Tag Archives: violence

Overcoming Racism: The Pursuit of Reconciliation

Like most others, I am saddened by the violent loss of human life. Whether it is the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile or the deaths of the five police officers, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa, there are now seven different families that are grieving the loss of someone they loved. As a follower of Jesus and a minister of the gospel, I am grieved because I don’t like seeing and hearing of others suffering. I am also  frustrated because I believe the church of Jesus Christ in America should be an example of reconciliation but isn’t. But as a Christian, as a follower of Jesus, I believe we must!

On television and social-media, the vitriol and anger is so palpable that it can be cut with a knife. Some want to point fingers, but don’t! Blaming others for flaming the current racial divide only stokes the fire more. The truth is that racism and inequality has always been a problem in America but those who have suffered as a result of such hatred, particularly blacks, are tired and are crying out to those of us with ears to hear and eyes to see. Some seem to think that violence will help but it won’t. It never has and never will. In fact, violence only begets violence which only begets more anger and hatred which only begets more violence which only… you get my point.

But there is an alternative to blaming others and killing one another, an alternative that seeks true peace and reconciliation. As a praxis, peace and reconciliation begin with a conversation that’s possible because Jesus has died on the cross, exposing the darkness and rendering it powerless (cf. Col 2:15). On the cross, Jesus extends true love and forgiveness. In turn, we are free to love each other with enough humility to hear the pain of the other, repent as necessary (whether it’s injustice or just indifference and apathy), forgive each other, learn to speak truthfully with each other and serve with each other for the sake of justice.

What we need is a conversation where we come around the table with enough humility to listen with empathy to others, especially to people of different skin colors. Overcoming racial and social differences requires that we engage others, listening with empathy for the struggles of the other. Love demands that we engage others, listening with empathy to their struggles of being hated and discriminated against. The pursuit of reconciliation demands that we are willing to repent where necessary, forgive one another, and stand with the oppressed in their desire for justice.

The place for such conversations should be our churches and that means becoming intentional about creating and cultivating space for such conversations. Our pursuit of reconciliation is the outworking of the gospel we profess and our currency that gives visible substance to our gospel, so that our proclamation of the gospel is a living tradition rather than dead traditionalism. But for far too long churches have been on the wrong side of the fence either because we were engaged in unjust practices of racism or because our we remained indifferent, pursuing other issues we deemed more important. This has to change! If we believe that it is the gospel of Jesus Christ and not Democrat or Republican politics that offers true peace and reconciliation then it must change and that change must be us. So let’s open space for others of different color at the table, just as Jesus has done for us, that we may pursue reconciliation with them.

Christians… What’s Next?

It was during the mid-afternoon this past Sunday when I heard the horrific news of yet another mass-shooting taking place in Orlando. Fifty people who bear the same image of God that you and I bear are now dead, with many others wounded and traumatized. Just a couple hours before I was speaking to a church about being people of peace and reconciliation. But now I feel the dissonance between being a people of peace and reconciliation among such hatred and violence because part of me knows that Christians in America are not really perceived as people of peace and reconciliation.

Whenever such macabre violence takes place, there is always a response. We want to voice our frustration as well as show our solidarity with the victims. But what next? Whenever mass-shootings occur there are a lot of other questions  raised. What do we do about gun violence? Mental health screening? Terrorism? And on and on the questions go. These questions bring out the best and worst of society, which is all available for instantaneous access through social-media. For some of the best responses, we have learned of some Muslims who gathered in prayer for the victims. It has also been reported that several Chick-fil A restaurants, founded by Christians who have infused Christian ideals into their business, in Orlando opened their restaurants to serve food to those lining up to donate blood.

But then there’s the ugliness, revealing questions how much animosity, discrimination, and self-interest above the interests of others shapes our thinking − Christians included. Not even a day passed and social-media was already filling up with Islamophobia and homophobia. Some of the same old political antagonisms began making their rounds out of fear that our individual rights are at risk, which is ironic considering that those murdered have already lost their rights. In the worst case scenario, there are even some professing Christians that twist the Bible in such perverse ways, like this Sacramento Baptist Pastor, that they praise evil as good.

