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My eyes were welling up with tears. Tears of joy, tears of hope, tears of vision and what can be. Holding hands, we sang this chorus “I need you, you need me we’re all part of God’s body. I’ll pray for you, you pray for me. I’ll not say words that will harm. I need you to survive”. It was Jesus’ vision that his disciples would come from all nations and be united in a bond of love under his banner (John 17). In a culture of segregation, mistrust, and devaluing of the very skin colors God created, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. boldly and unashamedly proclaimed over dream fifty years ago, that black boys and black girls would hold hands with little white girls and white boys. We would be judged on the content of our character and not the color of our skin. I thought about this as black, white, and Hispanic, we all sang this together at our annual MLK worship/concert this past Sunday night.
I believe no greater challenge faces us in the United States and especially the South as our continued work against the sinful effects of racial injustice and prejudice; many of those effects still poisoning and tainting our economic and democratic processes today. As a white person, I do not like to admit that the economic and political systems are built in my favor. I have a hidden, unspeakable advantage. My advantage and head start logically become another’s disadvantage. We really do not all start at the same place and my race does not have systemic hurdles and roadblocks. What am I to do with this awareness if I know that God is a God of justice? He expects his children and followers to right wrongs, bring things in correct alignment i.e. “justify”. And He especially is sensitive to strangers, “aliens”, widows, and children without fathers and mothers. He takes special note of exploitation of others and rages against it; exploitation of workers, exploitation of women and exploitation of children to name a few.
What can I do? What must I do?
- It is more manageable to first change my own heart. It must be the first step. God knows my heart and is ultimately my justifier when I am misunderstood by the words I say, actions or inactions. I have been called racist, accused of prejudice, and misunderstood. It is also many times part of the white experience no matter where we stand. And although it is extremely painful, God knows my heart and intention. At that point, He is my justifier. The sum of my actions over time by those who best know me will be the evidence against these assumptions and prejudice. Changing me and leading me is always the first step to ultimate change.
- But, do I have the courage to challenge broken systems that still allow these effects to continue? My conservative, quiet spirit screams against wanting to challenge a political system the right way. It is easy to throw some statements on social media. Can I take the same energy and write a letter to my legislators who steward the democratic process and the laws? Can I invite others into the same process? Am I afraid of being called “liberal” because I believe in social justice? Why has a demand and work towards justice been linked with being liberal in a political system? And, who cares? Why does it matter? In the same vein, “conservative” wreaks of status quo, an unwillingness to change or make better. That is not quite right either. As I wrestle with negative manmade titles, I somehow take my off of the larger issue…Gods justice, fairness, that ALL people have equal access to opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Maybe my fight for someone else’s access to economic and political freedom and justice come at the expense of some negative titles, being misjudged and being misunderstood. But a liberal government system by definition means it is participatory and I get to influence it. Our elected officials work for the people. I feel I am somehow accountable to what laws are being passed or repealed in this system and whether or not they are fair for the common good while not infringing on personal liberties.
- Again, I find myself rambling and wrestling. The Lordship of Jesus means all things are under it and filters it. I cannot separate “politics” and its structure away from my faith because Jesus is Lord. I cannot turn a blind eye to the experiences of my friends of a different color, from a different country, and even from a different religion because I believe in the Lordship of Jesus. My Christian, black friends worship the same Jesus I do and when they hurt, I hurt. When they are discriminated against, I am discriminated against. I cannot say that I have the love of Jesus in my heart if I am not actively helping my brother and sister. Because of my “whiteness” I most likely have more influence and power in the political system to challenge injustice, bad systems, and unethical laws. Do I have the courage to follow through…or will this just become another form of biblical rhetoric with no power?
On a high note, we had two amazing days of service with approximately 175 people coming to serve in Lee/Macon Counties. We served 10 families with home repair, landscaped a cemetery, organized a food bank, and ministered with 14 kids…we had behind the scenes people helping with set up and support. The MLK worship equally had about 175 people from all several churches. Serving and worshiping together- ultimately these acts of being a neighbor is how we live out faithfulness and lives towards justice, righteousness, and mercy.
