Monday, December 22, 2008

Theirs is the Kingdom

I read Bob Lupton's 'Theirs is the Kingdom' about a year and a half ago. At the time I wasn't a huge fan and advocate of the book. I can't remember my reasoning exactly, but it probably had something to do with the fact that it was difficult for me to 'connect'. I had a hard time being able to place myself in his stories because I didn't have similar experiences of my own. I even remember telling a friend that I just felt like something was missing.. even though at the time I had no idea what.

I pulled out the book recently and started reading some of the stories again. The stories have come alive this second time around. The chapter titled 'On the Corner' really came alive to me as I now can 'connect' on a deeper level. He paints this picture of men ranging in age from fourteen to forty hanging out on the corner to tell stories, to boast, to taunt, to gamble, and to establish or maintain their place in the pecking order of the street.

After painting this picture he goes on to comment on the absence of the talk of marriage and kids, of family plans and dreams for the future, and that he'll get the urge to step in and shout:

"..But this isn't real! Don't you have the same emotions, the same desires for deep permanent relationships, the same hopes and dreams for a family as the rest of us?"

I've been in similar situations and had the same kind of thoughts in my head rolling around in my head that I wanted to shout out for all to hear. However, what he said next summarizes my same thoughts that quickly set in:

"But you remain silent, because you realize you have not seen life through their eyes. You don't know how it feels to be chronically jobless with no legal capacity to support a wife or family. You don't understand how strong young men get trapped in a permanent pool of unneeded labor at the bottom of our economic system. And you wonder: how does it feel to be both disdained by society and impotent to achieve within your culture even the most basic position of respect - the head of the household?"

In the book I have an 'I' written above every 'you'. So it would read "But I remain silent, because I realize I have not seen life through their eyes..." and so on.

Powerful stuff.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

God with us.

"If there is one word to be distilled from the Christmas story, it is Immanuel. God with us. God enters into the midst of the human drama with all its tenderness and terror, its exhilaration and devastation, and participates with us in the full, unedited range of human experience. He enters quietly, to unsuspecting individuals, without public fanfare. He reveals Himself in both blissful elation and in troubling perplexity. His appearance takes people off guard, is often baffling, but always life-changing. Immanuel. Indeed, He is with us still." -Bob Lupton, FCS Ministries
"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chaos & Peace

Last night I was reminded again of the thin line between chaos and peace.

Through a similar situation in the past, and through conversations with a good friend, I was given some much needed clarity on how and why these situations happen.
"True peace is not merely the absence of tension, but the presence of Justice" -MLK Jr.
I like to add to that list.. true peace is not merely the absence of conflict, anger, frustration, stress or any number of related things. Because despite the absence of those things, it only takes one incident, or one conflict to light the fuse and then all of the underlying anger, frustration, stress, pain, etc. gets unleashed. Thus there is no true peace.

Barack Obama described this 'tension' in a much more eloquent way, calling it 'quiet riots':
" 'Quiet riots' happen when a sense of disconnect settles in and hope dissipates. Despair takes hold and young people all across this country look at the way the world is and believe that things are never going to get any better.

You tell yourself, my school will always be second rate. You tell yourself, there will never be a good job waiting for me to excel at. You tell yourself, I will never be able to afford a place that I can be proud of and call my home.

That despair quietly simmers and makes it impossible to build strong communities and neighborhoods. And then one afternoon a jury says, 'not guilty' -- or a hurricane hits New Orleans -- and that despair is revealed for the world to see." -Barack Obama
In the neighborhoods and communities that we work in, these quiet riots go about day after day. Most go unnoticed due to their underlying nature, but it only takes one incident to serve as a reminder that we still have much work to do.

I'm thankful for God's faithfulness and how He gives us glimpses to let us know that what we do matters. I'm also thankful for reminders like tonight that while what we do matters, we still have a lot of work to do to bring forth biblical justice.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


Justice is an ownership issue..
"Destruction is certain for you who buy up property so others have no place to live. Your homes are built on great estates so you can be alone in the land." Isaiah 5:8, NLT

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Who owns the pond?

