Archive for August, 2005

The Church

Posted: August 30, 2005 in Everything

I’m not anti-church, though some people think I am. I can see why, sometimes I say and write things that aren’t very complimentary of the church. I saw an ad for a congregation that was looking for a preacher several years ago. One of the “qualifications” was “someone who is not critical of the church.” Now those of us from a church of Christ heritage know exactly what this congregation meant by “THE CHURCH”–but I thought that was a funny qualification to have for a minister.

Something about that qualification suggests that there is nothing wrong with the church and the problem lies with those who criticize it. Believe me, I don’t think criticism is an enviable trait. We shouldn’t go out of our way to be critical, but there are times when someone, somewhere needs to hold up a mirror to the church and force it to see itself as it really is. My experience has been that churches become overwhelmed with being the institution of “the church” and dismiss being the body of Jesus to the world. When I am critical of the church, other Christians, and even myself, it is because I have been re-awakened to the vast difference in how people responded to Jesus and how people respond to church.

John Eldredge puts it this way: “Common folk tear roofs off houses to get to him (Jesus). They literally trample each other in an effort to get closer to this man. I’ve never seen anyone acting like this in order to get a chance to serve on some church committee or to hear a sermon on why dancing ‘is the devil.'”

Instead of trying to recreate the 1st century or cut and paste the slivers of information we have about the Christian churches in the New Testament (most of which are pretty bad churches), perhaps our churches should re-commit themselves to simply living in the way of Jesus? Maybe then people might rush to us too.

Quick Hitters!

Posted: August 27, 2005 in Everything

I’m back at my local Port City Java today. I’m supposed to be studying but my cell phone keeps ringing and the coffee is awful today. It’s amazing how different the same cup of coffee can be depending on who makes it. Today I got the weekend people.

Anyway, I meant to be away at the New Wineskins Retreat this weekend hearing and talking about racial reconciliation. Alas, a busy schedule and gas prices have conspired against me. I trust that the good people presenting and attending the weekend’s retreat are being blessed by their time there.

If you haven’t yet checked out our emergentHouston blog, you should, A new friend of mine, Bart Robarts, is working diligently on the page, updating it constantly and making it look cooler than I ever could. We hope to have another local Houston gathering early next month. The Emergent conversation is no silver bullet for the church, but it is a conversation that religious and spiritual leaders should seriously look into.

I’m currently prepping for a study of the book of Revelation. It has so much to say about how we live as faithful people in the face of empire and humanity’s natural tendency to side and worship government over God. Perhaps Pat Robertson should read it. It also speaks powerfully for those of us trying to sort of God in a life fillied with pain, persecution and heartache.

Jesus and The Twin Towers

Posted: August 25, 2005 in Everything

Like I said a few days ago, my wife, Rochelle, and I spent two nights watching The National Geographic Channel’s two-part mini-series, Inside 9/11. For four hours over two nights I wondered how a group of people can hate another group of people so much that they would kill them indiscriminately. But it’s happened before, hasn’t it? History itself is the story of one people conquering, killing, and controlling another people for some reason or another. But that history always shocks and amazes me.

I had lots of emotions while watching Inside 9/11; anger, rage, sadness, fear. At times I felt that there was no appropriate emotion when watching people jump to their death from the 90th floor of the World Trade Center. There were times during the special when I thought to myself that the U.S. and its allies should pull out all its personnel and troops and carpet-bomb anything that moves in the middle-east. Quickly though, I noted that the emotion I was feeling was the same kind of “kill ’em all” approach to life which caused 9/11 in the first place.

Oddly enough, that very same day, Pat Robertson–who represents NO Christian I know–spouted off about killing the President of Venezuela. As you know, the negative response was quick and wide-spread. In a way, I’m glad Pat said what he said. It was a reminder to me that I do not want to be that kind of Christian–the kind that thinks American interests and Christianity are the same thing.

I don’t want to be that way, though I understand it. My problem is that for some reason Jesus keeps taking me back to The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5,6, and 7. I preached through the sermon two years ago and it still has a powerful effect on me. Had Jesus worked at the State Department and been writing U.S. Foreign Policy He might have said something different, but what he said was, “…if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also…” For a second I’m going to resist the Christians’ temptation to mitigate what Jesus said back into what we are already doing and step out on a limb a interpret the message of our Master as one of peace.

Truthfully, I don’t always know what that means. Should Christians never engage in war? Some say yes. Should we always allow others to beat us and kill us. Some say no. What I do know is that Jesus goes on to say, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5.43-45).”

Could there be a harder teaching to follow? From the co-worker or neighborhood menace you dislike to the international terrorist networks currently at work plotting the next 9/11, Jesus tells us to love our enemies. I find it amazing that Jesus’ economy is completely about love. Think about it!

If someone cuts you off in traffic: Love them.
If a family member lies and steals from you: Love them.
If a co-worker mistreats you: Love them.
If a child is suffering from drug or alcohol dependence and have disappointed you a thousand times: Love them.
If someone is planning to kill you or those you love: Love them, too.

Believe me, I’m not saying that our government agencies and local law enforcement should take an extended vacation from protection, what I am saying is that apparently there is incredible power in the loving people. Perhaps we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of that power. Maybe the way we are used to loving is so shallow and self-serving that we have no idea what love could do if it were completely unleashed. Maybe love is so important to Jesus because it might take a thousand lifetimes to learn how to do it right.

I don’t know about any of that, but I would sure love to find out what love could do. How about you?