Musings for the day…
Grace and peace,
1 Corinthians 4: 8-13 “For we are fools for Christ”.
It was time to take down the Christmas decorations. By now my neighbors were probably beginning to wonder if I would just leave them up and fit into some peculiar stereotype of southern culture. Really, I just had not had time. Today was the day. It was still pretty cold from that polar vortex blast that had come in and I was bundled up. Now that my deck has a protective finish on it, I have noticed how nicely the leaves and pine straw sweeps off making cleanup noticeably easier. Ever notice how there can be a downside to what at first seems like a positive trait?
I had already made a few trips up and down the ladder. With it on my deck, it significantly shortens the distance to my rooftop making it an 8-9’ distance from roof edge to the deck floor. Gives you a false sense of security I guess. I had made the last trip. All the pine straw had been swept away, the lights and hangers were removed, and I even took the time to check one of my vent pipes and add some protective flashing around it. I was done. One of my climbs up, as I was making the last step onto the roof, my ladder kind of made a funny shift, and I took note to be extra careful…whatever that means. But, it was good and I was coming down for the final time. I carefully stepped onto the rung and I am fairly sure both feet were on…it does get a little fuzzy from here. What I do know is that my ladder began to slide out from under me and in what seemed like a short second, we all came crashing down. In one moment, I was descending, in another sliding with the grating and clanging of aluminum screeching out, and then somehow, I was magically lying on my deck. I landed on my right side. My appreciation and fascination with cats intensely magnified because landing on my feet was not in the cards that day. My head racked with pain. There were three points of injury. Behind my left knee and upper calf where I must have gotten tangled in with the ladder and a world record bruise was forming. My right elbow, although not bleeding or broken was too tender to touch. But I was trying to figure out where and how I hit my head. After pressing around my neck, head, and jaw for tender spots, I discovered that the extreme tip of my right jaw bone close to my ear, must have been the main point of contact. Behind my right ear throbbed and my neck ached. You get the picture. I pulled myself up, checked for bleeding, anything broken, and rejoiced at how lucky I was. Thank you, Lord!!!! As I gingerly turned my head, I winced out loud, “that’s gonna hurt for a while”.
We all fall, right? The work we find ourselves in can sometimes be dangerous and risky. Simple routines lessen our thoughts about safety. We get comfortable until something shakes us out of that comfort zone and many times…it hurts. A relationship turns sour, a routine gets changed, a new system emerges-these can create moments of discomfort and pain. But I have also discovered that once we have healed and moved beyond the pain, a lesson, some imprint remains. In many cases, it was the pain juxtaposed to the good that intensifies the good. Pain and crisis are typically the teaching moments in our journey. They leave lasting impressions magnifying what is good or being the very catalyst for fruitfulness and success.
Last week, the ARM team after months of praying and discerning, finalized our summer theme for our youth mission camps. “Fools for Christ”. And after falling off a ladder, even after checking it out and being particularly careful, this resonates more. Paul pens these words in his letter to the Corinthians. When read in context, it is not glamorous, romantic, or even really anything to aspire to as a believer. Yet, there is something about living with a passion to do whatever it takes to help people find and grow in faith in Christ. Paul says that being a follower of Jesus is not about being strong, smart, successful, comfortable, an achiever or anything else that we blindly pursue in our culture. For the early apostles, it was radically opposite. After writing we are “fools for Christ” he describes the apostles going hungry, being beaten, working in old, dirty clothes, being brutally treated, being homeless; working hard with their hands. When cursed, they bless; when persecuted, they endure; when slandered, answering kindly. They have become scum and garbage of the earth. Being willing to fall is painful, messy, and takes time to recover.
We are going to fall, be knocked out of our comfort zones, be shaken at our core. My question is for what reasons. Do I love Jesus enough, do I want others to know Jesus enough, to pen a list like Paul? Will I look back in my history and journey and have dedicated my life to Jesus’ kingdom work to have that in my biography? In the West, our list may not look like that. It does for the Chinese Underground Church, for the Latin American Church, and anywhere else the Gospel is suppressed. How can I “be a fool for Christ” in comfortable suburbia? And oh by the way, most people in the West don’t know the Gospel story anymore. We are super nice, gentle, and relatively hospitable people. But people are on a road that is leading to complete and utter darkness, pain, and isolation- a life without Christ now and eternally.
