Sin & Broken Hearts

Sin & Broken Hearts
A few years ago, I recall counseling a young couple through a very difficult situation that left one of them deeply heartbroken and the other, in many ways, crippled by their own actions. Journeying with them caused me think differently about the effects of sin. In churches, especially American evangelical churches, our general understanding of sin is individual and personal – one person’s actions that impact their relationship with God. More and more, I’m realizing that sin is also a communal thing. When one sins, it affects everyone in significant ways. Although significant, the effects are not always immediately visible. Because of that, we maintain that sin is between God and the individual. That is an insufficient understanding of sin. Sin kills. Sin destroys community and relationship. Sin leaves behind a trail of broken hearts. Sin gets in the way of God’s will being lived out in us and through us.
 
God. others. self. community. Can you see how many are affected by the sins of even one?
 There is good news, though. Just as so many and so much can be affected by the sins of just one, there is redemption available to many that is attributable to one. It was the Apostle Paul who wrote that God’s grace and the gift came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, and overflows to many. (Romans 5:15)
 
So what am I saying? I’m suggesting, at once, at least two things:
  1. 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.
  2. We need not feel hopeless about sin, because redemption is available in Jesus Christ.
May God bring both of these truths to our remembrance daily and use them to shape us into his likeness!
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Got Change?

Got Change?
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(Photo Credit: “Babies of the Revolution” by Patience Zalanga. Accessed by Facebook on Nov. 17, 2015.)

 

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.”

Those last few words are not my own. They belong to someone who lived and served faithfully at a time when nearly every indicator suggested that hate, not love, was the name of the game. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lived and served at a time when both de jure and de facto law served to keep Black and poor people oppressed and separated from the rest of society. It would have been easy to fall into hopelessness, despair, or lawlessness, yet, Dr. King and others chose a different path and changed the course of world history.
 
In light of recent events in America and as we search for meaningful ways to affect change in my own city, I think we would be wise to look back to the philosophies and actions of the movement that Dr. King led. These campaigns impacted nearly every facet of American society and that effect reverberated around the globe. What they did matters. How and why they did it mattered just as much.  Below are some of the core philosophies of Dr. King’s nonviolent movement that we should not ignore in contemporary social movements:
 

 
SIX STEPS OF NONVIOLENT SOCIAL CHANGE
 
The Six Steps for Nonviolent Social Change are based on Dr. King’s nonviolent campaigns and teachings that emphasize love in action. Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence, as reviewed in the Six Principles of Nonviolence, guide these steps for social and interpersonal change.
  1. 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.
  2. EDUCATION: It is essential to inform others, including your opposition, about your issue. This minimizes misunderstandings and gains you support and sympathy.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.’
(Based on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in Why We Can’t Wait, Penguin Books, 1963.)
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10 Thoughts on #RachelDolezal

10 Thoughts on #RachelDolezal
I’m a learner at heart. I love searching for understanding and clarity, regardless of what the subject or circumstance is. I’m also a teacher. I try my best to take whatever I’ve learned and pass that on to others for our mutual benefit. Each One, Teach One. That being so, I offer these thoughts to the public conversation related to Rachel Dolezal. Honestly, my thoughts have less to do with Ms. Dolezal and more to do with the broader spheres of race, ethnicity, and culture. Check them out and let me know what you think!
  1. This is a strange, complex story. (no explanation needed)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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!

Blackness

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Pax Romana & Our Violent Peace

Pax Romana & Our Violent Peace
On Sunday, I had a chance to hear a powerful message by my pastor, Dr. Dennis R. Edwards. In our 3rd Advent message, on the topic of PEACE, Pastor Dennis made a reference to the way in which the Roman Empire boasted about its peace (Pax Romana). In his reference, he challenged this false idea of peace, in large part because it was maintained by violently squelching any one who disturbed or dared to challenge it. This was especially true for the folks stuck at the bottom of society.  Crucifixion was one of many torturous methods of control utilized by the Roman Empire, and this was the end that Jesus met.

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.

 
appian
 
Fast forward to today.  One could argue, as many have, that America is an empire in the truest sense of the term. Depending on your station in life, that may or may not be a bad thing. Political viewpoints aside, I pose this question: How should a follower of Jesus view an empire?
 
As you’re deciding, take a look at the photo below. It visualizes a weird juxtaposition from #Ferguson.
 
Fegurson - Pax Romana
 
 The brightly lit sign reads, “Season’s Greetings,” and it is especially well contrasted against the jet black skies and black riot gear of the Ferguson Police. Oh, the irony! Deeper than just the image, can anyone see the correlation between the violent peace of Pax Romana and the vicious nature of the American system of law & order?
  •  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?
 Think about it…
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#GospelChallenge, Part 1

#GospelChallenge, Part 1

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)

Good Afternoon,

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!

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