• What Not Judging Is and Is Not

    I wrote last week about not judging as a form of spiritual discipline. It occurs to me that part of our problem with not judging is that there’s a great deal of confusion regarding what is meant by not judging. So I thought I’d share a couple of thoughts regarding my understanding of it.

    Primarily, not judging means being open to correction. My parents used to always say to me, “you think you’re always right”. Which was true. If I thought I was wrong, I would change my mind. Why would I knowingly hold onto a belief which I knew was wrong?

    The truth is, we all work from the assumption that what we think is correct. That’s not the problem. The problem is that when we judge, we cut ourselves off from considering that we might be wrong. And we’re always wrong about something. Otherwise we’d be God.

    We get into trouble when we fail to accept that our understanding of what is right is always going to be inadequate and flawed. Unfortunately, a lot of churches actively encourage us to judge by insisting that their teachings are indesputably correct. Adopt church teachings as your own, and you never have to face the limits of your own understanding. In fact, holding firm to your faith, they teach, requires that you refuse to be open to the possibility of correction.

    Of course, this is simple idolotry and not faith. It is churches claiming for themselves authority which only God is able to hold. And contrary to what some Christians try to tell you, the church and God are not interchangeable.

    If we want to follow God and learn his ways, we have to always, always, always be open to having our judgment corrected. Not judging, to me, doesn’t mean refraining from seeing what’s right in front of your face. It just means being open to having your understanding or judgment regarding what you see corrected. Continue reading

  • Colonizing Cities for White American Jesus

    No one likes to think of themselves as racist or prejudiced. Even the KKK denies being a racist organization. Which for some people just affirms the deeply held idea that there’s something wrong with people of color. If there wasn’t something wrong with them, people of color wouldn’t have so many problems now that racism isn’t a problem. How can racism be to blame when there are no more racists among us?

    Of course, racism and the residual effects of centuries of being raped, robbed and pillaged continue to be an issue. If we’d ever like to get to the day when there really are no racists among us, we need white people to be a lot less clueless. Like, for example, we need for this to become unthinkable, particularly for Christians:

    When I asked the white pastor of a large suburban multi-campus church to . . . reflect on whether he has earned the right to do ministry among the oppressed, he responded by saying, “Obviously, the pastors [of color] that are already in the community aren’t more qualified to minister in that neighborhood than I am. If they were, they’d have made a bigger impact by now. They’ve had their chance. Now it’s mine.”

    Or this:

    One older African-American pastor said he’s heard chilling reports of meetings, in which representatives from many of the suburban churches have gathered around a map of the city and marked each church’s “territory,” as if Buffalo was theirs to divvy up. The indigenous leaders were not invited to these meetings, nor have they been contacted by these churches. It’s as if they don’t exist, their churches don’t exist, and their expertise doesn’t exist.

    Those quotes come from a really excellent article by Christina Cleveland called “Urban Church Planting Plantations” which ought to be required reading for every suburban pastor. And for you too. It’s super good.

    I had heard talk of urban church planting and knew that most such church plants fail miserably. Often they become money holes for the church supporting them. Even relatively successful ones find that instead of ministering directly to poor, struggling communities, they are attracting a crowd that doesn’t actually live in the area the church is supposed to be ministering to.

    In fact, the last church our family was seriously involved in was an urban church plant supported by a large, predominantly white denomination. They had a long history of working for racial reconciliation and so did better than most. They hired African American pastors and ministers who were at least somewhat familiar with the community. They were even paying for additional education and training to bring the pastors up to the denomination’s standards. But at the same time, we were driving 40 minutes each way to get there. Urban ministry is much harder than Pastor “It’s my turn” thinks.

    Continue reading

  • God and Laughing

    God loves laughter. Humor makes us laugh because it triggers delighted surprise to hear that things we fear – being alone, being unloved, being ridiculed  - aren’t as awful as it seems. And when it is awful, it isn’t as serious as we thought it was. When God gave us a sense of humor, He was telling us not to be so afraid. ~R. Trotter, The Upside Down World

    I have a real soft spot for humor. It is one of the great joys of life. I’d give up sex, wealth, tasty food and reading before I’d want to give up a sense of humor. Hell, we all know old people who made just that deal; they lost all the other joys of life to aging, so now they just sit around and laugh and laugh. And they’re having a hell of a time doing it. If they have anyone to listen to them.

