2 potted plants.
One is in full bloom. The other is only recently planted.
Many people will extol the beauty of one and denigrate the other. Other people will see that they’re both beautiful in their own way. They’re just in very different stages of growth.
I look at the one on the left and imagine that, at some point, it looked like the one on the right. I look at the one on the right and smile because with patience and care, it can one day bloom as fully as the one on the left.
Think about your life. Think about the lives of those around you. Think about the institutions and organizations that you belong to. Are they the plant on the left or the one on the right? Or both?
What’s true about these two plants is true of much of life. At our best, we see that. We get that…and we experience the richness of life because of it!
Grace & Peace!Read More
- Sin is debilitating and needs to be taken much more seriously because of the havoc that it wreaks. Minimizing it is like playing with fire.
- We need not feel hopeless about sin, because redemption is available in Jesus Christ.
This week in Minneapolis has been a very difficult one. As a metro area, we have all experienced a trauma. I say all emphatically because we often lose sight of the connectedness of our lives. It isn’t always obvious, but when there is violence or hurt in the inner city, it impacts those who call the suburbs or rural areas home. When violence hits those other areas, it impacts lives in the inner city. This is true because we are not as divided as it can seem. Despite our best intentions to separate ourselves – by location, culture, or preference – our lives are, ultimately, deeply interrelated. Despite what America’s racist history or our current turmoil might suggest, we must remember that we are, ultimately, “tied together in a single garment of destiny.”
- INFORMATION GATHERING: To understand and articulate an issue, problem or injustice facing a person, community, or institution you must do research. You must investigate and gather all vital information from all sides of the argument or issue so as to increase your understanding of the problem. You must become an expert on your opponent’s position.
- EDUCATION: It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue. This minimizes misunderstandings and gains you support and sympathy.
- PERSONAL COMMITMENT: Daily check and affirm your faith in the philosophy and methods of nonviolence. Eliminate hidden motives and prepare yourself to accept suffering, if necessary, in your work for justice.
- DISCUSSION/NEGOTIATION: Using grace, humor and intelligence, confront the other party with a list of injustices and a plan for addressing and resolving these injustices. Look for what is positive in every action and statement the opposition makes. Do not seek to humiliate the opponent but to call forth the good in the opponent.
- DIRECT ACTION: These are actions taken when the opponent is unwilling to enter into, or remain in, discussion/negotiation. These actions impose a “creative tension” into the conflict, supplying moral pressure on your opponent to work with you in resolving the injustice.
- RECONCILIATION: Nonviolence seeks friendship and understanding with the opponent. Nonviolence does not seek to defeat the opponent. Nonviolence is directed against evil systems, forces, oppressive policies, unjust acts, but not against persons. Through reasoned compromise, both sides resolve the injustice with a plan of action. Each act of reconciliation is one step closer to the ‘Beloved Community.’
- This is a strange, complex story. (no explanation needed)
- The NAACP, since its inception in the early 1900’s, has always been a multicultural organization, composed of people of diverse backgrounds. As they reminded us via Fridays’ Statement, “One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership.” One does not need to be black to be a member or a leader in the NAACP.
- Ms. Dolezal did not have to be black to lead this NAACP chapter, teach Africana Studies, attend Howard University, marry a black man, etc. Her reasons seem to extend beyond the community that she served and into some deep personal issues with her own family.
- There appears to be a series of other substantial lies by Ms. Dolezal that further complicate this story and point to larger issues of integrity for her.
- Rachel Dolezal, like all of us, has a past that helps to shape/influence her present actions. I do not judge her for whatever past pain she has experienced. In fact, I pray that she can begin to address that pain, as opposed to continuing to live into what appears to be a completely false identity.
- Race is a social construct with very little biological basis for the way that race has been handled, especially in the U.S. Acknowledging that is very different from saying race and racial hierarchies don’t exist. It’s also very different from asserting that race is so fluid that it can be picked up and laid down whenever one wants to. In America, there is a very real historical and cultural legacy that has existed and still exists today as a result of the social construct that is race. As a dark-skinned black man, I don’t have the option of moving to another city and beginning again as a white man. The fact that Rachel Dolezal could live for 10 years as a black woman, moving in and out of countless spaces representing herself that way, is the very essence of privilege.