"Give a person a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a person to fish and he eats for a lifetime. That's a lie! The real issue: Who owns the pond?" -Dr. John Perkins

Give a person a fish equals charity. Teach a person to fish emphasizes job skills. But if the person doesn't own or have access to the pond he can be denied the right to fish in the pond.  Gaining access to the pond requires a whole different kind of work that the Church doesn't get too involved with.  It requires dealing with the power structures and systems of our day.  Good works that our Lord requires of us (see Micah 6:8 and the story of Esther).

"Justice is an economic issue. Justice is a management issue. Justice is an ownership issue. Justice has to do with equal access to the resources of God's creation." -Dr. John Perkins

History has taught us that without justice/ownership freedom is lost. Segregation and sharecropping replaced slavery - a system that is a few notches above slavery. They were freed from slavery but there was no just system that followed. No justice and no ownership. "40 acres and a mule" was just a pipe dream.

The question of 'who owns the pond?' is one that can be applied to any number of situations. It speaks to who and what operates the systems that are in place? In my opinion, it's a good starting point in discovering where injustice occurs on a systemic level because it'll uncover where power and privilege lie. What you'll most likely find, is that the answer or solution can be something deep and embedded and just plain nasty.

It'll mess with your head a bit and seem overwhelming when you start to connect the dots. Brokenness, sin, or injustice isn't something that is contained and isolated, instead it overflows and effects all.

Lucky for us, Jesus' message was centered on the good news of the kingdom. The good news of the kingdom doesn't just give hope for the future. It also gives hope that a better present is possible. And what's interesting.. is that we don't have to look far in order to find the kingdom..
"The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17:20-21
The kingdom of God is within us. I'm not a theologian, nor did I go to seminary (not yet) but that passage has always been hard for me to comprehend. One of those verses that I liked to skip over because it wasn't easy to grasp. However, I think Jesus provides much needed clarity in some later teachings:
"But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you." John 16:7
This is another one that is puzzling because on the surface it doesn't seem to make sense that it would be any better for Jesus to go than to stay. However, He is sending the Counselor (or Holy Spirit) in his place. It's a promise that God will be with us. And in Acts 1 before the ascension he reminds the disciples of this promise. In Acts 2 this promise is fulfilled and the church begins...

And it's through this institution of the church, that God has chosen for his message of the kingdom to be carried out. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). If our motives are of human origin they will fail (Acts 5:38). But if it is from God you will not be able to stop it (Acts 5:39).

So.. who owns the pond?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Urban Farming, etc.

urban farming. innovative, resourceful, intelligent, renewable, organic, strategic..

I like it..

I love to read about movements like this. Movements towards creating a 'greener' economy..

It's also interesting to hear arguments and read about studies conducted on the effects of healthy agriculture in neighborhoods and its correlation to crime. Basically saying that healthy trees, flowers, and green grass are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they could help to build self-esteem, community strength, and prevent crime. (similar to Guiliani's theory about broken glass, trash, and graffiti in New York City.)

After all, we as humans, created in the image of God, were given a divine task to be good stewards of the environment. We are to manage the earth and its resources according to the rule of the One who owns it.
"The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Genesis 2:15
I hope movements towards urban farming, landscape design, and other methods of creative, strategic and sustainable horticulture practices catch on.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Black List

The Black List: Volume One is a documentary in which Journalist Elvis Mitchell interviews twenty-two African American leaders, ranging from athletes and academics to politicians, social activists, and artists to help to paint a picture of what it means to be black in America. It's insightful and interesting to hear each of their stories. It's worth your time..

Chris Rock had some interesting (and humorous) thoughts on equality:

He said that as revolutionary as Jackie Robinson was to baseball in 1947, he didn't necessarily bring equality with him. It was only in the 1970's that you began to see equality in baseball because that's when you saw some bad black baseball players. (To which my Dad agreed that yes, that's when there was the first emergence of bad black baseball players).

He goes on to say that when minorities are allowed to suck and are welcomed back, that's when there is true equality.

