In this same month that a movie on Jackie Robinson, who integrated major league baseball years before the Civil Right Act is released, a high school in the state of Georgia has its first racially integrated high school prom (google it, if you don’t believe me, I saw this on a cable news and entertainment station, Headline News this morning). This is happening in a nation that some claim to be post-racial. Think about this, students in Wilcox County, Georgia had to fight for an integrated prom. They received backlash from some and some of those folks held their own White Only Prom.
There are many of my evangelical Christian Brothers and Sisters that don’t want to deal with race, believing that we are either now in a colorblind and post-racial reality, or think that talking about race is only about bringing on “White Guilt.” My purpose in dealing with issues of race is four fold-
1.) To show that race is unbiblical and was never from a Scriptural standpoint, God’s idea for defining humanity.
2.) To show the race structure and racism individually and systemically for the sin and demonic force that it is.
3.) To create healthy ways to raise awareness and have discussions about race, so that the church can be fruitful and effective in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural mission field.
4.) Through ministry initiatives of reconciliation and righteousness, create a movement of Kingdom Community.
This mission will be difficult for the church if evangelicals on one hand want to promote the Jackie Robinson movie, “42″ as great, but are silent about segregated high school proms in the Bible Belt. We can’t have real movement around Kingdom citizenship and community if there is still a great fear from some Christian White families that their daughters are at risk of being asked to prom by a Black or Brown young man. Why else would you want a prom to be segregated? I also wonder if the same churches in the Bible Belt that are silent on segregated proms are still practicing the homogenous principal when it comes to church planting and revitalization?
I realize that there are many churches that are striving to be Christ-centered, multi-ethnic, and reconciling communities. I think of church like Voice of Calvary in Jackson, Mississippi and Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas in Little Rock. There are many others in the Bible Belt that are champions of developing Reconciling Churches. At the same time there are still too many evangelical leaders denying the reality and impact of race in the United States and beyond. Because of this the church is not having the Kingdom impact it could on issues such as immigration, incarceration rates, and disparities in the areas of housing, employment, and education. The issues of race at the end of the day are much bigger than the high school proms that will take place around the country this weekend.
I have to start by admitting that I have seen the Dark Knight Rises three times. Understanding the importance of three from a biblical and theological standpoint then, it makes sense for me to share some thoughts I have theologically about the movie. SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you might not want to read this. If you haven’t seen it yet, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!? Lol!
Here are just a few thoughts in my head as I’ve been connecting the movie and the Gospel-
1.) RISING FROM THE PIT- As Bruce Wayne comes out of the prison pit, he throws a rope down so that others may be set free as well. Jesus through His death on the cross, goes into the pit on our behalf for the sins of all of humanity. Jesus goes into the grave and into hell for us. Through his death and resurrection we have the ability, through our faith in Him, to come out of the pit of our sinful lives. Jesus provides the way for our escape from a life of slow death to the abundant and eternal life.
2.) ALFRED THE BUTLER- Throughout the movie Alfred attempts to give words of wisdom and life to Bruce Wayne. To this degree, Alfred is a picture of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a counselor, teacher, and a comforter (John 14). Are we willing to listen to and be empowered by the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Dark Knight Rises ends with Bruce Wayne living into the words of Alfred.
3.) HOPE- Batman, Bane, and Robin all speak of hope in the movie. The movie causes us to wrestle with whether hope is a tool for good and rescue or a weapon of control and manipulation. Hope is indeed a tool for good and rescue when it is coupled with faith. Our faith in Christ is also about a hope of what is to come and what can be right now. Christ in us, is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). No matter how dark the day, our hope and faith in Christ is our new day.
4.) CAT WOMAN: “YOU GIVEN THESE PEOPLE EVERYTHING.” BATMAN: “NOT EVERYTHING- Batman, throughout the movie showed how far he would go for the people of Gotham. As Christians we must ask ourselves how far we willing to go so that the lost would be found and the hurting would be helped. Every day of our lives is an opportunity to reach beyond self-centeredness so that lives and communities might be transformed.
5.) BRUCE WAYNE: “BATMAN CAN BE ANYONE”- God is in the business of using ordinary, everyday people of faith in order to do extraordinary works in the world.
Just a few thoughts. What are yours?
Today didn’t start off to good. Actually, it started out horrible. Ever had a day like that? I woke up late. I wasn’t as prepared for the day as I should have been. I spent almost two hours in rush hour traffic and arrived 40 minutes late to an important meeting with pastors in the Oakland area. Though I woke up to a warm sunny day, my soul was clouded. BUT THEN….