- Historically, being Black was the designation reserved for anyone with even one drop of African blood in them. Are we now to believe that blackness is assigned to anyone who appreciates or appropriates something related to African-American culture? Does it work that way with all racial identification?
- There are countless people in our society who are born into one ethnic group, but for any number of reasons, identify more closely with or develop a great appreciation for another group. There may be some of that at play here, but Rachel Dolezal takes it to a different, and arguably more dishonest level, by actually pretending that she was Black.
- We need a better understanding of the ways that race has impacted and continues to impact our society. The push that I’ve heard from many people to “stop talking about race” seems ridiculous because it has not been paired with any attempt to tear down the system of racial hierarchy that still clearly exists in this country. The idea that talking about race is what keeps racism going is outrageous.
- African-American Studies and Africana Studies programs should be much more than dumping grounds for athletes in our colleges and universities. Our community benefits when we’re better educated about our history and culture, as well as the dynamics of race, gender, class, etc. In having a number of conversations over the last few weeks, be it talking about Bruce (Caitlyn) Jenner or Rachel Dolezal, I’ve been reminded that there is still much misunderstanding in our community, even among college-educated friends. It appears there is still a huge void that a refocused and repurposed NAACP and organizations like it could help fill.
So, those are some of my thoughts. There’s always more to learn and I hope you’re on the journey with me. Drop me a comment below…I’ d love to hear some of your thoughts.
Grace & Peace!Read More
You know those songs, right? Maybe it’s an old love song that represents a season of your life that you’d much rather forget. When you hear that song, for something like 94% of your being, the instinct is to quickly find another song. Try as you might to ignore it, though, there’s a small part of you, the other 6%, that sighs and reminisces for just a moment. Don’t you just hate when that happen? Maybe it’s just me.
They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love
Even so, God is faithful and offers reminders of the possibilities that can encourage us to keep going despite the uphill nature of the journey. A few weeks ago, one of my former youth ministry kids lost his mother after an extended illness. This young man had been an integral part of my early youth ministry years here in Minneapolis. Over the years, there were countless bible studies, lunches, missions trips, BBQ’s at our house, conversations about every imaginable topic, graduations and so much more. I had walked alongside this kid as a big brother and spiritual mentor for years. We had not talked as regularly for about year, but hearing about the death of his mother meant that there was yet another season that would need to journeyed together. That’s what you do for the people you love.
I did not have to respond alone, though. There was a tremendous outpouring of love and support from many others. It was another of those “beauty from ashes” moments that I’ve come to expect of God. On the day of his mom’s memorial, I found myself sitting at a table with this young man, 3 other of my friends who had mentored him, and several of his peers who had become like family in our youth ministry. We shared exaggerated stories, laughed a lot, wiped a tear or two, and enjoyed the classic Baptist church meal. You know what it was!
In those moments, which had the potential to be the hardest of this guy’s life to this point, I witnessed true Christian love. I saw what it was to surround someone who had nothing to give us in return and love them. I can imagine that Death was pissed off because his sting had not had the intended effect. It’s precisely those kinds of moments where we get to peel back the layers of this life and get a peek of the Kingdom of God breaking through. It’s a beautiful thing!
This week, I pray that you’ll encounter a song or two that give you new hope in the coming Kingdom. May these songs cause you to smile, wrestle, yearn for more of the Kingdom of God…or some transformative combination of the 3. As that happens, may you remember God’s faithfulness and continue to live and love in miraculous ways!Read More
The image that I most often think of when it comes to the Roman Empire is called the Appian Way, where it’s believed that more than 6,000 slaves were crucified after a revolt in 73 B.C. It is said that they were left to hang, suffer, and die along the roadside as a statement to the rest of the empire. Their bodies lined the Appian Way for more than 130 miles. Yes, 130 miles.
