Race-less Gospel

A race-less life is a Christ- filled life.


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Racism may be ‘alive and well’ but…

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After an incident is determined to be race- related, persons sometimes say, “Racism is alive and well.”  They point to the latest insult that adds to the countless injuries of race- relations. Or worse still, they point to the most recent death by fear, misunderstanding, power struggle and/or prejudice.  Perhaps, with excitement or maybe disappointment, they point to this body of evidence, building our cases against each other.

“See, they hate us.  See, they are bad people.  See, this is why we cannot get along, why we cannot live with each other.  See, this is why we cannot forget and forgive.  We are not post- racial and can never be.  See, stereotypes kicking.  See, prejudice moving.  Racism is alive and well!”

It is not said to suggest that death was near but to remind others of race’s vitality.  Race is not on its deathbed and this is not its last will and testament.  We have not seen the last of its works or heard the last of its words.  It will happen again.

And only  because we keep it alive.  Christians, who are called to be dead to the flesh and to bury the old nature, dig up old wounds and make fresh ones just like every one else (Romans 8.10).  Called to be a holy nation and a royal priesthood, we add race to our identities and thereby, confusion to our confessions (Second Peter 2.9).

Race has never lived in the eyes of God and it is not apart of the abundant life that Christ offers (John 10.10).  Race is not and never will be a part of the kingdom of God.  In fact, it should be dead to us.  Thoughts, perspectives, behaviors and traditions that support the evil works of the flesh should have no power or influence over us as we are called to live and be led by the Spirit (Galatians 5.25).

So, racism may be alive and well in the world (as they see it) but not in us, not in Christ’s Body by which we are known.


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Pray the questions

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As the associate pastor at my church, one of my responsibilities is to provide the pastoral prayer every Sunday.  I thought, “I love talking to God.  This will be easy, maybe even fun.”  Oh, I was so naive, so unaware, so out of touch with the rhythm of my own prayer life.  But, I was quickly reminded of the times when life makes talking to God very hard, when we cannot find the words to talk to the Word- God, when we cannot say, “Amen” because we don’t want to believe that it is or can be so, when we don’t want to agree with God.

Every Sunday, I stand up and share in the joys and concerns of our faith community.  Every Sunday, twice every Sunday, both at our contemporary and traditional services, I “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12.15).  Every Sunday, I stand in front of the congregation and invite them to talk to God, to tell the always good God about the bad things that are happening in their lives and in the lives of those they love, work with and serve.  Every Sunday, I walk to the front of the sanctuary and say, “It’s praying time.”

How I wish that all of our conversations were only filled with good things, endless occasions of celebration: baby and wedding announcements, graduations and job promotions,  first apartments and new houses.  I pray for the hastening of the day when I do not have to hear words like illness, disease, abuse, addiction, bullying, terrorism, unemployment, death.  I don’t want to talk to God about that.  And it is not a new conundrum.

Most human beings, if not all, find it difficult to talk about a loving God and a suffering world.  Suffering has caused many to question the existence of God or to deny God altogether.  They believe that the two cannot coexist, that one cancels the other out.  So, if suffering exists, then God does not.  God forbid.

I realize that our yearning for a life without discussion questions only answers, for continual good, of endless celebration is a yearning for heaven.  So, what do we do with the difficult days and the hard questions?  We give them to God.  We talk about it and talk about it and talk about it.  We make our lives one continual conversation with God, “praying without ceasing,” living and always talking, always taking our words, our answers and questions to God (First Thessalonians 5.17).

We must pray the questions until they become answers.  Amen.

 


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Give Me Jesus

Before I get up
Before I get started
Before I get moving
Give me Jesus

Before I get dressed
Before I get breakfast going
Before I get in a hurry
Give me Jesus

Before I get ahead of myself
Before I get in the way
Before I get, give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus. Amen.


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Just a LITTLE talk with Jesus

SuccessfulRetreatPlanning1-630x420I am at a visioning retreat for my church and so the focus should be my church, right?  Wrong.  It turns out that my scheduled little talk with Jesus that was apart of today’s program has turned my life upside down or perhaps, right side up.  I just don’t want to talk about my calling and especially not with Jesus.  So, can we please just talk about my church and the transformation that God wants to bring to our members and the communities where we live and serve?  And why can’t I just talk about race?  Okay.  Enough stalling.

I am presently serving as the associate pastor at my church and that is good enough for me.  I would be content to serve alongside the pastor but oh no, God just want let me be comfortable.  The word associate is like a security blanket and soon it will be taken away and I will be left alone with the word pastor.