Something is very wrong when our Christianity sounds more like American politics, Pharisaical judgmentalism, and anything else other than Jesus! And somethings got to change.

Most Christians I know want a society that reflects the values of Christianity. Fair enough. But know this… We can sing God Bless America to our hearts content and invoke the name of God in public discourse but that won’t do diddly squat. The mentioning of God in public doesn’t make a society Christian anymore than wearing a Stetson Western Hat makes one a cowboy. Change happens as we embody the gospel as our living faith, our way of life and that happens by first realizing that our way of life should reflect the life Jesus Christ lived himself. And if we want a “Christian” society, that is a society where there is love rather than hatred, peace rather than violence, reconciliation rather than division, etc… the presence of the kingdom of God, then it is upon Christians to show the way!

The apostle Paul desired that Christ would be formed in us because God’s redemptive goal is that we become conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Rom 8:29; Gal 4:19). Our formation in Christ must change and reimagine for us what it means to be Christian, how we read the Bible, and how we act as living embodiments of the gospel. If our understanding of Christianity, the way we read the Bible, and how we live does not resemble the life Jesus Christ lived, then we are wrong. This isn’t a call to perfectionism but a call to become the people Jesus gave his own life for us to be, and to stop trying to justify versions of Christianity that sound more like America or the Pharisees than Jesus Christ.

I don’t have the answers for how the Federal and State Governments should deal with the issues of violence, terrorism, and many other relevant issues. I really sure that I don’t have all the answers as to how embodying the gospel works itself out with every different issue. But I am sure that America doesn’t need you and I or any other Christians to argue about who should be the next President, how to address gun violence or terrorism, and so forth. What America does need, whether the nation knows it or not, is for us who are Christians to be Christians all the more and be, as local churches, living embodiments of the gospel demonstrating why the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. Let’s do this!

Palm Sunday: A Familiar Story?

This Sunday, as winter gives way to spring, this Sunday is Palm Sunday. For Christians, per the Christian calendar, it is that time when we anticipate Jesus entering into Jerusalem to lay his life down. It’s a story were familiar with in which Jesus is crucified and resurrected. But are we really familiar with this story?

This week’s Gospel text from the Lectionary is Luke 19:28-40, the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem on a colt. It’s a story we’ve likely heard before. It’s a story I’ve preached before.

As Jesus went towards Jerusalem, he sent two of the disciples ahead to find a colt and bring it to him. They did. They brought the colt to Jesus and put him on it while the people began spreading their cloaks on the roadway. As Jesus approached the place to go down near the Mount of Olives, people began joyfully praising God saying,

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!

The Pharisees don’t like it and rebuke Jesus for it, which Jesus quickly rebuffs. And that’s where we usually end the story. That’s where the Lectionary would have us end the story. And if the story were to end there, we’d have this beautiful story that we can joyfully offer praise to God for just like the people in the story. But the story doesn’t end there!

While the people are busy praising God, Jesus continue on toward Jerusalem when he begins weeping. Crying! As Jesus weeps for Jerusalem, he says,

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.

If they only knew what would bring them peace… But they didn’t! For all of their hope and faith in God, waiting for that moment when God would restore his kingdom, they were waiting for a Messiah who would come with the power of the sword, not a Messiah who would be crucified. For all their hope and faith in God, they were waiting for a Messiah who would make Israel great again by crushing their enemies, not a Messiah who would be humiliated by the Romans nailing him to the cross.

So again I ask, are we really familiar with this story?

Do we, who call ourselves Christians because we profess faith in this Jesus who died on the cross, know what will bring us peace? As politicians court our votes, making big promises of moving the nation forward and making America great again, do we know what will bring us peace? As the tensions of racial divisions, economic hardships, and social injustice fuel the fire of angry citizens, do we know what will bring us peace? As the threat of global terrorism and mass-shootings arouse a call for more guns and a stronger military, do we know what will bring us peace?