- If the Roman Empire’s tactics are now seen as barbaric, why are so many Christians ok with what’s happening right before our eyes?
- If Jesus was victimized by the Roman Empire, where do we see Jesus in today’s system of law & order?
- Would Jesus take a place of privilege today or would he suffer with and on behalf of those who suffer at the hands of the system?
Over my last two posts, I’ve described what I see as a huge obstacle to discipleship in urban areas. That obstacle is racial strife.
In the first post of this series, I described racial strife as a past and present struggle which makes it very difficult for people of different ethnic and “ racial” backgrounds to connect, develop trust, and grow together. I contended that the gospel message often runs into a wall because the Church in America refuses to confront its racist legacy. In the second post of this series, I described the image problem that the Church has and challenged us to begin to re-imagine what it means to be “the people of God” in urban areas.
In this third & final post of this series, I’ll share a bit of my story, highlighting the road that has brought me to this place of understanding. Finally, I will offer up some practical insight from my experiences that may prove helpful as we journey forward together.
Check it out and share your thoughts…
While I love the city and my ministry here, I am first and foremost a country boy. I grew up in a small community in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. My family was a part of a small church there, maxing out at about 100 people on Sundays like Easter and Christmas. We had a “larger than life” pastor and no other staff. I have very fond memories of our pastor placing the youth of the church on the front row for Bible study and teaching us the Scriptures there, alongside the adults. It was there, in my childhood, that I developed a love for the Scriptures and a love for the Church. Even while I struggled with my faith during my college years, that love persevered.
My wife and I moved to Minneapolis in 2005 and after a year, I took a position as a youth pastor at a large Baptist church on the Northside of the city. North Minneapolis was often described as the stereotypical urban area:
- high crime (often violent crime), high rate of family breakdown, high in nearly all the societal negatives
- low-income, low property values, low performing schools, etc.
Even so, or perhaps because of those things, North Minneapolis was the community that I felt called to. I wanted to serve that community faithfully. I cared deeply for the people, and my heart broke over and over again to see the plight of the people there, especially, young black and brown children. Despite its reputation, I knew that God was at work there, and I wanted to be a part of what God was doing!
In January of 2007, after serving that church for 3 months, I entered a master’s program at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN. It was a truly transformational time! A few questions were my constant companions throughout seminary, as I served and studied:
- What does it look like for a disciple-making church to take root and flourish in an urban area, specifically North Minneapolis?
- How does racial strife and segregated churches contribute to what we see happening in these communities?
I wrestled with these questions for 4 long years. Even today, I’m wrestling with these kinds of questions. After graduating from Bethel Seminary in 2011, I took a position at a large, urban, intentionally multiethnic church in the same community. I moved out of a sense of calling but also because my wrestling with these kinds of questions had grown more intense. Today, I’m a part of the pastoral team at that church, and I’m still wrestling with similar questions.
While I don’t claim to have all of the answers, I’ve observed a number of things in both study and practice that I’d like to offer up to you, not as an expert but as a co-laborer in Christ:
Urban churches and ministries need a more balanced view of discipleship.
Due to the sheer nature of urban life, discipleship can quickly lose its place of priority in the urban ministry. In urban ministry, the needs are often glaring and overwhelming. Mission drift happens easily and effortlessly. As a result, I’ve seen urban churches and ministries drift into one of three categories:
- Group One churches turn their attention and resources upward, towards purely “spiritual things.” Their strategy is to become increasingly heavenly minded as a way of dealing with the dire situations around them. These churches become experts of great choirs, prayer meetings, and pastor’s anniversaries but little else.
- Group Two churches turn inward in response to the conditions that exist in the community. They become a proverbial oasis in the city, a country club in the midst of vast poverty. What matters to these churches is what happens within the walls of the church. The people who matter most to them are the ones who call this church their home.
- Group Three churches make the decision to fix their attention and resources outward, focusing entirely upon meeting the social needs of the community around them. These churches move from project to project, from this drive to the next, while neglecting spiritual or communal things entirely. These churches often have a revolving door of socially conscious people who come and go because of burnout and a lack of meaningful relationships.