Calling.  It is not the calling that we wrestle with.  We know what we heard.  Instead, it is the answer.  Did God call me?  Was God talking to me?  Why would God be talking to me?  Why would God call me… here?

We also wrestle with our history.  We just don’t see how our steps could lead to this place.  For some of us, even our present can be a stumbling block.  The calling can make us question God’s ability to see all things.  Do you not see who I am, where I am, what I am doing right now, God?  Can this wait?  Why now?

Most, if not all, fight the calling of God: “Is it I, Lord?  No, You don’t want to send me.”   For women in particular, we can fight with Paul, argue with church leadership and refuse to talk to or about certain Scriptures.  The calling can cause some of our relationships to struggle: parents, children, even spouses.

All these facts make it difficult to talk about.  But, there is a battle even more personal: our selves.  We fight with ourselves concerning what we heard.  And it’s not that we don’t want to hear it; instead, that we don’t want to believe it.  It’s not about ability or desire but belief.  “Are you serious?”  At least, that’s my story.

For the past few days, we have engaged in familiar spiritual practices: silence, solitude, journaling, lectio divina, scripture reading.  This afternoon, I was introduced to one that I was not familiar with: colloquy.  It means conversation and we were asked to have a conversation with Jesus.  It was another form of prayer and it seemed easy enough.

I pray all of the time.  How hard could this be?  How different would this be?  Clearly, I had no idea.  If I had, I would not have said a word.  Nevertheless, here’s what I wrote during my colloquy with Jesus.

ME: “What are You doing?”

JESUS: “You’ll see.  Just keep looking.”

ME: “Why are You doing this?”

JESUS: “You’ll see.  Just keep looking.”

ME: “Why me?”

JESUS: “You’ll see.  Just keep looking.”

ME: “It’s my eyes, right?”

JESUS: “Yes.  They need to be fixed.  Fixed  on Me.  Just keep looking at Me.”

ME: “There is so much that I don’t understand.  I want to walk away but I cannot look away.”

JESUS: “Yes. It’s all in the eyes– not mine but yours.  You can walk this out if you fix your eyes on Me.”

ME: “It’s already happening, isn’t it?  I’m already out of the boat.  Why couldn’t I just stay in the boat?”

JESUS: “Because you were looking at Me.”

ME: “Things are so uncertain and I don’t know if I can walk here.”

JESUS: “Keep looking at Me.  Focus your faith, put your faith, put your eyes, your vision in Me.”

ME: “But, I don’t trust myself.  I’m not trained for this.  I am alone.  No one has followed me.  What am I doing out here?  Who do you think I am?”

JESUS: “You are following Me.  You will not lead others to follow you.  You will lead others to follow Me.  Don’t see you; see Me.  And who do you think I am?”

ME: “I’m so tired, Lord.  My eyes are so tired.  My head is dropping; I’m sinking.”

JESUS: “Just keep looking at Me and take My hand.  Let your eyes match Mine.  Reflect what you see in Me… and walk.”

So, I had the little talk and I survived.  I lived to tell the story and so will you so… get to talking to Jesus about your calling.

 


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What is race doing here?

We are very spiritual people… in church. We make for great Christians between 11 a.m. and noon. It is so easy to share a hymnal, to forgive someone who steps on our toe as she slides into the seat next to us, to smile and greet a new visitor.  We behave as if God only sees us in church, that we must only do our Sunday best.

Once the benediction is pronounced and before we walk out the door, we have already flipped the switch, turned our minds over to the ‘real world.’  We think that it’s okay, understandable, acceptable even to be carnal.  I mean, let’s be serious. This ain’t heaven and the world is not full of angels.  There is a time and a place for the practice of our faith and it’s on Sunday at 11 a.m. But, in so doing, we reveal that we are wearing a mask and our worship is a mere performance.

We don’t really believe that we can behave or believe in the world as we do in our sacred communities. We can’t be kind to persons outside of the church, right? We can’t forgive persons who are not members of our Sunday school class. We need to know them in order to practice our faith with them. Our love is only for those who love our God, right? Uh-uh.

Our society caters to the flesh, appeals to it, supports it.  And race does this so well. It says that we give our best to those who look like us. We are only kind, understanding, forgiving of those within our culture. Our systems support it. Our families teach it. Our egos like it.