I arrived late to the breakfast meeting, but just in time to hear a godly woman, preach a sermon on, “A Liberating Imagination.” She used the Old Testament in such a powerful way to paint a picture of Kingdom Justice. Even though I was late, I still was able to enjoy a plate of fruit and eggs. I met a number of pastors and faith leaders who are making a difference in Oakland and beyond. I now prepare to spend the rest of the day praying, talking, and planning about our strategic focus area of Love Mercy, Do Justice within our mission region of the Evangelical Covenant Church. I still have the picture in my mind of leaving my house stressed, but my wife with a smile saying, “I love you.”
Sometimes, I judge the day by the morning. When my day doesn’t start off well, I get down and can be hard to be around. When I start out the day wrong, I tend to beat myself up, which can lead to my not treating others well. Today, I was blessed to experience Jesus in the midst of a day that started off not so good. But, whenever I try to start off a day in my own power that day starts off wrong. The sooner I connect with Jesus, the sooner the day gets right. This doesn’t mean the day is perfect with no struggles. It means I’m better equipped and empowered to navigate the day. Even a bad day with Jesus is a learning opportunity. Don’t judge your day by the morning, but by the Son.
As I reflect on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I can’t help but meditate deeply on something he wrote within an article entitled, “The Case Against Tokenism” for the New York Times, August 5, 1962-
“…it is still true that the church is the most segregated major institution in America. As a minister of the gospel, I am ashamed to say that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning-when we stand to sing ‘In Christ There Is No East Nor West’- is the most segregated hour of America, and that Sunday school is the most segregated school of the week.”
So what is the state of the church in the United States of America today, some 40 years after the murder of Dr. King? Christian sociologist Michael Emerson, who co-wrote the important book, “Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”, has said that today only about 7% of the church in the U.S. would be deemed multiracial. Of all the institutions in the United States could it be that the Christian church has struggled the most in living out the dream and vision of Dr. King? It seems so. But, in order to be missional into the future this must change. I am actually very hopeful about this happening.
On the website, churchleaders.com, Sam Rainer recently wrote about “Ten (Unexpected) Church Trends to Surface by 2020″ (http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/157452-10-unexpected-church-trends-to-surface-by-2020.html). The very first trend he mentions deals with something that champions of the multi-ethnic and missional church have known for a long time. Rainer points to the trend that the heterogeneous (or homogeneous church principle) church will explode. The question becomes what will cause this and are we preparing emerging leaders for this reality?
Let me deal with the issue of preparing leaders. No longer can we afford to make multi-ethnic and missional ministry simply a “track” within a leadership conference or a “Pre-conferene” before the general conference begins. Multi-ethnic and missional ministry must become the central issue of every denomination, church planting association, seminary, and leadership conference. I’m so glad, that the Evangelical Covenant Church, the denomination I serve, has done just that (www.covchurch.org).
Theology, preaching, church leadership, and ministry practice must be connected to this central issue of multi-ethnic and missional ministry. Multi-ethnicity is important, not just because of the current and future multicultural realities, but also because Jesus walked the earth as a multi-ethnic human being and the Bible is the most multi-ethnic story you will ever read. Being missional is about the church having a sense of urgency concerning evangelism, outreach, and biblical justice. These are the key components of the advancement of the kingdom of God.
To live into this multi-ethnic and missional movement, we can learn much from Dr. King the theologian. I encourage you to engage his writings and then return to the Scriptures with new eyes. Allowing Dr. King to influence how we engage the Scriptures allows us to see the God of salvation, deliverance, and liberation. The new church that is needed today can be developed as the words of Dr. King allow us to see the true church of the Scriptures. This church takes on the mission of advancing what Dr. King called, The Beloved Community. The Beloved Community is realized as the church embodies reconciliation, redemption, transformation, and justice.
I listened on Oprah radio (XM radio) to the last show. I have to admit that I wasn’t one who was glued to the television weekday afternoons over the last 25 years catching the over 4,000 episodes. I would watch every once and awhile, but I was very interested in this last show. I guess mostly for the historic moment of it all.
She stated that this show would be her love letter to those who have supported her all these years. From there she went into what I would call the Oprah Gospel; her good news to the world. I would sum this up into three areas-
1.) You have a calling. Find it and make a difference.
2.) You have the power to change a life.