I believe that each of those churches can teach us something, but that each has failed to be balanced in their view of discipleship, therefore producing one-sided believers. An unbalanced church is an ineffective church.
The folks at 3DM paint a much different picture of discipleship, one built on rhythms of:
- Time with God (Up)
- Time with other believers (In)
- Time in the world on mission (Out).
I believe that urban communities would see great transformation when urban churches and ministries call them towards passionate spirituality, radical community, and missional zeal!
Racially homogenous churches & ministries are at a severe disadvantage and will struggle to overcome their own cultural preferences.
There is a common occurrence in urban ministry that seems to be on the upswing as urban ministry becomes “the flavor of the day”. Regularly, I witness the entrance and growth of large, well-meaning Christian ministries. They are well-resourced organizations with lots of paid staff, plush buildings, name recognition, and much more. None of this is troubling on its own. The inherent problem is that many, if not all of these organizations, have a staff that is 100% white in areas that are mostly non-white. Even more troubling is the fact that many of these young, white staffers come from colleges and backgrounds where they have never had to wrestle with issues of privilege and whiteness. In many cases, they enter urban areas and do serious damage because of a lack of cultural intelligence and self-awareness.
I contend that racially homogenous churches and ministries must become a thing of the past. I agree with the writers of United by Faith when they argue that, “The best antidote to national & evangelical struggles over racial & ethnic issues is to build multiracial congregations (organizations) whenever possible.” This point feeds into my next point.
You will not reach and disciple an increasingly multiethnic world by holding onto to mono-ethnic preferences.
Even today, in the eyes of many people, to be a Christian is to be white. This is not to say that to become a Christian a Black or Brown person must change their skin color, but many believe that Christian culture is largely synonymous with suburban, white culture. In other words, too much of what we pass off as Christian, is really what is comfortable for white people. Consider our worship styles. Consider the milestones that we celebrate. Consider the way that we view things like time, honor, conflict, even aging. From where do many urban churches/ministries adopt their values?
Before the gospel is able to really take root in urban areas, we need to have some open, honest conversations about how we exist as the people of God. How much of our current existence as the people of God is tainted by Eurocentric bias? How much of what we do and believe come from cultural biases? It’s a challenging conversation, but I see the church as a worthy “crucible” where we can work out some of these issues of race, ethnicity, and other “isms” in a grace-filled way.
Us vs. Them is a self-perpetuating impasse. You need indigenous leaders in meaningful positions within your organization
I’ll say this succinctly. The greatest testimony that you can have as a ministry in an urban area is the track record of raising up indigenous leaders and handing off meaningful leadership responsibilities to them. How quickly can your organization move from a place of “us” and “them” to a place of “we?”
Finally, I remember 4 steps from Miroslav Volf’s excellent text, Exclusion and Embrace. Volf argues that, “The church has been involved in oppression and exclusion. We have become so absorbed in our own cultures that we are blind to the evil of exclusion.” Volf offers up four steps that I feel must become second nature to all people who would be reconciled, especially in light of racial or religious strife. He says that both the oppressor and oppressed are called by Jesus to:
- Making Space for Others
- Healing of Memory
These are not one and done steps. On the contrary, I do not see us overcoming this great #GospelChallenge unless we are daily entering into this process. Repentance. Forgiveness. Making Space for Others. Healing of Memory. Repeat!
May the God of Peace grant us daily the grace to be reconciled…to God and to one another!Read More
In my previous post, I proposed that when it comes to discipleship in urban areas of this country, there is a major obstacle that cannot be ignored. That obstacle is racial strife, the struggle that exists in our past and our present, which makes it very difficult for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to connect, develop trust, and grow together.
