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Conversations On Racism and Injustice

This past Sunday afternoon I attended the “Town Hall Meeting for Justice For All” hosted by the Bridgeway Community Church in my town, Columbia, Maryland. The meeting was in response to the events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri following the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man who was shot by the police. Even though there is 800 miles of Interstate 70 between Columbia and Ferguson, the issues that Browns death and the subsequent protesting have raised affect Columbia just as they affect every community.

The meeting itself was a great start to some courageous conversations that communities must start engaging in. Whites, Blacks, and Latinos all showed up for this meeting but the majority of the audience was Black. Pastor David Anderson served as a moderator taking questions the audience had for the five panelists that consisted of a school administrator, two police officers, a college student, and a local pastor. Of the five panelists, three were Black and the other two were White.

Black America and Fear

As you what has happened in Ferguson has brought to the forefront the problem of racism that still exists in America. Besides the problem of racism, there is a distrust of law-enforcement and a lot of frustration because of injustices that Blacks and other minorities have endured (and if you’re not sure what those are, I suggest you do a little more listening to some of your Black neighbors).

I went to this town-hall meeting to listen because I’m interested in what I can do to help facilitate racial reconciliation and be an advocate for justice. After all, as a minister of the gospel, the God I serve seeks reconciliation and desires justice, so… Any ways, I tried my best to just listen during this meeting and here’s a couple of things I heard:

  1. Negative Images of Young Black Males. During the meeting, the Black voice of the audience agreed that the Hip-Hop culture has created a caricature of the young Black male that contributes to the negative perceptions and that the Black community has helped perpetuate this image. I thought this is important because it tells me that when we hear the Black community saying there’s a problem, they are also willing to own their part of the problem too.
  2. Palpable Fear. There was a point when the audience was asked if those who are minorities raise their children to carry themselves in certain ways in public because of a fear of being mistaken by law enforcement and others as being up to criminal activity. This is the fear of how their children might be perceived when they’re hanging out, walking down the street, into a store, etc… and how might the police react if their children appear “suspicious”? As an observer, this fear was extremely evident in the response of the minorities present (who were in the majority there). And I must say, words cannot really express how sad this is because nobody should have to live in fear for their life or the lives of their children.
  3. Where are the Whites? As I said, the majority of those in attendance were Black. Now there could be a variety of reasons for this, so I don’t want to make too much of this observation. But I do want to say that the problems of racism, et al. is a problem for the entire community, not just minorities. White people, like myself, don’t have to engage in conversations like this because we’re not the ones who suffer from systemic racism. That’s part of our White Privilege. But the problem isn’t going away and if it gets worse (with the violent protests of Ferguson as a sign of what might be on the horizon), we’ll all suffer the consequences. So let’s all work together for the good of racial-reconciliation and justice!

Where Do We Begin

Working together for reconciliation and justice begins at the table, so to speak. That is to say, we have to start by talking and having a conversation together about these issues. As you know, such conversations are not always easy but we must have the necessary courage, humility, and love to gather at the table with others for some talk.

Now I’m not any expert but one thing I’ve learned as a minister is the importance of listening. Or let’s say, I’m learning the importance of listening and more importantly, listening first. Listening to understand before we speak is important because in conversations like this, there are tense moments of disagreement at times. Someone says something that we disagree with and our gut reaction is to respond immediately, countering…arguing. And then we’re just talking past each other, or shouting past each other like they do on what passes for nightly cable news.

Instead of that, Don McLaughin, who serves as the preaching minister for the North Atlanta Church of Christ, suggests that we learn to say “Tell me more” (you can listen to all he has to say about this and more on this podcast). If we don’t understand or don’t seem to agree with what someone says then by saying “Tell me more” rather than counter-reacting, we can here their point of view and what it is that has led them to feel this or that way. We may still disagree but at least we’ll understand better and we’re validating the feeling of others.

One Last Thing…

As a parting word, let me encourage us to begin a conversation. Maybe it’s with a friend of another race or ethnicity, or maybe that conversation starts by attending a town meeting on race and justice matters in your own community. Help your church to start having these conversations (churches should be leading the way in conversations about reconciliation but sadly, we’re not!). Learn to ask questions and listen… Imagine what could happen if we just start having conversations!