“True equality is the equality to be as bad as the white man, …That’s really Martin Luther’s King’s dream coming true.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Building the Kingdom

"The people of the Kingdom have a unique mandate to care for the needs of the vulnerable and the voiceless. Our scriptures are quite clear about this. It has been from antiquity both our birthright and our responsibility. We cannot rightly take joy in the rebirth of the city if no provision is being made to include the poor as co-participants. It will not be enough to offer food baskets at Christmas to migrating masses of needy people who are being driven by market forces away from the vital services of the city. Nor will our well-intentioned programs and ministries suffice for those being scattered to unwelcoming edge cities. We must be more intelligent than this. More strategic." -Bob Lupton

"..there is a vast untapped reservoir of giftedness ready to channel into the work of the Kingdom – secular sounding gifts like deal-making, lending, insuring, lawyering, marketing, architecture, real estate developing to name but a few. Under the Lordship of Christ, these become spiritual gifts ideally designed for the work of Biblical justice." -Bob Lupton

If we want to get serious about breaking the cycle of poverty, we must be more intelligent, and more strategic.

I've heard great analogies that speak to this very idea. For instance, let's say that a factory is located near a river. The pollution that is created at that factory is dumped into the nearby river. 25 miles downstream the effects are seen and felt. So people begin to clean up the river at that spot. And they continue to do so. Some progress is made, however the pollution doesn't stop, and despite the efforts to clean up and stop the pollution from spreading to other parts of the river, it eventually does. While the cleanup efforts are still ongoing, a new group of people actually go to factory that is creating all of the pollution. And they attack the problem from it's source.

Relief work is so important. Assistance in monthly rent payments or utility bills, providing transportation needs, educational tutoring, food pantries, shelters, and any other type of immediate relief work is extremely important and necessary.

However, community development can be broken into two parts. Community development through relief/aid, and community development through systemic changes.

Because if we want break the cycle of poverty, we'll need to continue to provide those relief services as well as becoming more strategic to battle these systems that continue to oppress and impoverish. We as followers of Jesus need to tap into this vast reservoir of giftedness and become an active part of God's kingdom. From people at the grassroots level all the way to the CEO level.. all have a vital role in building God's kingdom 'on earth as it is in heaven'.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

be a Doer.. not a Hearer..

The front page of Raleigh's News and Observer reads: Food donations fail to meet greater need

For those in Raleigh, I hope that they take the time to read this article and I hope it sinks in. Especially to those like me who don't have to worry about where my next meal will come from. Especially if you are a follower of Jesus and you have what the poor don't. Power, Privilege, Mobility, Excess, etc..

I'm thankful for the food that has been (or will be) donated for families in and around Raleigh but it's heartbreaking to hear about the 80 families on the waiting list for beds at the Salvation Army shelter, especially as I sit in a heated house with a bed ten feet away.

I hope over the holiday season, and especially beyond, we will remember the words of Jesus, and understand their full meaning, when he says:
"The poor will always be with you.." Matthew 26:11
Familiar passage to us, but to a first century disciple this was more then just social commentary by Jesus. Jesus is making a direct reference to a passage in Deuteronomy that would have been so clear and so easily understood by a first century disciple or a first century hearer.
"There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." Deuteronomy 15:11
For those who have power, privilege, mobility, and excess.. especially those that follow Jesus, let's be openhanded toward our brothers and towards the poor and needy in Raleigh, or in your city.

"Therefore, the question is, how can we see suffering in our world and be moved to compassion as Jesus was moved when he saw a great crowd of people without food (Matthew 14:14)? This question has become very urgent at a time when we see so much and are moved so little" -Henri Nouwen

Let us move beyond our emotion and into creative action.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


This is a video from the CCDA Conference.. After seeing it again I have the same initial thought as I had before: I need to take krumping lessons..

Friday, November 14, 2008

Moving Beyond Emotion

"As long as religious people are well dressed, well fed, and well cared for, words about being on solidarity with the poor will remain pious words more likely to evoke good feelings than creative actions." -Henri Nouwen

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Great Example

"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." Mark 1:35

Sleeping in is easy, waking up early and spending time with your Creator is hard.