But, what is the place of race in the life of a Christian? What is the role of race in our lives?  Why do we need it and why does it seem that we can’t do without it? When we go home, when we gather for worship, when we sit at our desk at work or school, why is race there?  What is race doing here with us very spiritual people?


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Why go to church?

why-go-to-churchFor the past few weeks, I have been writing to my children, youth and young adult members, questioning why they come.  We know that most children attend church because their parents bring them.  I mean, they can’t stay at home by themselves.  Teenagers attend because their parents make them.  I’ve heard parents say, “If I’m going to church, then you’re going to church.”  And young adults come (back) to church because they are getting ready to settle down, get married or start family.  This last group is looking to provide a spiritual foundation for their children who will come to church because their parents bring them.  So, why go to church?

This, of course, has me thinking about race and the many reasons why older adults come to church.  How do we come to church and not change our perspective on our neighbor and the stranger?  How do we go to church and not leave differently?  Now, I don’t mean that we should leave inspired, leave with goose bumps or leave happy.  I mean leave unsettled, leave challenged, leave angry because we have been provoked to do something that we know is right.

Why do we go to the house of God, the house of Love and leave still hating, still prejudging, still comparing the accolades and accomplishments of our flesh?  Why do we sit in the house of worship and leave still unable to sit in the presence of those of other cultures?  Why go to church at all if it is a segregated church?  I mean, if our church is no different than the world, then why go to church at all?  Why not just stay in the world?

It is my prayer this morning that we would become a house of God, a house of His love so that  when persons see us, they would ask themselves, “Why don’t I go to church?”  Amen.

 


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Living From Offense to Offense

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you will also be revealed with him in glory.”

~ Colossians 3.1-4, NRSV

Baptized and raised with Christ, we are dead yet born again.  It is both a funeral and a wedding, earth and altar, old nature gone: “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” and new name given: “I now pronounce you…”  We are not said the same because we are not seen the same.  So, what of our own eyes?

We have been raised with Christ and are commanded to search, to actively look for things that are above.  We have been raised with Christ and thus, are also able to rise above situations, to set our minds on things that are above.  It is not due to our own strength but Christ’s resurrection power at work within us.  It is only because we have been raised with him, lifted, elevated, positioned higher and consequently, given a different perspective.

This is how we are able to get above the battle, how we are equipped to look beyond the war of words, the latest and most tragic event brought to us by racism.  It is because we have been positioned in Christ (John 15.4; Galatians 2.20; First John 4.15).  And we must see and speak from this place.  We must live and move from this place that is not race neutral or colorblind but race-less.

This place is not ensnared by race’s prejudicial history or positioned to respond based on stereotypical expectations.  It owes no one, has no cultural or social allegiances, is without economic dependence or investment.  Instead, it comes from an eternal place; its decisions and decisiveness not determined by time, media cycles or the fickleness of what is in and out, popular, acceptable, correct.

This place is much deeper, a steeper ascent for the soul.  A place that does not require or depend on flesh: the Spirit. And while this seems easier to write than do, still we must do it or we ought not say that we be it: Christian, Christ- like, believer, disciple, follower of the Way.  We must speak from our birthplace as Christ said to Nicodemus, “You must be born from above” (John 3.7).

The other option is to wait for the next injury, to lie down and take it, to talk about it and take it, to protest and take it, to debate it and take it.  The only other option is to continue to live as race’s latest and greatest victim.  And every time that it hits us, we say, “That’s it!  I’ve had enough! I cannot live with this! I can’t take it!”  But, then we do. Again and again and again.

Then, time passes and the distance of days makes it hard to maintain our position. Our anger and disgust wanes. Our tears dry up. The pain and our hurt subsides.  We have to go to work, to school, to church, to the theater, to the grocery story, back to business as usual, to our cultural corners to recover and prepare for next time… because there is always next time.

This race war causes us to live from offense to offense.  It has gone on for hundreds of years and I am afraid for the generations that will be enlisted as there is no discussion of surrender or solution.  There seems to be no end in sight, no new strategy other than fight, no white flags waving.

This is why we are not in a place of healing.  This is why we cannot address the wounds.  It is because we cannot live beyond our flesh; we cannot move above our skin.  Sometimes, it is hardest to do because we won’t say it: race- less.

We must live above race, move beyond the offenses and stop this cycle of socially acceptable violence.  We must have a way of being and seeing that is beyond the interactions of our flesh so that we can live with and love our selves, our neighbor and our God… so, that we don’t see our selves, our neighbor or our God as an offense, remembering that “whatever is born of God conquers the world” (First John 5.4).

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