The Glory of the Son

Originally posted on Enduring Christianity:

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Six days later … Peter had confessed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:18). Jesushad revealed to his disciples that he was going to die and be resurrected three days later, which was not well received (Matt. 16:21-24). Jesus had taught his disciples about the cost of discipleship, which included self-denial and bearing one’s cross (Matt. 16:24-28).

Six days later … Now, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to a high mountain for an experience of a lifetime. At the top of the mountain, Jesus reveals his glory to them in a way they had never seen and would never forget. The text reads: “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matt. 17:2). The word transfigured (metamorphóō) means…

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Why me, God?

Originally posted on The Sharp End:

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I’m a nobody.

There’s nothing overly special about me. I’m not stronger or smarter than the average person. I don’t have some kind of special knowledge. I don’t love better than others. I don’t sin less than anyone. I’m abundantly average.

In fact, I feel like I am weaker than most. I don’t know nearly all that I want to know, and my wisdom isn’t very wise compared to those I look up to. I struggle with loving other people because of my innate ability to be selfish. Oh, and I sin – a lot. Maybe I’m less than average.

I didn’t always see myself like this. I used to think I was everything to everyone. I was God’s gift to the world, but then I grew up and the voices around me began to make headway into my own thoughts. I began to see myself in light of the…

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The Beauty of the Gospel

Originally posted on Resurrected Living:

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We are accustom to reading the Bible as truth, which it is, but if truth is the only thing we see then we are missing much of what the Bible has to offer. The Bible is also full of beauty. It reflects the glory we find in Jesus. To miss the beauty of Scripture is to miss the glory of the Son of God.

This beauty is found before the Messiah takes on flesh and is born in a manger. The Old Testament is full of beauty. The poetry in the psalms and the prophets contain echoes of better things to come. The Gospel of Luke begins with a story about a childless couple. The righteous prayers of Elizabeth and Zechariah are heard by God and he decides to act on their behalf. As Zechariah enters the temple, he is visited by an angel who delivers the good news. Zechariah…

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Give a Man a Fish

Originally posted on From Dust:

       Today is my turn for the post in the Compadres’ Summer Blog Tour. The Compadres is a group of Christian leaders, many of which have blogs, and so we decided it would be good to try and put our enjoyment of writing together for the cause of Christ. The theme we have chosen to go with is events in the scripture that glorified Jesus. I decided to take a stab at John 6:1-15, Jesus feeding the 5,000. Before reading this post, I would encourage you to go read these 15 verses.

       John 5 ends with a sermon by Jesus, and chapter six begins with Jesus leaving the crowd, and going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus goes up on to the side of a mountain with his disciples, and as he looks up and out, he sees a large crowd…

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K. Rex Butts:

Here’s the first Compadres Blog, from Jeremy Schopper. Read on and be blessed!

Originally posted on Leaving the Noise Behind:

ImageI’m part of Facebook group called Compadres. The group is made up of wonderful Christian leaders. Many of the folks in the group are bloggers; so we decided to come together and share our blogs this summer – hence the Compadres Blog Tour. Each of us will be writing about the glory of Jesus Christ. What you read below is my feeble addition to this wonderful project. Blessings!

Here’s one of the things Unger’s Dictionary had to say about glory. “It is the exercise and divine display of what constitutes the distinctive excellence of the subject to which it is spoken; thus, in respect to God, His glory is the manifestation of His divine attributes and perfections, or such a visible splendor as indicates the possession and presence of these.”

Here’s what I think this means; when we talk about the glory of God we are referring to the things…

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In The Age of Celebrity Pastors: What Motivates Our Ministry?

Is Christianity in America worshiping an idol known as the “celebrity pastor?” Are we who serve as ministers and pastors of churches cultivating this idolatry ourselves…for ourselves?