Being Still

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

Being busy is easy, but being still is hard.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Slowing Down

Being slow to speak and slow to anger is harder than you’d think. I don’t like to associate myself with either political party or with a church denomination because I think they all stand for some great things and some not so great things. I don’t mind discussions or debates, but when people stake claim to something and do so in the name of Jesus, and I don't necessarily agree with them, I get heated. And it’s in those moments that I’m trying to learn to just sit back and listen more instead of being in attack mode.

I just get so passionate about us as Christians being set free from what holds us captive. Politics or denominational affiliations, to name a few, have held Christians captive for years. Instead of recognizing that we are under the same Lordship, we tend to bicker, argue, and debate over details and the meaning of words or phrases.

Instead we should be united in our convictions with a common purpose and mind (Philippians 2:1-2). Jesus didn’t die for church doctrine or for your political party. Jesus didn’t die so we could spend our time arguing over who is more right than the other.

Yes, there is much to be said about guarding ourselves against those wolves in sheep’s clothing and against false teachers. But again, Religion that our God accepts is that we guard ourselves against the pollution from this world, AND that we care for the poor and the marginalized (James 1:27).

Here is an interesting question that the one person (if there is one) who reads this can help to answer. The way I’ve come to grips with some of the hot topics that really create the most division that I’ve seen in the Church (predestination/free will, limited atonement/universal atonement, conditional salvation/once saved always saved) is recognizing that there are valid arguments and evidence to back each particular view (maybe that's wrong in itself.. but anyways). So this question was asked to me:

How can you be in direct ministry with somebody that believes the opposite from what you do? (pertaining to those three things I listed)

And my question back to them was is it really that important to get all of those details correct? Aren't there more important things we should be discussing and uniting against? And that if it truly was one or the other it would explicitly say it in the Bible instead of leaving the door open for these different interpretations.

Then I made the general statement that I know each camp can back up their view with an ample amount of scripture. But uh.. that didn’t go over very well either. And the conversation just went farther and farther south after that. Any thoughts?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Fat Cats

Exxon Mobil set a quarterly profit record for a U.S. company Thursday. A cool $14.83 billion. The Fat Cats get fatter.

In the 2008 tax year, households in the bottom 20 percent will receive $26 due to the Bush tax cuts. Households in the middle 20 percent will receive $784. Households in the top 1 percent will receive $50,495. And households in the top 0.1 percent will receive $266,151. The Fat Cats get fatter.

I mean seriously, "There's no way like the American Way" right?:

But what is great though, is our freedom as the American people to make our own decisions and to not be coerced into voting one way or the other. Like I've said in previous posts, this presidential election will not by any means solve our nation's biggest problems. But it could be a step in the right direction.

Barack Obama and John McCain nor any other human will ever be our true savior. For me however, a step in the right direction means a vote for Barack Obama.. and I'll love you same whether you agree or disagree. But ultimately you can vote however you like:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Need for Change

“The richest 1 percent of the world’s population owns almost 40% of total wealth, and the richest 5% owns 70% of the wealth. Take the assets of the world’s three richest individuals and you have the wealth that exceeds the combined gross domestic product of the world’s 48 poorest countries.”

According to the United Nations Development Program, “In today’s world, deepening impoverishment and increasing enrichment appear to go hand in hand. In 1969 the incomes of the wealthiest 20% of the world population were 30 times higher than those of the poorest 20% of the earth’s people. By 1990 that gap had doubled: the incomes of the wealthiest 20% were 60 times higher than those of the poorest 20%. The difference factor is now 83.”

I don’t think it’s an unfair statement to say that the systems, laws, and practices that are in place reward/favor the few and oppress/exploit the many. I’ll be bold enough to say that there is no way in which you could argue otherwise. That is unless we are still being held captive by this imperialistic, individualistic, and capitalistic theology. Because for those of us that are, or have been, we will tend to shy away from the questions and issues that challenge our status quo.

Somewhere along the way we’ve adopted this notion that following Jesus and being a Christian is affiliated with the “American Dream” or protecting the American way of life, with no regards to the cost or the consequences. That American prosperity is linked to the blessings and favor of God. That capitalism and God go hand in hand.

