We still aren’t talking

Once we get a news cycle out of the way, we somehow make it okay to move away from the difficult conversations. Throw in the wackiest election cycle in… well… forever, and it’s easy to forget the underlying difficulties we still don’t deal with in our culture. It’s only been two months since I was jolted by the shooting of Philando Castile, but we’ve moved away from conversation on race quite easily.

I want to share this video from someone who has deeply impacted my thinking on race. It’s an older video and we’ve had quite a few more incidents since this was recorded, but Michelle Alexander and her book, The New Jim Crow, had an impact. This video is long, but worth the time. I would say, “I hope you enjoy,” but I would be lying.

We could be at a pivot moment for racial reconciliation

Dr. John Perkins’ statement near the beginning of this video is hopeful. For a man who has given so many decades to racial reconciliation, these were words of hope to me.

This is a pivot moment for the American Church. We can miss it and stay in our tiny binary world and thinking… or step up to radical Kingdom thinking. TRANSFORMED MINDS, TRANSFORMED LIVES.

Black Lives, Blue Lives, All Lives

In the past two weeks we have been confronted harshly with the bad choices of a couple of generations. (And in the case of race, it’s much longer than that.)

Just start with the current election cycle. We have two of the most deeply flawed candidates available set in front of us. But who put them there? We did. And now… WE feel stuck? And no matter what the political leaning or religious leaning, we feel like we don’t have any options. It’s a binary, “either/or” world we THINK we live in… and it jams us up.

And now we have the racial tensions front and center once again. So, in social media it’s EITHER… black lives matter OR blue lives matter.

So, when I write a couple of posts that actually get some attention, and I watch comments on friends Facebook pages about what I wrote, those binary thoughts come out all over again.

We can’t handle the tension we really have in our world so we make binary choices. “It’s either this OR that.”

But my contention is this: it’s both and.

I can easily say “Black Lives Matter” because I need to acknowledge pain in my friends’ lives. For my friends, the question honestly is: “What if I’m pulled over?” And at that moment, I don’t pull out my stupid statistics and say, “Well, according to the latest data, you’re more safe than 50 years ago…” At that moment I let them know I hear that fear and I weep with them. 

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I can easily say “Blue Lives Matter” because I have friends in law enforcement. I know the anxiety they have these days. “What happens on this traffic stop?” And at that moment, I don’t pull out another set of statistics and say, “Well, you know…” At that moment I let them know I hear that fear and worry with them. I want them home safe.

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As a believer, as a white man, as whatever other label I need to slap on like I’m driving in a NASCAR race… I know these tensions exist and I will not live with either/or choices anymore.

Several months ago in a clergy meeting someone offered up what they truly believed was what I would best call an “altruistic” or “utopian” answer. They said, “I’m colorblind.”

Here is my tension: I am NOT colorblind. And Black Lives Matter. And Blue Lives Matter. And Muslim lives matter. And gay lives matter. And Christian lives matter.

I know I see color. In my flawed humanity I will admit I see color and there are times that is a beautiful thing… and there are other times it is an ugly thing (on my part). There are times I see color and rejoice at the differences. The beauty of difference in appearance, culture, music, literature, etc., delights me.

There are times I see color and tense up. And I know I have those moments. I wish they didn’t exist. But they do. And I’m sorry. It’s the tension in which I live.

As a white man, I have to acknowledge those tensions. In a way, I can’t apologize for those tensions. But I’m done with this forced binary thinking.

People keep asking, “Where do we start?”

For me, that is probably a good spot. Just recognize the tension and then deal with it. I need to ask my black friends, “How can I help? What do you see IN ME that needs some work?”

And that is another deep flaw I’ve had. I haven’t asked that question enough. I have asked that of my gay friends, my Muslim friends, and others… but I have not asked that enough of my black friends. And I am deeply sorry.

Let us refuse the “either/or” and work to live in the “both/and.”

It starts with me. It starts with the cross of Jesus Christ. I lay my life down and ask Kingdom truth, Kingdom power, to become my reality. Not the political, cultural rhetoric flying around me. I need the rhetoric of Kingdom language flowing through my soul.

 

When the large needs to learn from the small

In the church context, that’s another conversation. And, let’s be honest, probably one that won’t be had in the near future.

But there IS a context it SHOULD happen… and SOON.

There are two situations linked in a way I think it’s time to say, “The large could learn from the small.”

One article posted by a couple of teachers in the school district where I pastor struck a cord. It’s about the tough environment of teaching high needs/high risk kids and the lack of support that happens in that environment.

The other event is Baltimore. The recent riots and the whole issue of community policing, poverty, race, and more.

I want to invite anyone and everyone to Columbia Heights, MN. We don’t do everything well, but we have an attitude to do things RIGHT.

The schools are incredibly diverse and deal with poverty. In the midst of that, along with the harsh conditions teachers deal with day in and day out, success can happen. It’s not always noticeable, and that’s a shame. But our school system is visionary in how they educate kids of all economic and intellectual development.

Our city does community policing the right way. It’s always a struggle, but it’s done WELL. They hire for diversity when at all possible. They get involved in the schools as big brothers/sisters. They have open gym times. They know kids before they have to deal with kids on trouble. It makes a huge difference.