Or are we just like the people of Jerusalem, ready to praise God but when given a choice between the meek and merciful Jesus or the murderous insurrectionist named Barabbas, we shout, “Away with Jesus, give us Barabbas!” (cf. Lk. 23:18-19)?

That’s something we should reflect on as we gather to praise God on this coming Palm Sunday!

So again I ask, are we really familiar with this story?

Violence: The Issue We Must Face

As details of the terrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut began to surface on the news last Friday, I began to feel angry.  While I was and still am deeply saddened and grieved for everything that has happened, I’m also angry.

I’m angry at the assailant for killing all of these people.  However, I’m also angry at society for the problem of violence we all own together.  It’s not just the mass shootings and other acts of murder that happen every day.  Violence is all around us and in many ways it’s glorified and even justified when we convince ourselves that it serves a noble end.  Even in the holiday season when we are to be of good will and cheer, it has become routine to hear of people getting trampled and assaulted during a Christmas “Black Friday” shopping frenzy (that now begins on Thanksgiving).

So I’m angry because violence has in many ways become our way of life.  What I want to know is why are we so violent?  Yet this seems to be a question that people want to evade.  When mass shootings happen the conversation quickly turns political as some people begin talking about the need for more gun control in America, as though stricter gun laws will curb the violence.  Those opposed to more gun-control measure seem to respond by suggesting that a few more well-armed citizens would prevent such murderous rampages from happening.  But neither sides gets it: the problem of violence is neither the lack of gun control nor the lack of well-armed citizens!  So while the question of more regulations on the use and ownership of guns or on the establishment of more armed security officers in public schools may be necessary, it is a question that evades the bigger and deeper issue.

Why Are We So Violent?

So let me explain a bit more.  When I was in college I worked for a addiction treatment facility that served teenage boys and one of the underlying beliefs of the treatment center was that drugs and alcohol were not the problem, they were a symptom of the problem.  So get to the real issue and address that problem.  That makes sense and I believe it makes sense with violence as well.  Violence is only the surface problem which is, in fact, just symptomatic of the bigger and deeper issue.  This larger issue is neither social, psychological, nor political, though it impacts everyone of those arenas.  The underlying issue that is at the heart of our violence is a spiritual issue.

I don’t believe it is coincidental that after the first recorded sin of Adam and Eve, the very next story we read of in the Bible is the story of Cain killing his brother Able.  There is something about sin that allows us to justify all sorts of actions, including even killing our brothers (and sisters).  You and I may never personally fire a gun and kill someone but that something that drives some to kill is also what drives others, like ourselves, to commit other unjust and unrighteous or immoral and unethical deeds… sin.

The something I am speaking about is what the Bible calls sin.  When the rule of God is denied, which is exactly what Adam and Eve did, we become self-serving.  That self-serving philosophy is as nearly as old as humanity and it is why people, either as individuals or as nations and tribes, will trample upon others and even kill if necessary.  Until we deal with this self-serving spiritual-sin issue that is championed in America by our values of consumerism and American individualism (or the American dream), we will continue to plunge into an abyss of moral depravity that is expressed in violence as well as many other terrific and unfortunate maladies – including the suffering of innocent people.

It’s A Spiritual-Sin Issue!

As an unapologetic believer in Jesus Christ, I believe Jesus is our only hope from this problem we face.  However, I don’t believe Jesus comes to save us only from the consequence of sin (death).  I believe Jesus also comes to save us from sin itself by teaching us how to live a selfless life in which we love God and neighbor as humble servants of good deeds.  Maybe it is time we give Jesus another hearing…and that includes us Christians too, who also seem more and more apprehensive about actually following Jesus as a way of life.

Come, Lord Jesus!  We need you more than ever!

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Here is the message I shared before the Columbia Church of Christ on Sunday, December 16th titled “Get Serious About Jesus” and from Hebrews 3:1-6.  It really speaks to why Jesus has come (Advent) in light of the tragedy in Connecticut and the larger spiritual problem of violence that grips our society.  It is 20 minutes in length if you would like to listen.

https://kingdomseeking.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/hebrews-3_1-6-_get-serious-about-jesus_.mp3