We’ve created a monster so to speak. Brian McLaren calls it a ‘suicidal system’. Capitalism has become God-like. This newfound theology has been further defined as ‘theocapitalism’. I’m not at all advocating for socialism, that would just be taking things to the extreme opposite and be just as harmful (maybe even more). The problem however, is at the roots.. deeply entrenched underneath all of the weeds and thorns that have sprung up from this broken and skewed system. McLaren articulates this current phenomenon well:

“....the problem isn’t corporations themselves: the problem is the spiritual ideology of theocapitalism that drives many corporations to live for a single bottom line: profit for shareholders, without concern for three other essential bottom lines: the common ecological good, the common social good, and the ultimate good under the gaze of our Creator. Sadly theocapitalism is running the show, driving the prosperity system to pursue progress through rapid growth, serenity through possession and consumption, salvation through competition, and freedom to prosper through unaccountable corporations.”

Without some kind of systemic change, this cycle of oppression and exploitation will continue. The cycle of poverty will continue and the gap between the rich and the poor will continue to widen and deepen.

Our savior is not Barack Obama, nor is it John McCain. I don’t want to over-spiritualize this but we really need to put Jesus back in his rightful place as our savior, and to steal the words of Shane Claiborne, our president.
"It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes." -Psalm 118:8-9
Are we ignoring the whole Gospel and message of Jesus, and instead picking out the parts that sound good and protect our way of life? Are we being influenced by a system that works in our favor? All good questions that warrant thought, discussion, and reflection.

I feel like once Christians catch on and let go of what they’re being held captive by, THAT is when real change will happen and the church can function how it's intended to function. So until then my endorsement for president is Jesus. As far as who is getting my vote this coming tuesday.. I've made up my mind, and it all has to do with CHANGE. Tuesday will be one step in the right direction.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Red Pill

During Friday night's plenary address at the CCDA conference, Dr. Arloa Sutter posed a great question:

How are we with people that don't get it?

She was referring to the people that don't get that the Gospel has an equal element of social action and justice as it does with the personal redemptive aspect. People that don't get that Christ's death and resurrection reconciled us to God and reconciled us to each other. People that don't fully embrace the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5) that we have been entrusted with.

I know for me, I have a hard time articulating with both truth and love, that Christians (some of them close friends) have huge gaps in their faith practice. That their theology has gaping holes. I'm beginning to think that the religion of Christianity that is being practiced by most is not what Jesus intended.

What did Jesus intend then?

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." -James 1:27

In very simple words, care for the poor and care for yourself.

Again there is an equal emphasis on the personal as well as the social aspect of Christianity. They are inexorably linked. How often is it however, that we focus so much on keeping ourselves from being polluted by the world that we enter into a state of isolation from the world? It's obvious we're not to be OF of the world, but it's just as obvious that we are in fact IN the world.

That's why it's so interesting that when you continue to read in James 2, he speaks/warns of this very thing. Immediately after making this connection (again) he commands us to not show favoritism towards the rich while neglecting the poor, and follows that by making a convincing case about the importance of our faith and how it plays out in our deeds. (Read James 2)

He closes by making this simple yet resounding conclusion:
" without deeds is dead." -James 2:26
So this begs another question, If our faith in Jesus doesn't compel us to action (with a special emphasis on the poor) what good is it?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Lasting Picture

When I see glimpses of God’s kingdom I get chills. Seeing the mentors at Neighbor to Neighbor interact with their kids is something to see. Looking across the room at the mentors of all ages and all backgrounds helping each kid with their schoolwork in a way that is loving and nurturing, to me, is a glimpse of the kingdom. There are kinks and sometimes things don’t go accordingly, but if we truly believe in the reconciling power of Jesus and the Gospel then these types of occurrences can happen and should happen.

As followers of Jesus we are to live as if the kingdom of God is and can be a present reality. The words: ‘Thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven..’ should take on a new meaning. No longer is it the pre-game/post-game football game prayer, but it’s a prayer and an invitation for each of us to live with a kingdom focus and to view our world through a kingdom lens.