3.) You are responsible for your own life. No one is responsible for you.
This is the foundation of the gospel according to Oprah. After that she spent time talking about energy, the golden rule to the 10th power, and other things that could be interpreted as new age. After listening to this, I wondered about Oprah’s connection to the black church, both good and bad. I wondered about her relationship to the church in general. To borrow number three in her gospel, she is ultimately responsible for her connection to God and the church. She is responsible for making the decision to follow God thru a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or not. She is responsible for joining a church and participating in the local fellowship of believers, or not. But does the church itself carry some responsibility?
My take is, that to a degree, Oprah’s gospel is connected to her being bruised by the church and even abused by those who claimed to be carriers of the true gospel. During her 25 year run as a talk show host, Oprah has shared stories of abuse since her childhood by, “church-going, God fearing people.” This does not take her off the hook of responsibility, but it explains some things.
I began to wonder about all the people away from God and outside of the church because they’ve been hurt by the church and abused by Christians. I realize that the next line may get me in trouble. Are there times when the church and Christians have been abusers and maybe even oppressors? Is Oprah’s gospel connected to pain, abuse, or hurt by the church and Christians? It’s no excuse, but it might help to explain, in part, her gospel. It is interesting that her show ended with Aretha Franklin creating a church like atmosphere with her powerful gospel singing. No question Oprah seeks out a connection with God, but is it impacted by a disconnect from church based on some unfortunate childhood experiences? I pray that the love and grace of God found thru Jesus Christ continues to pursue the queen of the talk shows.
Three months ago while in Kenya, I visited the town of Dandora. Dandora has the second largest concentration of extreme poverty in Kenya. The town is basically built on a trash dump. As you go into the town you see mothers, children, and pigs on a mountain of trash digging for food and other necessities. There are families in the town that are so poor, that when they have a child born they take that baby to the trash dump to die.
In the midst of all this though, there is a church in the center of town. I met the pastor and some of their ministry staff who work in partnership with Compassion International. They have a motto that says, “we find God’s treasures amongst the trash. I met a young man who had been rescued from the trash dump years ago. He now is in college. I will never forgot this trip. It has forever changed my thoughts on the poor, God’s Kingdom, and the mission of the church.
Last weekend, I was in downtown Los Angeles. Rolling Hills Covenant Church is one of the churches in the conference which I serve. They sent a Kingdom army of close to 600 people from their congregation to Skid Row. Skid Row contains about 60,000 homeless people in downtown LA. You don’t have to go all the way to Kenya to see poverty. Rolling Hills partnered with the Fred Jordan Mission to put on a tremendous service of hope. I had the privilege of preaching with the senior pastor of Rolling Hills to hundreds of the homeless of Skid Row. But, we didn’t just preach. People were fed. People were plugged into programs for life change and were extended the love of God.
In the area of Kingdom Compassion, Mercy, and Justice there is yet still much to do. Churches around this country and around the world must put themselves in a position to hear God’s voice calling us still to love the poor. We must find our local and global place of mission and transformation. My trip to Kenya three months ago and my visit to downtown Los Angeles last weekend has my spirit so hopeful of what God will do thru us, His beloved children.
I was recently walking thru the Mission and Dolores Park areas of San Francisco and couldn’t help but see so much change. Places that used to be predominantly lower-class and African-American were now predominately Asian and Latino. Places where the homeless crowded to find a place to sleep on the ground, were now places where people walked wearing skinny jeans and converse shoes.
I passed trendy coffee shops on every corner. I walked into to one and had a great cup of coffee from Kenya. Within the coffee shop, I saw much ethnic diversity. Not only was ethnic diversity obvious but so was a significant gay and lesbian community. I both admired the beauty of the diversity and also wondered what happened to the people that used to be there. I also wondered how in the world an evangelical church could advance the Kingdom of God in this reality. I shouldn’t just focus on the evangelical church, because any type of church would struggle to make an impact in this reality because the church is so slow when it comes to change.
Somewhere in all those thoughts I was wrestling with diversity, change, the church, compassion, truth, and justice. Were the poor that used to be there forgotten? Has San Francisco forgotten about African-Americans? Will the church truly seek to advance God’s Kingdom within predominantly gay and lesbian communities? Will the church passionately seek to be multi-ethnic and about compassion, mercy, and justice? What does evangelism and discipleship look like in this context?