The last couple of weeks has seen a lot of blogs, Facebook remarks, and so on talking about the allegations that Pastor Mark Driscoll committed plagerism. In the midst of this chatter comes two post that I believe point to a deeper problem with the “celebrity pastor” status among Christianity. First up is a post on Christianity Today’s website titled The Real Problem with Mark Driscoll’s ‘Citation Errors’ in which Andy Crouch says:

Mark Driscoll is a human being, created in the image of God, with great gifts, real limits, and very likely a genuine calling to ministry. But “Pastor Mark Driscoll,” the author of “literally thousands of pages of content a year,” the purveyor of hundreds of hours of preaching, is in grave danger of becoming a false image. No human being could do what “Pastor Mark Driscoll” does—the celebrity is actually a complex creation of a whole community of people who sustain the illusion of an impossibly productive, knowledgeable, omnicompetent superhuman.

The real danger here is not plagiarism—it is idolatry.

In his blog post The Lesson of Driscoll’s Plagiarism: A Rant On Rejecting Celebrity Leadership, David Fitch describes the problem as an “ideology at work” saying,

[Mark Driscoll's] clear avoidance of one of the most basic practices of the Christian life and the continuing charades surrounding him, the publishers and the lawyers to avoid dealing with the lies, illustrate how far the Driscoll’s book and leadership has been removed above the actual practice of on-the-ground Christian life in the form of a celebrity pastor, and has become a product to be sold, an image to be upheld. This is not Christianity, this is ideology…

Both are right. It’s ideology and idolatry.

Before We Blame…

However the problem isn’t Mark Driscoll’s alone. In fact, the problem isn’t just with the celebrity pastors, whoever they are. I believe the problem is largely our problem! That is, the problem is owned by the broad movement known as evangelical Christianity (Emmergents, Missional, Reformed, Neo-Reformed, Anabaptists, Restorationist, Charismatic-Pentcostals, etc… Did I get them all?).

With the idea that there is an idolatry of “celebrity pastor” taking place, I believe that we could substitute any number other celebrity Pastors/ministers (though not all) for Driscoll and still have the same point. In evangelical Christianity, where the value of consumerism has increasingly become the driving force of the church, the celebrity status is created by Christians turning to the pastor who is able to provide the goods that they — with their consumer appetites — so desire.  It’s sort of a catch 22. That’s why so many fans Christians increasingly seem to mimic with uncritical reflection the celebrity pastor machine they flock too and then, if the local church doesn’t become an extension of the brand/goods offered by this machine, the flock leave to find a church that does.

So My Fellow Preachers…

But my concern isn’t with these celebrity pastor’s. It’s with me and everyone one of my friends and colleagues who minister with churches. We all have been gifted and blessed greatly by God to preach, teach, and lead God’s people. Technology and social-media has created great mechanism for us to use our gifts to serve God and people using our gifts in some new and wonderful ways. So we upload our sermons as MP3 files, share teachings on a blog (like I’m doing now), promote an e-book or book that’s been published by a reputable publishing company, etc…

I understand and I do some it myself. But when does promotion become self-promotion? In a conversation with a few other friends and fellow ministers, the question was asked “at what point does a pastor become a ‘celebrity pastor’?” That’s another way of asking how do we known when we are engaging in the task of building our own celebrity pastor machine…an idolatry and ideology at work?This is a difficult question and one that can ultimately only be answered by every minister, for it’s too difficult to judge someone else’s motives. However, I will say two things:

  1. If we’re aware of this concern then we probably have little to worry about. From one minister to other ministers, I’m more concerned when we stop asking ourselves the critical self-examining questions either because we unintentionally fail to do so or because we think such questions don’t apply to us anymore.
  2. If and when we do become engaged in the ideology and idolatry of establishing our own celebrity pastor status (whether on a large or small scale), it will eventually show itself in our behaviors and actions. For such hubris easily becomes narcism where we think we are no longer accountable to the moral and ethical standards that everyone else is bound by. If and when that happens, it tends to work itself out in some very visible and palpable failures.

So as this fiasco plays itself out, I hope the rest of us who are called to preach, teach, and lead God’s people can take some time for self-examination. What is motivating our ministry? Is it the mission of God or…?