Silence Says Something

Silence Says Something

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.  
  3. 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. 
  4. 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! 

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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:

Fear

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.

Distance

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.

Unresolved Guilt

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!

Silence

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Our Prayers for Taylor

Our Prayers for Taylor

Today is a big one in my family. Our daughter, Taylor, turns 3 years old!  Where has the time gone?

It seems like just last week that Shanequa and I walked cautiously to our car, bringing home our firstborn child from the hospital.  We live about 10 minutes from the hospital, but it took us about 20 minutes to get home because I was driving so slow! She still makes fun of me for getting upset at the other drivers who were traveling at the speed limit.  Didn’t they know that we had precious cargo in that car?
Somehow, that was three years ago. I honestly have no idea where the time went.
As we move into year three of this parenting life, Shanequa and I sat down to think about the road ahead for us and for our firstborn.  Somehow, that turned into a short list of prayers.  I thought that I’d share a few of those prayers with you, our friends.
 
  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Honestly, our prayers could be summarized into one simple prayer: Dear God, please help our daughter to love you, to love others, and to live a life that pleases you.  Little else matters.  Little else will last.
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Are you a parent? What are your prayers for your kids?
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Dealing with Discouragement In Ministry

Dealing with Discouragement In Ministry

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:

  1. 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.  
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Grief 2 Joy

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4 Essentials of King-like Service

4 Essentials of King-like Service
King2013

Photo courtesy of BlackEnterprise.com

Today, many around the country and many others around the world will take part in a day of remembrance and service in honor of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.  I’ve said for many, many years that Dr. King tops my list of the greatest Americans.  His life’s work, his strategic leadership on behalf of the oppressed, and his supreme sacrifice place him in a sphere that only few other leaders can even begin to approach. No other public figure has had a greater impact on my life!  Later this morning, I’ll be serving with Samaritan’s Feet International to bless 300 Minneapolis kids.  We’ll wash their feet, give them a new pair of shoes, and pray with them and their families.  I’ve never done this before, and I’m very excited about the opportunity!

As I prepare to serve this morning, I wanted to spend a moment reflecting on a few of the attributes that I aspire to daily as I work to live out the Gospel and carry on the prophetic work of great leaders like King. 

  • Courage – I pray regularly that I would have courage to see what is happening in the world around me and have the fortitude to respond well.  Sometimes, responding well demands an act of compassion, a simple encouragement, speaking up for someone else, or denying myself some bit of comfort.  At other times, responding well means identifying and working to dismantle systems and traditions that feed into cycles of oppression and inequality.  Whatever the case, I want to have the courage to speak up, even when being quiet seems easier.
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