huge motivations for starting the blog in the first place. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook and you’ll see that a huge portion of my content relates, in some way, to family and fatherhood. Check out my Instagram and I’m sure you know by now what you’d find. That’s right…many of my pics capture moments that reflect family and fatherhood. All of this is true not by accident or by consequence. There are many other topics that I find interesting, but I’ve come to believe that few things are more important and worthy of discussion than family and fatherhood.
That is why even after the Father’s Day holiday has passed, I feel inclined to invite all of you, my friends and associates, to join me in celebrating fathers and the contributions that they make to our families and communities! This post is one in a series of four that I hope will free us up to celebrate fathers in more genuine ways!
Why is Permission Necessary?
When I think about family dynamics and reflect on what I notice in society, I observe a growing reluctance to acknowledge and affirm the role of the father in the life of the family. It seems that we have formed this false dichotomy where celebrating fathers is degrading to mothers. Similarly, we often hesitate to celebrate fathers who are responsible and present, fearing that we might offend families where fathers are absent. In the name of sensitivity, we are often quite muted towards fathers. On one hand, we wave the banner saying that fatherlessness is an epidemic. On the other hand, we struggle or refuse to say thanks with any regularity and clarity to men who rise to the occasion day after day. We know better; yet, we hold back. My hope is that we can begin to address that breakdown!
So, If you’ve ever hesitated to make a big deal out of a father handling his business, take this opportunity to go bananas!
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Part II: We Recreate what we Celebrate (Coming on Friday, June 22nd)Read More
Today is a big one in my family. Our daughter, Taylor, turns 3 years old! Where has the time gone?
- That Taylor would know God, personally. We don’t take it for granted that Taylor will know and love God simply because of our faith in Christ or because of my vocation. Our constant prayer is that God would pursue her and that she would say, “Yes,” over and over again!
- That Taylor would know her self-worth…”you is smart, you is kind, you is important.” The Help brilliantly reminded us of the responsibility that we carry as parents to help shape our daughter’s self-image and self-worth. Every day, we see reminders in society of young women who never realized their value. We pray and work daily that Taylor will have no confusion about such things.
- That Taylor would find wonder everywhere and grow daily through discovery.There is a big, beautiful world out there. As we teach Taylor to know and love God, we will be sure to have her experience the beauty of his handiwork. A bird singing in a tree. An ocean that seems to never end. Vast mountains and massive valleys. We pray that she would have countless WOW moments as she grows. May she forever be fascinated!
- That Taylor would pursue her passions. I can already see the seedlings of this prayer coming to be. Like her mother, Taylor is a very strong-willed young lady. (Smiley Face) Like her father, Taylor has an opinion about everything! (Wink) Our prayer is that God will use these strengths for his glory and that Taylor will work passionately toward the causes of her day. Big or small, we pray that she would give her all to something beyond her.
- That Taylor would care deeply for others. Whatever her passions may be, we pray that a part of it would bring her to a place of caring deeply for others, especially the poor and hurting people of our world. We pray that she would not be able to ignore the needs of others, even if she tried. May she have a greater sense of the collective than either of her parents did.
“We started from the bottom. Now, we here!”
Have you ever been discouraged? Unless you have some serious antisocial tendencies, I’d guess that you have been discouraged at one point or another in your life. For those of us who serve in ministry, discouragement is very real and present danger. The very nature of our work makes us more susceptible to discouragement because we are often so heavily invested in the lives of others. The average person can go out of their way to live insulated lives, shielded and protected from “mess,” but not us. The very nature of our calling seems to demand that we give others access to our lives, while at the same time wading into the murky waters of their lives. Can you imagine a pastor who refused to care about others? How about a minister who openly expressed her lack of concern for the condition of those around her? Wouldn’t she risk being called a sociopath? Nobody wants to be called a sociopath…so we dive in! Loving, trusting, forgiving, all the while believing that this is the God-honoring thing to do!
Discouragement comes in when even your most sacrificial efforts fall flat, and the expectations that you had of something or someone bite you in the butt. It happens to every minister that I’ve ever known…that’s not the point. The issue that I’d like to wrestle with is the proper Christian response to discouragement. Do we curl into a ball, lick our wounds, and whine? Worst than that, do we lash out at those responsible? Both of these are pretty damaging responses that will ultimately do more harm than good. How, then, do you deal with discouragement in ministry?
Josh Griffin, one of my favorite youth pastors/bloggers shared some thoughts that I’d like to pass along. You can read the full article here, but here’s my recap with some personal thoughts:
- Identify the Source of the Discouragement – What is the perceived root of the discouragement and what is its real cause? It could be deeper than any isolated incident. Discouragement can show up after “mountaintop experiences” as someone seeks to bring you back to earth, set you straight, or “read you,” as my people sometimes say; however, in most cases, I’ve been able to trace my own bouts with discouragement to something deeper than an incident. The truth is that I like to be liked. I like and respect people, and I expect them to like and respect me back. When that does not happen, I’m often caught off guard. I’ve come to accept that the majority of the discouragement that I deal with in my life comes out of misguided expectations of others and some insecurity on my part. Being so, each period of discouragement that I face is now seen as a chance to confront my own issues, as well as the issues of others that may be involved.
- Employ the Appropriate Response - Even in discouragement, I am accountable for my response. My response will say volumes about who I believe God to be and who I am in God. In every encounter, I have the option to be either the crazy person driven by carnal emotions or I can bear witness to the Spirit’s power to overcome my fallen nature. In my discouragement, I have learned to cry out to God who encourages my heart, grants me wisdom and strength through His Word, and sends me back into the game.
- Search the Criticism for Truth and Grow From It - If God can speak through a donkey, surely he can use the harsh words of another human being to reveal truth to us. In the course of facing the discouragement, take the time to search for God’s voice in the criticism. Is there something tucked away behind the ugly words that could help you become a better leader/minister/pastor? Be courageous enough to sit in the criticism and mine for nuggets that might be valuable to your future. It may be uncomfortable, even humbling, but it can help produce a better you in the end.
Discouragement is not new. Discouragement will be with us for as long as we live. Jesus knew this and told his disciples, “In this world, you will have trouble.” That has not changed for the modern believer. The encouragement, though, is that Jesus also said in that same breath, “But take heart! I have overcome the world!” Although discouragement is real and painful, we find encouragement in knowing that Jesus is victorious over discouragement in the same way that He is victorious over sin, death, and the grave. In Christ, our grief becomes joy.
To know and believe this is the key to dealing with any and all discouragement!Read More