Recently, Christian sociologist Michael Emerson said on average the church in America is 10 times more segregated than the community its in and 20 times more segregated than the public schools in that same community. The multi-ethnic church is only about 7% of the church in the United States of America. The city is changing at such a fast pace, how will the church catch up?
We will catch up by catching the Spirit of God. God is not intimidated by the changing cities. God desires to use His church to bring truth, transformation, justice, and love to the city. Will we join God?
I know that it has been way too long since I’ve last written. I also realize that when I do write, too much time passes until there is another post from me. I guess I should first provide my multiple pre-thoughtout excuses. Yes, they are pre-thoughtout, but they are very real.
One, since the middle of January, I have been in a major transition mode. I was nominated to serve as the next Superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church during that month. This year began a process of making one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. I made the prayerful decision to leave the senior pastor position at the Sanctuary Covenant Church and also the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul where I was born and raised.
By April, I was elected as Superintendent and last month I was installed. It’s official and I’ve just gone through the very emotional good-bye to the Sanctuary phase of this transition. I don’t think I’ve ever cried as hard and long as I did during that last Sunday as Senior Pastor.
Second, (should there even need to be another reason?), I’m in a doctoral program in church leadership at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. I took a class in February called, “A Theology of Leadership in Community.” I’m in a class this very week called, “Personal Well-Being and Ministry Effectiveness.” Last summer, I took a class called, “Economic Justice and the Mission of the Church” and before that, “Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership.” Now you’d think I would have a lot to write about wouldn’t you? Well, these classes have had such an impact on me personally, that it drove me to some serious inspection of my inner life and it’s connection to my outer practice of ministry. I feel like I’ve gone into some sort of cave for a little while.
The third reason I haven’t been the consistent blogger I should be and desire to be is that I’ve had the blessing of re-engaging the power of personal relationships that have led to me not being as engaged in the, “tech life.” I’ve enjoyed being apart of a men’s study and prayer community, playing the Wii with my daughters, going to movies and concerts with my wife, and hanging out weekly at the neighborhood barber shop. Man, time flies when you invest in face to face relationships.
Well, the in between time of not being the senior pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church and not yet fully being transitioned to California to serve as Superintendent has brought my desire to share my thoughts, passions, frustrations, and theology back. I hope it lasts even on the other side of the in between so that I stay back in action for a long time this time.
I encourage you to read and have a time of deep reflection upon the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. In this text Jesus is speaking through parables to His disciples. Today, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, this includes you as well. Jesus is presenting key points about the Kingdom of God and how you and I are to participate in its mission and value system. This is so that we might say yes to the invitation to advance the Kingdom of God in the world through the empowerment, which comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
He begins the chapter by speaking of two groups of bridesmaids, one wise and one foolish. This parable lifts up the need to have a sense of urgency and anticipation for the return of Christ. This anticipation though should not lead us to a state of privatized religion. The position of a Christian fundamentalism rooted primarily in individualism and judgement is not how we wait on our Lord to return. We must use this time, which we know not its limit, to be used by God as vehicles of compassion, mercy, justice, truth, transformation, and reconciliation. We are to be salt and light in the world while we are waiting in anticipation.
Next, Jesus shares a parable about a Master, who presents talents to His servants. These servants or slaves to be more specific are in this position because they owe a debt to the Master. But it seems in this parable that the Master forgives the debt owed Him and instead gives talents or resources to the servants. Because of sin, we owe God. We have created spiritual debt in the economy of the Kingdom of God. But, through Christ Jesus not only are our debts dealt with, but we are given resources to steward for the advancement of the Kingdom. We are called to take the gifts God has given us and multiply them. The question becomes how? This question is answered in the final parable of Matthew 25.
Jesus speaks of a King, that takes the people of the world and divides them into two groups. He looks at the first group and speaks of being hungry and this group feeding Him. He speaks of being thirsty, sick, a stranger, naked, and in prison and this group addressing these issues. The people respond in confusion, not knowing when they did any of those things. The King responds to the confusion with the Kingdom call to compassion, mercy, and justice. He says that as it is done to the least of them in the world, it is as if it was done to Him.
Our God in heaven calls us today out of a religion of individualism into a life of Kingdom advancement which includes evangelism, compassion, mercy, and justice.
I’m excited to have this opportunity to share my thoughts and theology on issues ranging from reconciliation and justice to spiritual growth and hip hop. I hope you keep coming back and I invite you to wrestle with me in how to ignite a Kingdom advancing movement in an ever-increasing multi-ethnic and multicultural world!