I apologize for the randomness. I fell off a ladder and trying to think about being a fool for Christ. My ladder experience has little to do with my life as a follower. I climbed it to take down Christmas decorations and do a little maintenance. Just the simple risks in everyday life. I could have easily had similar results standing on a chair to change a light bulb. But, somehow the pain that has lingered for several days now has made me think about having pain for a purpose not just accidental. Pain because I have engaged with people different from me, who are searching for Christ and need someone to show them the way. Pain because I sit with someone in their own pain and bear their burden with them. Pain because I take off from work in my routine setting to go serve; to live in a different culture that is not affluent like mine, to get dirty, to get sore, and to see life a different way and maybe to cry with a person because I get to go back home to comfort while that person remains. Being a fool for Christ means there is meaning, purpose, and intentionality in my pain and discomfort for the sake of sharing and revealing the love of God through Christ in others. Now, don’t go fall off any ladders and hurt yourself, but what might it look like for you to be called “a fool for Christ”? I would love to hear!
Grace and peace,
That night was the turning point. A marker event. One Sunday night after a worship service my sophomore year at Auburn I hurried to my dorm room to call Mom. My mind raced, reeled, contemplated as I made my way to my room. What would she say? Would she support me? Would she understand?
I dialed the number and after a few brief check- in formalities, I told her. “I know what I am supposed to do now. I am supposed to serve. I am not sure what that looks like right now. I just know I have to be dedicated to serving others.” Up until then, I was in a research field with a desire to study wolves or panthers; not much interaction with people. I felt there was more and God was calling to me something more purposeful and focused on people. To my mom, it sounded like I wanted to be a missionary…but that sounded a little weird even to me. At this point, my mom was not following Jesus. All I could say to her was that I was called to serve and the worship moment that night was a turning point for me. After assuring her that I was not dropping out of Auburn and going to Africa, I remember feeling overwhelmed by a blend of excitement, uncertainty, and peace. The motivation to serve others has been my core purpose ever since that night. It is the driving force behind all I do.
We just entered a New Year and the buzz is about resolutions. I love setting goals. I thrive on solving complex problems. I set a goal to set goals. No, I do not think I need therapy…or maybe I do. Anyway, it may be a little crazy or OCD but it’s me. Resolutions help me recalibrate goals already set. But here is my issue with the traditional New Year’s resolutions:
- They have become part of a tradition. Part of that tradition is to shed the resolutions by Valentine’s Day and give up. If anything, we bump along half -heatedly until the next New Year’s where we repeat the mindless cycle of resolving to lose weight, get in shape, be nicer etc.
- Resolutions are typically self-centered and egocentric. And that is not really a big deal per se. I believe highly in self -improvement and growth. I find myself doing the same things “I am going to work out more, lose weight, and stick to my budget”. But, it feels empty when they are focused only on me.
- They reveal some type of weakness that we are trying to correct. From the get go, we are starting in a place of disadvantage…possibly because we will try to improve something about ourselves using a method that is outside of our strength zone. For example, if I am trying to lose weight and my strengths are in the areas of relationships, I set myself up for disappointment and most likely failure if I don’t work with another person or find a means of accountability. Most likely, I need some type of relational approach. The opposite is true…if I am self- motivated then it might be harder to work out with others, especially if they start being inconsistent. (Although you might serve to encourage them to stay the course). But, simply charging head-forward without a plan that uses our innate strengths can lead to discouragement and disappointment.
So, what if we do something different? What if we use a different methodology that helps us achieve some of these resolutions and long range goals? What if we adopted a resolution that focused on others, building relationships, or improving something? And if you are an achiever and not driven by relationships, it could be engaging a project that benefits someone else.
- Most everyone is part of a family or part of some network of friends. Think of ways you and your group can serve together. Take on a service project once per month, maybe one Saturday. You could visit a nursing home, help at a food pantry, or find a local home repair project.
- On an individual level, you can commit to something once per month you are passionate about that also serves others.
- In serving, you may still be able to incorporate some of your other resolutions, especially if your goal is to lose weight or be more active.
- Finally, develop a compelling “why” to your resolution. For instance, I like to stay in-shape and have a healthy lifestyle not solely for my personal benefit but because I remind myself how it helps equip me to help someone else. Keeping a budget helps me curve my personal spending so I can be generous for someone else. Make sense? When we resolve to serve, or set goals in relationship to others, we might find ourselves more successful and with a purpose beyond our own self-gratification.