‘On earth as it is in heaven.’

The presence of God is everywhere; we’re just trained to look past it. We are trained that what we have (Jesus) is what they don’t have. The call to ‘love others with the love of Christ’ gets skewed and becomes a selfish quest to ‘convert and save’. But the invitation Jesus gives us is not a bomb-shelter where the ‘saved’ go and wait, but he invites us to live with a kingdom focus.

‘On earth as it is in heaven.’

What if we took Jesus serious when he talked about being present in the ‘least of these’? What if Jesus is calling us to live radically different then what we've been taught by others? What if Jesus is making a point that the kingdom he’s inviting us into has a level of reciprocity?

Seeing the mentors interact with their kids, I imagine that the teaching and subsequent learning not only occurs from the mentor to the mentee but also from the mentee to the mentor. Both benefit and grow from their relationships with each other, and whether they realize it or not, they need each other. They are not complete without one another. That seems to be the way the kingdom works..

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 5:3

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Body of Christ

I recently accepted an offer to become the Outreach Coordinator for a ministry based out of Southeast Raleigh called Neighbor to Neighbor ( It comes after a long year of God opening doors and giving me opportunities and then for reasons I can't explain, taking them away and closing those doors. The list is exhaustive as far as what I've looked into and pursued. In some cases I've gone just about as far as you can go and all I had to do was say 'yes' but God made it clear that I had to say 'no'. I have a peace about this situation though. It really is an amazing opportunity that I'm going to be stepping into.

I’ve gotten a lot of interesting responses from people when they hear about my new job.

I’ve had some people be genuinely interested in hearing about the ministry and why I’m pursuing that. But I’ve had an overwhelming amount of people give me a puzzled look with a Rob Burgandy-esque “good for you??” followed by "we need people like you." I still haven't figured out a good response for that..

For the last week, I've been reminded and humbled when reflecting on the importance and the functionality of the Body of Christ or the Church.

Read 1 Corinthians chapter 12. It'll get you pumped up about being a part of the Church. It's easy to wrongly place people on a pedestal based upon what they choose to do with their lives (occupation, acts of service, etc.). And it's just as easy to do the opposite. Condemn others and place ourselves upon the pedestal. That's not how it works though.
"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men." 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Different gifts, different kinds of service, and different kinds of working, but the same Spirit, Lord and God.

God equips each person with a different set of gifts and talents that are tailored for His service and His work (Ephesians 2:10). God calls people to pursue full time ministry, corporate business jobs, public office, parenting, you name it. Neither one is a higher or a more noble calling if that is what God is calling you to pursue.

As the Church we are many parts but one body (verse 20). It's humbling to be reminded of that.

It's also encouraging for me to know that God calls people to enter into the God-less parts of society and is able to use them to change laws and practices that systematically oppress people and for them to battle structural sin from the top.

Take the story of Esther for example.. the only thing I ever knew about that book growing up was that God was not mentioned in that particular book. But instead of it just being cool trivia, what if it's a testament to having to go into those God-less parts of society to take on structural sin? Esther wins a beauty pagent, gets in with the king, finds out about this plot to kill the jews, and is able to persuade the king against doing that. She is able to use her royal position and influence the king who has the final say.

How much different would our lives be if we viewed it as if we were in each moment for a purpose, that God placed us in each situation for us to act, and that wherever we are, He's prepared us 'for such a time as this'.

The Body of Christ, just like the Christian faith, is designed to be holistic, integral, and balanced. We just need to be patient, listen, and be obedient as we ask, seek, and knock..

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Oldies but Goodies

I recently stumbled upon my old journal that kept from the summer of 2007. I spent it working with an urban ministry in East Garfield Park on the west side of Chicago. To say the least, my experience there continues to impact every facet of my life. My worldview has been drastically altered by my experiences there..

A big theme of my writings revolved around the decisions I make. Looking back on my journal a year removed, I realize that I am still struggling to answer the same questions I was asking myself a year ago.

