Archive for May, 2005

I Am From Sudan

Posted: May 24, 2005 in Everything

Every now and then, God hits me in the face with how shallow, self-concerned and small I have become. This past Sunday was one of those times. Two days ago I met a 22-year-old man who had recently moved to Houston. The reason: He is a Sudanese refugee.

As the words, “I am from Sudan” fell from his lips, my heart fell. I was overloaded with embarrassment and shame. I felt the force of those feelings because my days are spent haggling over power questions in the local church and dealing with all kinds of “Church Issues” that don’t have the least little thing to do with extending the Kingdom of God, justice and mercy, or helping my faith community become a grace-extending body. What’s more, is that I fear many American Christians do not even know what is happening in Sudan, particularly Darfur, and worse, I fear fewer care.

So here’s some background:

Sudan’s population is composed of two distinct cultures — black African and Arab. Since gaining independence in 1956, a series of military coups, a civil war, and severe famine have burdened Sudan with political and economic instability. The civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the animist and Christian south lasted 21 years and cost the lives of 1.5 million people. After two years of bargaining, the Arab Muslim government and rebels signed a comprehensive peace deal in January 2005.

Just as the war in the south was winding down, in 2003 fighting broke out in the western region of Darfur. The residents, mostly black African Muslims seeking greater independence from the Sudanese government in Khartoum, launched an insurrection. The Sudanese government responded by bombing villages and by backing Arab militias known as the Janjaweed. The government and the Janjaweed have killed at least 70,000 black villagers in the Darfur region. Some observers have calculated the number closer to 300,000. The Janjaweed have also been responsible for thousands of rapes and have driven some 2 million residents of Darfur into refugee camps, many in neighboring Chad.

The United Nations describes the Darfur conflict as one of the world´s worst humanitarian crises. In September 2004, then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the State Department “concluded that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed bear responsibility.” So far, neither the label “genocide,” nor U.N. pronouncements, nor a small force of about 2,400 African Union peacekeepers, has been able to stop the killing, rapes and the massive refugee situation.

Every day, black, Sudanese women are raped by Arab, Muslim, fundamentalist, terrorist who leave them with these words: “Hopefully your children will have different skin color.” As I sat next to my new friend, I realized that he and I shared two common characteristics that no one else in the room shared. We were both black and Christian! As I listened to him talk about his family, and the fact that he knew that some of them had been killed by the Janjaweed, I realized that had I been born in Sudan, the people who killed his family would want to kill me too.

I’m not sure how much I can do from my desk in Houston, TX, but I can tell you one thing: I’m going to do something. If you feel the same urging of heart that I do, please visit www.savedarfur.org As a matter of fact, I have to end this post now…I have something I have to do!

Emergent Return

Posted: May 23, 2005 in Everything

I just returned from Nashville and the Emergent Convention, which is a out-growth of the emergent church conversation. Here are some of my impressions:

1. I was joyfully surprised by the diversity. There were participants from across the Christian/ theological spectrum. It wasn’t just ‘liberals’ or ‘conservatives,’ I think that has to be good. There was also a good deal of racial diversity. Many have claimed that the issues unearthed by the emergent conversation were specific to upper-class whites. Being neither upper-class or white, I knew this conclusion to be false. There was strong geographic diversity. Participants ranged from across the U.S. and Canada. In addition, a broad spectrum of ages were represented. Again, the critics claimed this conversation was merely about GenXer-angst. It’s not! There were more baby-boomers there than Xers and still some people even older than that. And then there was the theological diversity represented by presenters. Sometimes in fact, presenters teaching the same class were not completely in agreement. I think this is wonderful. It typifies a core value of Emergent: Conversation.

2. LeRon Shults is one of the smartest people I have ever heard. This past week was my first introduction to LeRon, and he blew me away! Rarely in Christian circles do I hear someone say something and think, “Man, I have NEVER thought about that.” LeRon is a professor at Bethel Seminary and his writings will go to the top of my list.

3. If you disagree with Brian McLaren’s views about church, politics, or theology you’d still have a hard time being disagreeable with the man. I’m a big fan of Brian’s, as you know, but in meeting and talking with him personally you feel his own, personal accessibility, warmth and grace. I hope to soon make a trip to D.C. to spend a day with Brian and his church staff. I can’t wait!