Resolve to serve! Watch other resolutions fall into a place of purpose. Develop a simple, concise plan and follow it. Evaluate your progress each month. Celebrate your small wins and if you get off track, use your evaluation to get back on course. I know it sounds too easy but when we serve, our motivation most likely will grow through action compelling us to stick with our plan. Let’s give our resolutions some greater meaning and see how that changes our inside and our heart a different way.
Let me know how it is going!
Grace and peace,
Twilight had already fallen and I was driving down College Street, a four lane street, to take care of an errand. Saturday night traffic in Auburn was mild due to the out of town game. At a traffic stop I needed to check for receipt of a possible email. It had indeed come and had some needed details. I drove a few more blocks and knowing I needed to review this email more thoroughly, I made a quick decision to pull into a fairly empty parking lot on my right. I believe it was the Urgent Care next to Jim and Nick’s BBQ. As I pulled in, I looped around in order to park. A silver SUV was also in the parking lot and also wheeling around. I was reading through the received email, my light on in my car. Out of the corner of my eye, I realized the silver SUV had parked a space down from me. Sensing someone was looking at me, I peered up. There was a lady staring at me with a flat expression on her face. Rolling down my window, I politely asked, “Can I help you?”
With anger and fear in her voice, she began yelling at me and asking me why I was following her. She said she had been driving and it was obvious I was following her and why did I feel the need to harass her. “I cannot understand what is wrong with you people and why you are acting senseless and racist” Stunned, I desperately tried to apologize and let her know I was not following her. She cut me off saying how out of control we are and that I was part of the Ku Klux Klan. I was shaking my head no and trying to explain that I really was not following her. I felt terrible. The last thing she said to me was that “I needed Jesus to save me” In polite frustration, I replied, “Ma’m, I am a minister” and “I am really sorry”. At that, still shaking her head in disgust, she drove away.
My mind was swimming, flooded with emotion. Now, before you jump to conclusions and start speaking out against this African American woman let me reveal to you how I felt.
It saddened me this is where we are. Her actions confirmed the fear and anxiety that so many, especially our minorities feel right now. Many that are dear friends and are sharing stories from the other side of how they are being mistreated and accused. I did not blame her nor fault her for her actions. Hurt? Absolutely—probably one of the worst things someone could say to me is that I am racist or would intentionally hurt someone. Fear and intimidation was real for her and in my heart I wanted to validate her fear. But it does not minimize my own fear and pain I experienced.
What do we do with this? How can a white person of faith work this through? Here are a few starting points-and books are written about this so I am just scratching the tip of the tip of the surface.
1) Take the blinders off- we don’t have slavery and Jim Crow but the effects of systems of racism and discrimination very much exist. They are so subtle, we may not see them but they are there. And events such as Ferguson and all the way through this election cycle have busted it wide open.
What do I mean?
- Have you ever been followed through a store or establishment by the management because you were being watched in case you might steal something-just because of your color?
- Ever worry about driving to your home and if you will be followed by police because you don’t look like you should be there?
- Ever noticed how some of our schools are still segregated because of our tax structures?
- Ever asked why housing projects are located where they are? Do there seem to be any nice, white neighborhoods located nearby?
- Ever noticed what color Band Aids were for years?
- What color is “Flesh” in the crayon box?
- Asked why, there is still gross inadequacies of wage structures for minorities (and women for that matter)
* Only the military and sports systems have been able to balance the access to promotion and opportunity.
Some of these seem petty…but it reveals we have normed our culture on being white. And the systems of norming have done so at the expense of groups of people’s access to opportunity. Because we are in it, we cannot see it. By not recognizing them and helping dismantle these systems, we are actually perpetuating them.
To my black friends, I do not assume this is how every black person feels or is responding. But I do want to validate your experience, your feelings, and the frustrations you may be feeling. Especially during this campaign system, bigotry and racism seemed to be a justifiable platform. I am sorry if we have been too silent when we should have been standing with you to say “enough”. Many of us were absolutely appalled and disgusted. Not every white person voted for Trump. And, not every person that voted for Trump is a biggot. But, we still need to stand up and say enough when the rhetoric is obvious.
To my white friends, I ask you to join with me to validate that person’s fear. What she said was false and inappropriate. She did not allow me to explain the situation and made it look like I was just making up a story. She was not able to hear me either. But I also am seeing story’s of my black friends being called ugly, racist names and being treated rudely by white people. So, it is real.