Inside 9/11

Posted: August 22, 2005 in Everything

Rochelle and I sat stunned last night as we watched The National Geographic Channels two-night mini-series Inside 9/11. I’m still processing much of what we saw and heard. I have thought of little else since seeing it. It was powerful and informative! If you’re going to be home tonight, the second part will air at 9pm Eastern/ 8pm Central, it is appointment viewing. Later this week I will post some comments concerning a Christian response to acts of hatred and what we might do now as we find ourselves faced with situation in Iraq and continued terrorist tensions.

If you don’t care about that, that’s fine, but you need to see Inside 9/11 anyway.

Missional Christianity

Posted: August 19, 2005 in Everything

I love these words about missional Christianity from Brian McLaren’s book, A Generous Orthodoxy.

“Missional Christian faith asserts that Jesus did not come to make some people saved and other condemned. Jesus did not come to helps some people be right while leaving everyone else to be wrong. Jesus did not come to create another exclusive religion–Judaism having been exclusive based on genetics and Christianity being exclusive based on belief (which can be a tougher requirement than genetics!)

Missional faith asserts that Jesus cam to preach the good news of the kingdom of God to everyone, especially the poor. He came to seek and save the lost. He came on behalf of the sick. He came to save the world. His gospel, and therefore the Christian message, is Good News for the whole world.” (A Generous Orthodoxy, pg. 109-110.)

Subversive Imagination

Posted: August 17, 2005 in Everything

For a thoughtful, challenging approach to the way we read scripture I recommend Brian J. Walsh’s and Sylvia Keesmaat’s “Colossians Remixed”. Not only do they handle the text well (though I don’t agree with all their conclusions), they have a marvelous way of bringing ancient text into contemporary focus.

In their chapter dealing with Subversive Poetry and Contested Imagination, the couple makes a case that no one can be completely oppressed by an empire or oppressive regime as long as they continue to imagine. Here’s how they put it:

“We have seen that empires maintain their sovereignty not only be establishing a monopoly of markets, political structures and military might but also by monopolizing the imaginations of their subjects. Indeed, vanquished peoples are not really subjects of the empire until their imagination has been taken captive. As long as they continue to have memories of life before exile, and al long as they harbor dreams of a social reality alternative to empire, they are a threat to the empire. Their liberated imagination keeps them free even in the face of violent military repression. And until that imagination is broken, domesticated and reshaped the image of the empire, the people are free.”

I just thought this was a great thought; nothing to add.

In Search of a "Beloved Community"

Posted: August 16, 2005 in Everything

Recently, there has been a big flap at my alma mater over the casting of a Caucasian student to play the lead role in the homecoming musical, Aida. Aida is the story of a Nubian princess, and some folks–both at the university and in the community–did not appreciate the casting. Also, some in the theatre department have been personally defamed by the over-zealous media over the casting decision. (For more information see The Abilene Reporter News) The registration is free.)

I love Abilene Christian University, I loved my experience there, I was nurtured deeply by my professors in the Bible Department, the Graduate School of Theology and my connection with the good people at the Highland Church of Christ, particularly the preaching of Mike Cope–where I attended while in college. Currently, I serve on ACU’s Alumni Advisory Board and though there’s not a lot of extra money around our house, we manage to make our annual donation to the school.

It is obvious to me, though I don’t even live in Abilene, that some good people have been hurt in all this. At the same time, I must admit, that as an African-American, I have always felt a subtle sub-text of racism at ACU. Now, I don’t for a minute think the current situation is racist. There are too many people whom I respect who speak well of the parties involved for me to believe the people involved are racist. At the same time, this casting decision has stirred deep passion and anxiety in me and I’m not sure why.

Is it because I felt racism while in school and feel it in our churches? Or is it because ACU was so slow to accept blacks as students? Is it because churches of Christ essentially have two fellowship (if not three); black and white and Hispanic? Could it be that as an African American who ministers in predominately white churches that during every interview I’ve ever had some church member has asked the church leadership if I would be able to “relate” and had questions about what kind of “people” I would attract to the church? Is it because as a college student I had impeccable references, grades, and experience but could not get internships? I even had churches give me back my resume at the end interviews–a phenomenon that NEVER happened to my white friends! Could it be that as a teenager people in my youth group consistently made fun of minorities and disrespected black culture?

I’m not sure where the stir of emotion has come from. I saw “Fiddler on the Roof” at ACU and I assume the cast wasn’t all Jewish. I saw “Oliver” too, and Oliver was played by a girl. And truthfully, “Nubian”–which is the race of Aida–does not always, necessarily mean “Black”.

For some reason, this feels different though. Maybe because the nail of racism against blacks is still being hammered in contemporary culture and the church. The great sin of America has been its institutional exclusion of blacks and when occasions like this arise it feels like more of the same.

And that’s the point where me and so many of my white friends part. They always want to argue the facts–like those I mentioned about “Fiddler”. Facts are great, but they don’t always tell the whole story. Imagine “Fiddler” being staged in Germany shortly after WWII, while there were still some Nazi’s around (by “Nazi’s” I don’t mean people at ACU, but rather some people in the culture who still hold certain views). How might they respond then about casting non Jews? I can’t be certain, but they might be offended at being excluded from the telling of part of their story and culture.

Perhaps there is a difference in the way we should treat, and talk about, a wound that is still fresh (and in some places a wound that is being inflicted)? Or maybe I’m just over-sensitive? The truth is, we (churches, universities, and church leaders) need to talk about this a lot more and a lot more openly, a lot more honestly.

I wish I had an answer…