Tag Archives: Eugene Peterson

Life after Easter

“So. Jesus the Way, the ways of Jesus. He shows the way. He also is the way. He doesn’t point out the way and then step aside and let us get there our own as best we can. Jesus points out the way, but then he takes the initiative, inviting us to go with him, taking us with him across land and sea, through all kinds of weather, avoiding dead ends and seductive byways, watching out for danger and alerting us to enemies.”

| Eugene H. Peterson, The Jesus Way: a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way

Where do we go now? We’ve reached the end of the story for Jesus. He died, was buried and has been resurrected. It’s the end of the road for his disciples, right? We can go home too.

Jesus’s resurrection is the high point of our liturgy. “Christ is risen; he is risen indeed.” Our work here is done, yes? No and not so fast.

We still have a long way to go. “Thy kingdom come.” There are also some changes that still need to take place. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

After the resurrection, we are commissioned with the disciples. Jesus says to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28.18-20, NRSV). Jesus tells the disciples to get moving. His work is finished but ours has only begun.

Hands extended on a cross are now shooing us out the door. “Go out into the world and talk to strangers. Spread out and spread the word. Make students of my teachings,” Jesus says.

He adds, “And you have all that you need: God above you, the Holy Spirit within you and me walking with you every step of the way. And don’t you worry; I’m never leaving you again.” We will not lose him again; we will not come this way, pass by his tomb in sorrow again.

The worst is behind us and the kingdom of God is before us. Life after Easter looks like that of the early Church as recorded in the book of Acts. As the wind of the Holy Spirit blows, we, like Peter, John and the other disciples, walk in the authority of Jesus’s name. Preaching, teaching, baptizing, serving, our hands are extended. Jesus is and likewise, we are just getting started.

Race is not the way

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“Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ way, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.”

| Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “The most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”  We repeat his words as a matter of fact, not as a challenge.  It has been named and noted.  But, rather than shake our heads in agreement, I ask, “What are you going to do about it?”

Don’t just change seats; switch churches.  Get up and follow Jesus somewhere outside of your comfort zone, gated community, tradition, perspective, cultural and personal experience, worship style.  Jesus did it and if we are following Jesus, we should too.  Don’t spend your whole life pointing out the problem.  Don’t just shake your heads; put your heads together.  Figure it out.  Solve it.

Because Jesus doesn’t go the same way everyday, talk to the same people all the time or travel in the same neat circles.  There is nothing routine or traditional about his ministry or his message.  Jesus was not the expected Messiah, the predictable Savior.  Persons did not point to him and say, “I knew it was you!”  Just listen to the people who were around him who asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  And hear his own disciples who questioned if they really knew him, “What kind of man is this?”

Because if you meet Jesus and do not walk away from life as you knew it, then you did not meet Jesus.  If you and I can meet Jesus and return to our regularly scheduled programming, then we may have met Jesus but we do not know him.  Life with Jesus does not consist of a mere introduction but a lifelong conversation to include long walks like those with the disciples on their way to Emmaus.  We need to listen to Jesus until our hearts burn (Luke 24.32).

If we can remain hard- hearted when it comes to race, then we need to have more than “a little talk with Jesus.”

Because isn’t it a sad commentary that Christians in America cannot come together one day a week for an hour or two, that though Christ prayed that we might become one, it is hardest to answer and to embody this prayer on Sunday (John 17.21)?   That we have integrated businesses and schools, hospitals and cemeteries, buses and hotels, lunch counters and restrooms but not sanctuaries?  That praying hands still section themselves off to worship the God who “so loved the world”?  That a space marked sacred still has the signs of segregation hanging above its doors, that our churches secretly or unconsciously signal, “For white people only” or “For colored people only”?

If anything, Sunday should be the one day that we can come together.  Or, is the Holy Spirit not at work or unable to overcome the challenges of our flesh?  What do we walk in if not the Spirit and where are we going if we are not walking in the spirit of truth (Galatians 5.16; John 16.13)?  We cannot claim the creative power of God, the resurrection power of Jesus and the fire power of the Holy Spirit but continue on as if powerless to challenge and change the social realities of race.  What of this new identity in Christ?

During this season of Lent, we are called to give up our carnal cravings, our fleshly feelings in order to shorten the distance between us and Jesus.  Friends, I assure you that race is not the way.  We are no closer to Christ than when we first begun if we put anything before or in front of Christian: black Christian, white Christian, Republican Christian, Democratic Christian, female Christian, male Christian.  Christ is all or nothing at all (Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11).  Following Christ is a one way street and it leads to Calvary.  We cannot continue to follow the prescriptions of race and claim we want to go all the way with Jesus.  Because it is a death walk; race and our racialized identities simply cannot survive.

Saved Together

I am often discouraged by the nature of our fellowship, by the obvious hypocrisy of the Church in North America.  We claim to be the body of Christ while socially coloring in his hands and feet so that he is one of us– and not them.  Black Jesus.  White Christ.  Emmanuel, God is with us– and not them.