And just remember, as you wonder why people are rioting and burning…that we did it first. Yes, when the blacks received their civil rights and the right to vote and “separate but equal” policies were outlawed, we, the whites took to the streets and bombed and burned black businesses. We burned homes and bombed churches. We were the initiators of these intimidation factors. I am not saying I agree with the this display of frustration, just that I understand it.
And as the church…the evangelical, white church has remained predominantly silent in the most ungodly of ways. Focusing only on morality and our individual positions with God, we have neglected the weightier matters that Jesus discussed; mercy, justice, and righteousness. We have expected individuals to rise above these broken systems on their own; to achieve their way out of debilitating policies; and to just suck it up. Somehow we forgot that white people, many of which who went to church every Sunday, created these very systems. So, it is time to take a hard look at what the Gospel…good news…says…and do it.
Yes, lets end the violence. I don’t want another black person to fear she or he is being followed and intimidated by a white person. I don’t want my black friends called ugly and hateful names. I don’t want to be accused of being racist because I am white. And I desire that the body of Christ lead the charge on prayerfully and boldly dismantling the systems of injustice, racial practices, and anything that exists to undermine the potential growth of any person. I really do believe in our aim for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all people who call themselves citizens of this country (and beyond).
So, let’s listen. Listen hard, listen actively, and be quiet when our friends who have dealt with centuries of discrimination share their stories. Let’s be extremely careful to not make false assumptions. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt when we do not have all of the facts. On an individual level, let’s smile first, wave first, and be polite first. And then lets speak and stand up for our friends in the right places. We don’t fight against flesh and blood but against principalities and authorities that perpetuate darkness. The systems were created in political and governmental structures. There were created in business practices. And we have to ask the hard questions and undo these systems. We will never be completely whole until all can achieve wholeness together. In God’s mercy!
Two books that I have read that have influenced me and given me insight are listed below. I highly recommend you read them.
Lifting the White Veil: An Exploration of White American Culture in a Multiracial Context Jan 2003by Jeff Hitchcock
Grace and peace,
Day 5 and 6-the last days
Fire crackles in the pit and a soft chill lingers as the sun begins to push away the last pieces of the dawn. It is a new day and to say that I am excited is an understatement. More like overwhelmed, broken, humbled, and honored. First, the outpouring of financial gifts is unprecedented for us. We are in position to exceed our goal of $77,000.
I think of Ms. Gore living in the Valley of Alabama who is anxious about her finances. Recently her debit card was compromised and her account emptied. Surviving on Social Security, she only receives a monthly allotment and it is gone. For whatever reason, the bank would not replace it even after filing a police report. Many times people like Ms. Gore are one flat tire from near financial collapse. Hers is greater than this. After helping someone “jump” their car battery off, it fried her car’s electrical system and she cannot exceed over 20mph making travel difficult. Living far out in the country, it takes a significant amount of time to get to the grocery store. The estimate on the car…$1000.00. So, when the body of Christ and loving people can come around her and repair her leaking roof, it gives her hope and one less thing to worry about. Where the roof had leaked, the ceiling had collapsed leaving a gaping hole in the ceiling where her granddaughter slept. Imagine having to look up into a hole in your attic each night as you slept…I would be unnerved. As the colder air comes through, it would gush through the hole into her room. There was extreme joy for this little girl when then hole was patched and her ceiling fully intact. When we see something broken fixed, it does something inside of us.
And that is why we will live in shacks, set crazy goals, and be uncomfortable. It is why we have to keep telling this story! There are thousands of Ms. Gore’s and her grandchildren across our state. And there are thousands of you willing to give up your time and money to help. That is special.
Thank you! Thank you for the meals, coffee, cookies, smores, did I say coffee :)), and all you have done for the Kingdom! Thank you for bringing your kids to paint, your groups to pray and learn, and for your warm emails and encouragement. It means so much to me and the ARM team. We love you all.
I am looking forward to sitting with my good friend, Chris Kelsey from Auburn UMC this morning and Rev. Jeremy Pridgeon from FUMC Montgomery coming at lunch. We love you all and reminded we are “Made for More” and Jesus calls us into deep, sacrificial relationships with all people!
Come see me at the shack!!!!