Check out part two of this series and please share your thoughts…
In 2013, an amazing film was released to theaters called, “12 Years A Slave.” The film was based on an autobiographical book written in 1853 by the same name. The book told the story of Solomon Northrup, a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1840’s New York. The film allowed audiences to catch a glimpse of the horrific conditions of slavery and this man’s struggle to regain his freedom. It was a gripping story, shining a light on the brutal system of slavery.
Beyond what it teaches us about history, there was a huge theological thread woven throughout the film. In the film, we saw two images of Christianity and neither of them were especially pleasing. On one hand, we saw Christianity presented as a tool of the slave master used to coerce and keep slaves obedient to their masters. You see the slave masters preaching to their slaves about obedience, as if that were THE central message of the scriptures. When I think about that, I recall an often-quoted thought tossed around by some who dismiss Christianity. The saying goes, “If your faith comes with instructions of how to treat your slaves, you need a new faith.” It’s not enough to simply dismiss that as rhetoric. The other image of Christianity that we see in the film is that of Christianity being used by the slaves as a coping mechanism to survive this ruthless system. This is not to say that their faith was not authentic. I believe the very opposite to be true. Even so, it’s unsettling to think that some may have come to faith, primarily, for the sake of numbing the pain of their lives.
Here’s how this is relevant for us today: When churches engage urban communities, the question that is directed at you, either verbally or nonverbally, is: “Which Jesus are you selling me?”
- Is it the Jesus that keeps me weak, docile, and controlled?
- Is it the Jesus that is only good enough to get me through my week?
For far too many people in urban communities, the church is not trustworthy, on one hand, and has no real power, on the other hand. We have a #GospelChallenge!
So have I lost hope? Am I saying that we should throw in the towel and give up our efforts to reach urban communities with the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Even with these vast and far-reaching challenges facing us, there remains what Reinhold Neibuhr calls “a resounding cry, calling the Church back to her mission & purpose.”
Two things are absolutely clear to me:
- We, The Church, must address our troubling past when it comes to race, culture, & ethnicity.
- We, The Church, must begin to reimagine what it means to be “the people of God” in urban areas.
I feel a clear and profound calling to help the church figure out what those two things could look like.
In the third & final post of this series, I’ll share a bit of my story, highlighting what may have brought me to this place. Finally, I will offer up some practical insights of how we might move towards this challenge together!
QUESTION: When you think about iconic portrayals of the Christian faith in film, past or present, what do you recall as some of the more memorable ones? Have those portrayals shaped how you see the church at all?Read More
This summer, I took part in an amazing conference hosted by CRU Inner City. It was called the Creating Options Together Conference and took place here in Minneapolis. The aim of the conference was, “To come together to declare God’s glory, to lift up and empower the church, and to demonstrate the power of the gospel to create options for those in poverty…fresh options that address real needs.” It was humbling to share a stage with noted leaders like Dr. John Perkins and Dr. Carl Ellis. It was also incredibly meaningful to spend time hearing from new leaders (new to me) like Pastor Adam Edgerly and the brilliant Karen Ellis. I was a speaker and presenter, but I learned much more than I could have ever imagined!
I have realized over the last few years that I have some pretty unique and varied groups of friends and colleagues. I also realized that they often don’t interact with each other. That means that the conversations that I have with one group of friends doesn’t always get carried over to another group of friends. It happens sometimes, but it’s not guaranteed. Additionally, I’m hardly ever present with friend group A and friend group B at the same time. I’m constantly looking for ways to bridge that gap. Hopefully, this blog has been and continues to become one of those ways.
To that end, in my next few blog posts, I’ll share some of my messages from the Creating Options Together Conference 2014. I hope that it sparks a dialogue between my different groups of friends and leads to some deeper connections.
The title of this particular talk was #GospelChallenge: Addressing Racial Strife as a Threat to Your Ministry.
Here’s Part 1 of 3…I’d love to hear your thoughts!
(July 2014 – Bethel University Underground)
Friends, you may have noticed a social media trend over the last few months. I’m referring to something called the #GospelChallenge. #GospelChallenge is where one person is “called out” by another and given 24 hours to record a personal video singing a gospel song. The videos were everywhere, and some of them were excellent!
