#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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#FatherFactor

#FatherFactor

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!!!

father_factor_cover

 

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!!!

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The Good Life (Fakin)

“We started from the bottom. Now, we here!”

So goes the tag line of a very popular song from Toronto-born rapper, Drake.  The song is not one of his most creative projects, but has become wildly popular in no time, especially among many of the urban youth that I serve. Like a lot of other rappers, Drake will profit handsomely because he was able to create an anthem for an army of young people who are unhappy with their current station in life (the bottom) and want to do something about it! Drake and his partners in the hip hop industry have successfully been able to tap into this yearning that many young people have for “the Good Life.”  They’ve been able to dangle a carrot before these kids and lead them in circles chasing an ever-evaporating sense of fulfillment.  Shoes. Jeans. Headphones. Tattoos. Gangs. Hustling. They’re all desirable because, at some point, someone has said to these kids, “___ is the key to the “Good Life. Get ___ and get the good life!”
Think back to Kanye’s hit, “The Good Life.”  The lyrics are not PC, so be warned:

 

Welcome to the Good Life
Where niggas that sell D
Won’t even get pulled over in they new V.
The good life, let’s go on a livin’ spree,
Shit, they say the best things in life are free.
The good life, it feel like Atlanta
It feel like L.A., it feel like Miami
It feel like N.Y., Summertime CHI, ahh
Now throw your hand up in the sky…
 
In Kanye’s estimation, the good life is about dealing drugs without fear of being caught, lavish living, and a general party atmosphere. Throughout the rest of the song, he paints this elaborate picture of the good life as jet setting, having sex on planes, stacking piles of money, all sorts of other irresponsible behaviors. To call it ridiculous is being nice!
My immediate concern, though, is the effect that these messages have on impressionable youth like the ones in cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston. Far too many of these kids find themselves at “the bottom” based on family of origin, broken school systems, and multigenerational poverty. By the age of 12, many of these kids have seen more pain, dysfunction, abuse, and struggle than any one person should have to endure.  They look at their environment and often see no immediate cause for hope.  So, they REACH…looking for hope wherever it can be found!  Unfortunately, it is often found wrapped up in the thumping beat of a song and a music video.  With kids cramming as much as 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media into their day according to recent studies, the messaging of the good life and the “bottom to the top” narrative grows deep, deep roots. I could give examples of 10-15 students, male & female, who have gambled and lost big time in their pursuit of “the good life.”
 
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Deja Vu: Little Black Boys & Guns

Deja Vu: Little Black Boys & Guns

Deja Vu – the impression that one has already witnessed or experienced a current situation, even though the exact circumstances of the prior encounter are unclear and/or were perhaps imagined.

Safe places seem to be increasingly rare.  When a little boy eating spaghetti is programmed to run towards a closet to escape gunfire and dies from a bullet to the head, there’s a problem.  In his house. At the table eating spaghetti. Bullets don’t belong in that story.  When a little boy sleeping on his grandmother’s couch dies from shots intentionally fired at the house, there’s a problem.  Grandma’s house.  On the couch. Asleep.  Bullets have no place in a situation like that.  Regardless of the ethnicity, class, education, or addresses of those boys, their deaths are despicable tragedies that go against all that is natural and good.

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