I was taken aback by how segregated the city of Chicago was. You could literally cross certain streets and it would change from being predominantly african-american to predominantly latino or predominantly white. And the select neighborhoods that had more of a diverse mix didn't mean that it was a peaceful harmonious situation. It meant that gentrification had begun and it was only a matter of time before the poor were displaced. So you could imagine the angst this creates..

So the obvious question I then asked myself was 'why do I choose to live where I do?' It's a question I've never given much thought to, or explored in depth. However I can see how subconsciously I rule out certain areas and places.

I was challenged to look at scripture through a different lens and what resulted was life-changing. Mostly simple stuff, but profound nonetheless..

Something that became fascinating to me was studying Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, in agony and distress, prays that we will be brought to complete unity and that we will be 'one'.
"I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:22-23
The Gospel reconciles us to each other and that doesn't just include crossing denominational or theological lines. It requires us to cross racial, socioeconomic, and gender lines as well (see John 4). At no point would I have argued against that, but it had never become a reality to me.

I don't think I'm alone when I say this, but most of us have been riddled for years (20+ years for me) of having our culture and the media instilling assumptions, stereotypes, and fear about those racially different then us. Maybe that's why I feel such a strong calling to be involved in ministry that values racial reconciliation and views it as being necessary to bring about God's kingdom.

So one year later, lease running out, new job looming, I'm faced with more of the same questions. There are some quotes at the end of my journal that still resonate to me today. I don't know where these quotes were generated from, I'm assuming I read it one of the many books I read in that summer, or it came from a sermon or talk I heard I heard that summer, or maybe I'm just real intellectual..

"If we are not a part of the ethnic solution then we are inherently a part of the ethnic divide."

Which is then followed by this phrase in bold:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Ask, Seek, Knock..

"The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ " Matthew 13:10

“This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.'

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
Matthew 13:13-17

"Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable."
Matthew 13:34

Why didn't Jesus speak in a more direct way?

Jesus resists being clear and direct. It's rare for Jesus to ever answer a question directly. His answers invoke more questions, involve stories, and are full of metaphors. Jesus chooses mystery over clarity. This undoubtedly conjures up confusion and frustration. WHY would Jesus do this??

I believe Jesus gives us and respects our free will. Parables and stories don’t coerce us into an understanding of Jesus or a relationship with Jesus. They respect our free will, our dignity, and leaves us free to discover, ask more questions, seek answers, and ultimately choose for ourselves.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

Ask, Seek, Knock..

However the process of asking, seeking, and knocking involves periods of waiting, patience, desire, persistence, frustration, and silence. We cling to the promise that when we ask, seek, and knock, that the door will be opened (verse 8). What’s painful is that it may take a while. (Psalm 77)

I've come to the conclusion that there are no easy answers or obvious explanations. Maybe that why I've always been told that the Bible is the living word of God. You can revisit scripture time and time again and because there are layers upon layers built into Jesus’ teachings. Not just one answer or one explanation.

Jesus requires us to continually depend on him and not in our independent thinking. He desires us to hear with our ears, see with our eyes, and understand with our hearts. And to do that we need to:

Ask, Seek, Knock..

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Excessive Confidence.

"...a disease shared by the Christian religion.. ..excessive confidence." - Brian McLaren 'Everything Must Change'

At first read I gave a slight 'hm..' and kept on. But then I came back and read it again. Lightbulb moment. And as my mind went through the process of taking the words on the page and applying them to tangible events in history, it was like playing connect the dots. Accept every time I connected a dot I just shook my head in disgust.

Throughout history kings, dictators, presidents, white supremists, and those who have held power and privilege have wrongly used faith as justification to push their own personal agendas. They’ve perverting scripture and Jesus to defend their own rationale or to protect the status quo. And what's scary is what they practiced and preached was not only tolerated by those that followed, but accepted and adopted as truth. And what’s even scarier is the level of certainty in which they carried it out.

Hitler viewed Jesus as a 'fighter' and that his greatest moment was when he was a fighter and not a sufferer. He also viewed the eradication of the Jews as 'fighting for the work of the Lord'. Scary..