Unfortunately, for every one singer with actual talent…There were 100’s upon 100’s of singers with voices that only their mothers could love…There were others with voices that were made for sign language or for a tightly sealed, soundproof shower…There were many others that gave new interpretation to the verse, “Jesus Wept!” As funny as some of these videos were and as inspiring as some the others were, I wasn’t invited here today to talk about THAT kind of gospel challenge but about another reality that we are called to be aware of and respond to IF we really desire to see the good news of Jesus Christ reach the inner city, take root, and bring about kingdom transformation.
Later this week, each of us will leave the comfort of this conference and head back into our communities, cities, and neighborhoods, and there, waiting on us, will be a troubling reality. Waiting for us in each of our cities is a challenge that is as old as this nation itself and is entrenched in the fabric of this great experiment that we call America. I’m talking about racial strife, the struggle that exists in our past and even today, that makes it very difficult for people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to connect, trust, and grow together. Friends, I wish that I could talk about this racial strife from a strictly historical & sociological perspective and say that this is an issue that exists strictly in society. I wish that I could stand here and describe this as a situation where the Church is poised to step in and correct what is wrong, but the reality is that when it comes to racial strife, American society and the American church share matching scars. These are matching, ugly scars that cannot simply be ignored.
The reality is that when it comes to racial strife, the church, has “dirty hands,” and those dirty hands stand as a challenge to the Gospel.
At best, the church in America has been “impotent” when it comes to being an effective agent for healing racial strife. At its worst, the church in America has been an active accomplice, a tool, used to create and maintain racial strife and artificial racial divides. Even without looking too hard, the very people that we would seek to engage and minister to in urban communities, ESPECIALLY BLACK MEN, can see that the church has not always been a trustworthy institution.
So what exactly am I talking about when I refer to our #GospelChallenge?
When I say that we have a #GospelChallenge, I’m saying that our history, even our present existence as the church, has become a stumbling block, an obstacle to the spread of the gospel among the lost and hurting in urban areas. I contend that we cannot simply ignore the church’s history and expect it to simply go away. Instead, I propose that must we repent of our brokenness and intentionally rededicate ourselves to the work of reconciliation. Doing so is a critical first step towards creating space for the healing of racial strife, and it must be a part of any Christ-centered strategy for seeing the Gospel reach every corner of every urban area in America.
Question: Would you agree that racial strife has been a “stumbling block” for the American Church? I’d love to hear your thoughts and explanations. As always, feel free to disagree!Read More
Last year, I was contacted by a guy named Andy from the Pacific Northwest and asked if I’d be interested in contributing to a book that he was working on. The book he described was focused on the two topics that I write/think most frequently about, faith and fatherhood. After a quick google search, I realized that Andy was not a hacker or a serial killer, that he had an epic beard, and that this was a real book project. Of course I had to be a part of it!
I’m happy to announce that the project is done and that on October 14, 2014, Father Factor: American Christian Men on Faith and Fatherhood is set to be released!!!
The Father Factor project is part of the I SPEAK FOR MYSELF book series, published in partnership with White Cloud Press. The book explores the intersection between faith and fatherhood, which is core to who I am. The book contains forty essays by forty men all under the age of forty. We represent a wide variety of Christian faith perspectives: Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Baptist, Church of God, United Church of Christ—and a whole host of different ethnicities: Korean, Mexican, Pacific Islander, Egyptian, Chinese, African American, and Caucasian. We represent all sorts of professions – ministers, professors, a real estate agent, an actor, nonprofit leaders, stay-at-home dads, and a call center representative. We can be found in cities as far apart as Honolulu, Hawaii and Paris, France, and many all points in between. Each of us shares a compelling story about faith and fatherhood…The finished work is amazing!!!
I’d highly recommend the book for your personal library and for small group discussions. The website is here…Take a look around and take advantage of a great discounted price between now and October 13th!
Thanks to everyone who helped bring this project into being, and I look forward to all of you engaging on some level with the book!
Grace & Peace!!!Read More