4. I now know that I am on a personal and ecclesiological spiritual journey that I cannot turn from. My association with Emergent (first as an outsider looking in, then a friend, then a cohort leader, and who knows what else next) isn’t me discovering something new. In many ways, though not nearly all, it is simple me finding who I always was. In one of his workshops, Brian said that people tell him often that “You’re not saying anything new. I always thought this. You just put it into words.” That’s much how I feel. Though I’m not comfortable with everything that is associated with Emergent, more than most of it fits who I am and how I view God and our world.

News and Updates

Posted: May 16, 2005 in Everything

There’s been a lot going on recently. Our student ministry is gearing up for the summer; mission trip, camps, musical, summer youth series, tons of stuff. It’s an exciting time. This is also the time of year we say good-bye to our graduating seniors.

Yesterday our congregation celebrated its annual ‘Senior Bless.’ This is a day when our students are blessed with words, honors and gifts for who they are. It’s a great day. (I probably cry more on this Sunday than any other day of the year.)

All of that is to say that life has been a a little hectic, I haven’t had the opportunity to write in this space much…or do the needed updates on the emergentHouston blog, but I did want to give you all some updates and things to think about.

1. I’m headed to the Emergent Convention this week. Pray for safety, learning, and conversation. I’m hosting a forum at the convention, pray that goes well also.
2. Rochelle’s mom is doing well with her radiation treatments–only 30+ more treatments to go.
3. For those interested, we will be having the ‘Searching for God Knows What’ conversation this summer. I’ll announce the dates and times soon.

I hope all is well with you and yours. God Bless….

Birthday Holiday

Posted: May 5, 2005 in Everything

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. You can probably imagine my year’s of stress having to deal with my mom’s birthday and Mother’s day in the same week. Two presents, two cards, two dinners; two of whatever families do for mom’s birthday and Mother’s Day. I always felt bad for this kids–like Donna from Beverly Hills 90210–whose birthday’s were on Christmas. I wondered how they ever knew which gifts was for what.

My mom never had that problem. She has always treated her birthday like a national holiday. She doesn’t go to work, friends or family take her out to eat. It is her day! And those around her have always known to be very clear about which gift was for her birthday and which was for Mother’s Day. She took it easy on us though, she never cared much about Mother’s Day. Her birthday was the thing.

Not surprisingly, I have inherited her love for birthdays. And now with my wife and daughter, we celebrate birthdays with more excitement and fervor than any other holiday. Here’s kinda how I see it. Everyone celebrates Christmas, Father’s and Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day etc…. And while I know that people around the world share birthdates, there is something special in taking one day, while the rest of the world continues in its mindless hustle and bustle, to say to someone you love, “I celebrate you.”

What a wonderful gift to be able say, “you are special, not in the generic ‘everybody’s special’ sense but you are special to me. I choose to be in relationship with you. Your life makes my living better. I am grateful to God for the gift of you.”

It seems to me that there some kind of external pressure with national holidays, but celebrating birthdays seems to be more about personal privilege. The privilege it is to be in relationship with someone, to love someone uniquely, to say today is your day.

So it is in that spirit that I say to Gloria Palmer, “I love you” and “Happy Birthday.”

Words to Remember

Posted: May 3, 2005 in Everything

I have a terrible memory. I also read a lot. This means that much of my reading is simply re-reading things that I have already read. It happens all the time. I go back to read something that I thought was very profound, only to discover that my memory under-served the text and the words are much more profound than I remembered.

Here are a few powerful quotes for recent re-reads.

1. From Philip Yancey’s Disappointment With God: “Some Christians long for a world well-stocked with miracles and spectacular signs of God’s presence. I hear wistful sermons on the parting of the Red Sea and the ten plagues and the daily manna in the wilderness, as if the speakers yearn for God to unleash his power like that today. But the follow-the-dots journey of the Israelites should give us pause. Would a burst of miracles nourish faith? Not the kind of faith God seems interested in, evidently. The Israelites give ample proof that signs may only addict us to signs, not to God.”

2. From Mother Teresa, (a quote that I always try to take into the pulpit with me): “What we say does not matter, only what God says to souls through us.”

3. From Dan Taylor’s Myth of Certainty: “Mistaking this active life of faith for an institutionally backed and culturally bound belief system is similar to reducing the Mona Lisa to paint-by-numbers.”

4. From Soren Kierkegaard: “Christian scholarship is the human race’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the New Testament, to ensure that one can continue to be a Christian without letting the New Testament come too close.”

Email me some of your though-provoking quotes!