I am left to wonder if we will ever be known by God’s unconditional love when we have divinized the segregation of holy space.  Black Church.  White Church.  And before we begin the finger- pointing to say who started it all, I am looking for hands raised to end the reality that some churches are “for white people only” and others are “for colored people only.”

How the Church can claim to represent the spiritual reality of “God with us” when we have allowed race to come between us is dumbfounding.  How can we be siblings according to our faith, one family under God and base our fellowship on the social coloring of flesh– instead of Christ’s cross?  No need to make the claim of being an alternative community because there is more of the same behind church doors.  “This church is my church.  This church is your church.”  We do not worship well together.

I lament the theologies that support the doctrine of race and its progeny.  I am saddened by the calculated and polite distance between churches of different cultures and ethnicities.  I am surprised by our level of acceptance and comfort with this social arrangement.   Because this is not what God wanted.  This is not God’s kingdom on earth but our own racial empire.  Made in America.

And where is the authentic conversation about the social construct of race and its progeny?  Where is the vulnerability and the willingness to show our wounds, to share what we have witnessed and to wonder aloud, “Why are we so divided as Christians?  Why can’t we come together?  Why aren’t we in this faith together?”  These questions bear repeating until we have answered them with transformed lives.

This afternoon, I was rereading the words of Eugene Peterson in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.  He writes,

“Our membership in the church is a corollary of our faith in Christ.  We can no more be a Christian and have nothing to do with the church than we can be a person and not be in a family.

… There are Christians, of course, who never put their names down on a membership list; there are Christians who refuse to respond to a call to worship each Sunday; there are Christians, who say, ‘I love God but I hate the Church.’  But, they are members all the same, whether they like it or not, whether they acknowledge it or not.  For God never makes private, secret salvation deals with people.  His relationships with us are personal, true, intimate, yes; but private, no.  We are a family in Christ.  When we become Christians, we are among brothers and sisters in faith.  No Christian is an only child.”

Peterson reminds me that we have been saved together, that one culture does not have an inside track on salvation, that God made no back room deal that allowed one people group to be more or less saved, less loved, less blessed than the other.  Because there is but one cross, one Christ, one blessed sacrifice, one reunion around one throne, one banquet table with seats for us all.

God undivided but shared with us all so that we could be saved together.

One in Christ Jesus

gal328.2Pastor Bruce and I preached together.  It is only the second time that we have shared the message this way; the first was during a special service for graduates this past summer.  It was all his idea but I certainly saw the bigger picture yesterday.  We became one voice, one preacher.  Guided by Galatians 3.26-28, we shared one message that began this way:

When I was a child, some persons in our neighborhood called my dad “dirty white boy.” It was not said to be mean but was stated as a matter of fact. In my father’s ignorance, he accepted it as a nickname. He did not know his father and perhaps in search of a community in which to belong, this seemed like a small price to pay for admission.

No one shared with him the words of Howard Thurman who said, “Inherent in life is meaning.” Yes, we come with meaning and we are our definition that we are looking for. But, if we do not define life, life will define us. Perhaps, this is why Eugene Peterson warned, “We cannot be too careful about the words we use; we start out using them and they end up using us.”

Nevertheless, being a member of both cultures allowed him to represent the privilege of whiteness while accepting the camaraderie through oppression offered in blackness. He was “the Man” and yet, one of us, blessed but cursed a little, not black but maybe off white. His mother, Mary, was African American and socially color black, which rendered him socially impure, unclean, mixed.

He was a dirty white, a dingy white, a stained white and thus, not quite right. People in our community did not know how to handle him so they addressed one side of him but never both at the same time. They did not know what to make of what he represented. The product of two opposing sides, my dad was both in and out. So, they both fought against and stood with him—all at the same time.

He never talked about his father and consequently, never talked about his whiteness. He started drinking at fifteen years old and never stopped. Perhaps, the words that were attempting to find a voice were too much for him and the alcohol was too much for them. They could not swim and with blurry vision, they wouldn’t have made it far had they survived the daily attempted drowning.

Recently, when I asked him about his dad and my grandfather, he still had no desire to know him— not even his name. Maybe he would have felt a pull if he acknowledged this side of him. Perhaps, he feared it would tear him apart since he was not completely one or the other. To date, he has never met his father and in my observation, has never seen himself as anyone other than the dirty white boy.

***

Like my dad’s nickname, responses to race are a mixture. Some are made public, chanted in the streets, a chorus of discontent while others are shared in polite company and through inappropriate jokes. Race is talked about at the kitchen table, while sitting on the couch, in the car, in a barber or salon chair. It is also hushed, the reality hidden and ignored all together.

We don’t want to talk about race because race has never been the right word for us. Instead, race is a misinterpretation of our humanity. It is also never the right time or place because race is too personal, too painful, too much to talk about at one time.

This is all true; race is the elephant that struts into the room and sits on our chests. It has a reservation with us. It’s always on the menu, an American special and most days, we have no appetite for it.