“Big” cities need to see how this place does it.

They love the community and invite the community to the table… ALL of the community. As a pastor, I’ve always enjoyed wonderful access to our community and have worked many years to bring positive solutions to the city. They allow us to help mentor kids in the high school. They allow us places at the table in key committees within the city and the district… as the church. 

They work hard to have all voices at the table and when a segment is missing, it actually bothers them.

We can do things right. Minneapolis should come up all of three blocks from their border and learn. Baltimore should come out here. Ferguson should REALLY come out here.

Talk to our leaders. Talk to our churches. Talk to our mosque.

It’s not perfect. But it’s not Baltimore, either.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God. (Matt. 5:9)

The paralysis of politics has made the Church pathetic instead of PROPHETIC

Please do yourself a favor and listen to a repeat of this live stream. I couldn’t fast forward through it, so it was necessary to listen carefully all the way through as evangelical/conservative leaders talked about race, racism, and justice.

The very first comments from a conservative black pastor caught me. He asked someone who had been in a conservative Christian college in 1968 when Dr. King was assassinated. The younger pastor asked the older pastor, “What did your college do that day? Did they stop to pray?”

The answer was, “We did nothing. We just went on our day.”

We have been caught in political arguments as conservative Christians. The trouble is we don’t want to recognize it. Because the “right” black men weren’t killed innocently, we are paralyzed from doing anything because it may look like we’re… um… LIBERALS…

When I mentioned on a forum what I did in my church to observe #BlackLivesMatter Sunday, I was met with opposition. One was angry because it was done to “honor” some “thugs” who were “in the wrong.” He then went on to say he wasn’t racist and any Church of God in Christ pastor could come any other day to his pulpit. I seriously doubt that pastor will arrange that day on his own.

We seem to want the precisely RIGHT conditions for us as conservatives to stand up and say, “We have a problem.”

On the conservative side and on the liberal side, our politics have made us pathetic when King Jesus needs us in this hour (and every hour) to be prophetic. 

Assemblies of God pastors vehemently disagreed with our general superintendent when he asked to support our COGIC brothers and sisters because it looked like we were supporting “thugs.” That’s a political motivation and we need to call it out.

In Dr. King’s day conservative churches did little or nothing. Today, I want it to be better. At least on my part. I want my congregation THINKING about justice. I want to be more engaged in these issues because the Church really has something to say in this matter and, quite frankly, it will get Democrats and Republicans upset.

We need a way forward and hiding behind political stances and calling them “theological” won’t cut it anymore.

Quite frankly, there will be some who won’t listen very long to that live stream repeat because of the theology of most pastors present. (There are a lot of Reformed pastors in this group.)

We need to take some time and simply shut up and listen.

I need to listen to the hurt and pain of my African American brothers and sisters, especially when they are in the church. I need to shut up and listen for possible ways through this mess, even if I don’t particularly like the Reformed theology of some of that panel and the moderator’s goatee scares the living daylights out of me. (Someone PLEASE give Ed Stetzer a beard trim!)

There are plenty of opportunities to hammer the foolishness of liberal theology/politics. Today, it’s my own house. Cut the political maneuvering and PLEASE find a way to listen.

Oh, and go make friends with people that don’t look like you and think like you. Please.

Let’s Get This Done

From my message today:

Race divided the Pentecostal church. From the beginning. What was powerful at Azusa Street was ripped away by the racism of America. The Assemblies of God became white. Church of God in Christ became black.

The A/G had policies in place through the 1960s and even the 1970s in some places that would not allow blacks to be ordained in the A/G. We “encouraged” them to go to COGIC. For all the hollering I’ve watched some A/G pastors do in social media about Dr. Wood bowing to cultural pressure, it is not Dr. Wood who has bowed. It was the A/G for decades that bowed to white privilege pressure. WE were the ones in sin.

Why my city rocks

I love reflecting on the city where I pastor because there are so many things going on that are RIGHT. They are not totally right all the time, but there are things that defy current trends.

For instance, Columbia Heights is on the very low end of “affluence” in the Twin Cities. Rock bottom for the metro area, I believe. Housing stock is good, but values are low. We are incredibly diverse. Over 70 percent of students in the schools are on free and reduced lunches as well.

Racially diverse. Not affluent. Not great housing stock. Recipe for disaster.

Except… it’s not.

Crime is at a 40 year low. Our school system was only one of four in the metro area to have test scores go UP by state standards in the last academic year.

There are so many reasons why this is such wonderful news and why it won’t make the news.

1. Community policing. The police are incredibly proactive. Every officer is required to have community service hours every month. Even the police chief. He is a big brother in an elementary school.

2. Pro-active government. They work hard to get ahead of issues and promote the beauty of the diversity we have in our city.

3. Pro-active schools. They work hard to navigate language barriers, learning levels, and more. This district gives away more scholarship money every year for college than our richest suburbs. It is a joy to see.

4. Government that actually LIKES churches. We are welcome to take part in any effort that furthers our city. We mentor students, help with programs, sponsor community events, etc. They want us involved BEFORE a problem arises.

There is so much more, but I wanted to stop quickly and give thanks for what God is doing in our community. We need a breath of good news from time to time.