White supremists held the stance that Africans were descendants from Cain, and that the mark that God left on Cain (Genesis 4:15) was ‘black skin’. In Genesis 9:25-27 Noah curses his son Ham (father of Canaan) and states that he will be a slave to his brothers. Thus giving them Biblical justification for their racism and enslavement of Africans. Real Scary..

Some broad instances include the crusades, the holocaust, witch trials, slavery, and abortion clinic bombings to name a few.

Philippians 3 talks about how our confidence should be in Christ and not in our own flesh, and it preludes with a stern warning to ‘watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.’ The same ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ that Jesus warns us about (Matthew 7:15).

My point is to not be a downer or a pessimist but I think the confidence that we are supposed to have in Christ needs to be revisited. The message and teachings of Jesus need to be revisited. We need to look at God’s word with a fresh perspective. We need to look to Christ alone for direction and strength.

We need the pray for wisdom and the ability to discern what we hear and read from others, and not just agree with it. We need to approach podcasts we listen to, books we read, opinions of others, politicians we like, etc with skepticism. Not to be postmodern, or to be an elitist, or to be one that cannot trust anyone or anything, but rather someone who can guard themselves against those wolves in sheep’s clothing that Jesus warns us about. And take what we hear and read and hold it up to scripture and prayer to determine its validity.

Our confidence should come from Christ alone, and not in our, or anybody else's, opinions/interpretations.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

'...the Mainstream?'

Recently I was asked a question that completely caught me off guard, but not because I didn't have thoughts on this particular topic, but more so because it came at a time when the topic of conversation revolved probably around something trivial like sports, so literally out of the blue...

"What do you think it'll take for African-American youth to join the mainstream..?"

And my immediate response was, "What exactly do you mean by 'the mainstream'?"

And after further conversation it was broken down into much more manageable 'PC' kind of questions, questions that revolved around education, gangs, housing, culture, etc.

I don't exactly remember where the conversation went from there, but some of the questions that spawned are ones that I've been struggling with for the last couple of years. These questions paint with a broad brush so there are obvious exceptions, but for example, why do minority and poor youth end up at low performing/low funded schools? Why is the draw to join a gang so powerful? Why do minorities and the poor live in deteriorating communities? Why are schools, neighborhoods, and the workplace still for the most part homogeneous? The list goes on and the list is long.

The mainstream Christian would argue that the absence of Jesus is the reason issues such as these exist, and that if 'Jesus' were present in their lives and in their communities that it would alleviate these issues. Or that the problem is systemic so it’s the Governments job to find the solution. Or that this is simply a matter of personal responsibility. Or it’s just the way the world is and despite our efforts evil and brokenness will remain.

Ultimately the answers to these types of questions aren’t quick and easy. Often times when you dive deeper and seek answers you will end up with even more troubling questions.

Despite your stance on the source of the ‘solution’, here’s another question to ask yourself if you haven’t already, what does Jesus have to say about this?

Is our sole purpose as followers of Jesus to get as many people on our boat as the world sinks? Or does following Jesus mean getting our hands dirty with the injustices of today?

I believe a personal relationship with Jesus and following him has everything to do with fighting injustice and defending the poor. But at the same time it's dangerous to minimize the personal, redemptive, healing, and transforming power that Jesus has in our individual lives.

The Christian faith should be holistic, integral and balanced.

(See Isaiah 1, Matthew 9:12, Matthew 25:31-46)

take a read, chew on it, let it simmer. more later..

Friday, July 25, 2008

Here We GO...

I don't know what to think as I enter into the world of blogging. The few times I kept a journal of my thoughts and what I was learning I loved it. It was always amazing for me to be able to put things in writing and be able to look back on it.

However a huge problem arose. My mind is on speed and my hand is like molasses. So typing works much better for me rather than writing on a page.

I don't know who will end up reading this. I'll make a decision later whether I'll leak my blog to friends. For those that might read this, you might be asking yourself, "Pat, why don't you just type thoughts on a word document and just save it on your computer?" And that crossed my mind, but it'd feel like I'd be writing a paper or something, and this blogging thing feels completely different..

So with that said, Here We GO...