Race has been with America since its inception. They grew up and played together. In fact, race is more American—though less appetizing— than apple pie. We bring it out on holidays like this one but it is the painful familiar. It hurts but it’s all we know.

So, we talk about King’s dream rather than begin the daring task of counting raised hands and assigning work to would- be ministers of reconciliation. We do community service projects but never leave our community. But, Thomas Merton said, “A faith that is afraid of other people is no faith at all.” Still, whether due to fear, ignorance or pain, we believe that it is easier to live according to society’s color- codes. We would rather be beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow/ white. Unsure of what it really means to belong, this seems like a small price to pay for admission.

***

While the Galatians were guilty of observing days and times,[i] we are guilty of observing people. We look for certain kinds of people. They have to be our people, one of us and not them, in order to be the right people.

And this scrutiny is not limited to the social invention of race but I hear it in conversations involving age, experience and gender: “You’re too young or too old. We were here first. Or, we’ve been here longer. We need the right man for the job.” All of it lines us up, orders us around and positions us as first and last. So, the separation is inevitable and even makes us comfortable— young versus old, present versus future, man versus woman.

We have yet to learn the lesson that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to teach us, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” He concluded about our shared destiny, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

Though Paul is writing to the Galatians who had fallen into mixing faith and works, he finds an audience with us as we mix faith and the works of our skin, our culture and country. We believe in social sanctification, in racial regeneration. We believe that our race will determine our righteousness. It is an assumption that we can and must add to Christ’s cross, that something is lacking in his sacrifice— and that the color of our skin satisfies it. It is a mixed religion as it were.

Consequently, we hold that spiritual maturity is a matter of appearance, that the markers of our perfection are found in the texture of our hair, the shape of our eyes and the size of our lips. We have faith in our flesh— not Christ. Whether we look at our hands or his determines if we are seeking God’s approval or human approval.[ii]

If we are seeking human approval, then it is the good news of our bodies— not Christ’s. It is righteousness through our appearance in the earth not God’s appearance in Christ. But, like Paul, we must say, “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”[iii] Consequently, our belief in the sanctification of skin is “another gospel.”[iv] To put faith in our epidermis or any one else’s is idolatry.

No, these meanings, our prejudices and stereotypes should have been drowned in the waters of baptism. We are no longer clothed in skin but with Christ. We wear him. We exhibit. We show him to the world.

This is how we are one. We are not one human race but one blessed, broken and shared Body, which is Christ’s— no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female or dirty white boy. But, we are one in Christ Jesus and have always belonged with God, an admission promised and for which we could never pay for.

 

Endnotes

[i] Because there is only the Lord’s Day and all of time belongs to the Eternal God.

[ii] Galatians 1.10

[iii] Galatians 2.20, NRSV

[iv] Galatians 1.7

The Words That Use Us

power-of-words-1“We cannot be too careful about the words we use; we start out using them and they end up using us.”

These are the words of well- known pastor and translator of The Message, Rev. Eugene Peterson.  It is a fair warning though not considered frequently enough.  I use to pride myself on the number of words that I could type in a minute.  Who knows what the count is for many of us these days with tweets, blogs and minute- by- minute Facebook updates.   There is no end to our words.

Isn’t it ironic that we seem to be saying more than ever but that our communication is greatly reduced and has not improved in meaning or depth?  In fact, we are not saying much that is new; instead, we are finding new says to say the same old, same old.  In some cases, this is good; with regard to relationships across cultures and matters of race, it has been tongue- tying.

Now more than ever, I am becoming increasingly aware that our world is made up of words.  It is an old and obvious truth, recorded in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis.  It is the record of the speaking God, who used words to create, who left unsaid nothing beautiful or majestic.  I have read it numerous times but my consciousness was dim to the fullness of this reality.

Of course, as Christians, we believe in the God who is the Word made flesh (John 1.14).  In some measured sense, I understand this but certainly not fully intellectually and theologically.  I believe that we are people who live by words and that we are walking words, that our names have power and can purpose our lives for good or ill.  And with the recurrent violence that everyone is talking about, the power of the words we use is increasingly more evident.

Thanks to social media, we share what we feel and how we are doing at lightning speed.  We have so much to say about ourselves and others.  I wonder what this says about the value of our words when we don’t keep some of them to ourselves or save some for later.  To be sure, words are powerful.  They have caused wars, deaths incalculable and tragedies unthinkable.  We learn more quickly of embarrassing moments and the missteps of those who wish that there was a rock that they could hide under that didn’t have Wi-Fi.

What is the matter when we continue to speak words that hurt us and clearer still, that silence us and keep us from seeing ourselves?  What is wrong with our speaking when we lose our voice and become a puppet of the very words we speak, when our tongue becomes the strings pulled?  I believe this to be so when it comes to race.

We started using these words hundreds of years ago against others and for our benefit.  Now, they don’t benefit any of us.  We have lost the meaning of ourselves with their use.  So, what do we say now?  What do we do now that we are employed by race, now that race has our tongue?

I say we quit, that we stop speaking of our humanity on these terms.  What say you?