    (Actually, that would make a great TV show. Travel the country visiting the funniest old people and record them talking. It would be like one of those “kids say the darndest things” type shows except the old people’s jokes will actually make sense. And tell us something about life.)

    I was really introduced to comedy by my husband, who I still reside with largely because of how much fun it is to sit around and laugh with him. My family did not do comedy when I was growing up, largely because comedians are crude and crass and talk about sex and drugs. As if they’ve done them, even. Which, you know, isn’t an entirely unreasonable concern. I suppose.

    At any rate, I’ve watched a good bit of comedy over the last however long I’ve been married. And yes, some of it has been crude and crass and fixated on the most obnoxious abuses of sex and drugs imaginable. But on the other end of the spectrum, I’m a big fan of Garrison Keillor. His “Lake Woebegon” stories are masterpieces humor that doesn’t rely on offending or scandelizing anyone. Plus, he gets how religion and sex actually works.

    I have this theory about humor which says that along with just being enjoyable, the primary purpose of humor is to help us learn. Researchers know that when a person is presented with information while they are laughing, they are more likely to accept that information than people who received the same information from an informational or persuasive presentation. Of course, they could have learned the same thing by observing parents with their kids. If you can get a kid to laugh, they are much more willing to admit error or change their minds.

    Continue reading

  • Christians and Interracial Marriage

    Guys, what is this world coming to? Aljezeera America recently used the parable of the talents to explain current events. Christianity Today, the flagship publication of conservative, Evangelical Christianity, is promoting interracial marriage. And discussing racism. And even relying on the voice of a black women to explain the theology of the whole thing. The world’s going all off kilter here. 

    I know the rest of the world (and many of us) find it ridiculous that the church still struggles with these things. But we are a people whose founder said he’d go back for the one sheep dumb enough to get left behind. So perhaps it’s part of being church in the world to be a sanctuary for those who just can’t keep up with the pace of change in the world. That doesn’t mean they need to become the sanctuary’s leaders and spokespeople, of course. It’s still a work in progress.

    But look at this fruit. Doesn’t it make your heart sing?

    God abhors racism. Miriam’s skin was turned “leprous, like snow.” Her punishment was directly related to her sinful prejudice against the dark skin of the Cushite people. I did a quick search to examine the effects of leprosy. (Not recommended.) Her punishment would change the way peopleviewed her. It would not affect the way they thought of her per se, but the way they looked at her. As Miriam once looked at the Cushite woman with distain, she would now know exactly what that was like.

    What Miriam forgot, and what so many others still forget, is that all people are made in the image of God, we are all from the same Adam, and now we are all redeemed equally through Christ. Interracial marriage isn’t merely acceptable; it reflects the beauty and glory of the gospel.

    Through the gospel, we are reconciled first to God, then to one another. We are made brothers and sisters in Christ. We are counted as righteous. The gospel breaks the barriers that once divided us.

    You can read the whole post by Trillia Newbell here. Her book Union can be purchased here.

    For the last several decades we’ve heard that we ought to accept interracial relationships for two reasons. One is that we can’t tell other people what to do or who to love. The other is that all races are equal. And those are fine things. Except “everyone should be able to do what they want to do” is something a 7 year old would say. And equal does not mean the same. We still have to figure out how to deal with those differences.

    On the other hand, Newbell’s vision of interracial marriage is built around reconciliation and our true identity. She challenges us to see interracial marriage not only as an acceptable thing, but a good thing. A reflection of God’s Kingdom, in fact.

    Perhaps this is why research has found that among people who attend highly segregated churches (read: among people who attend church), those who report praying and reading their bible frequently are more likely to date outside their race. Wouldn’t it be funny if being in an interracial relationship started being on of those easily recognized markers for being Christian? I mean, we can be induced to wear cheesy and often offensive T-shirts as a way to show what super, duper, committed Christians we are. Picking a dating/marriage partner from another race in order to look like a good Christian could become a thing in our hypercompetitive church culture.

    Of course, wearing a t-shirt doesn’t grow or change you. Interracial marriage most certainly will. So maybe we should start spreading the word that interracial marriage is a thing that super committed Christians do. It’s got to be a better plan/witness than a “God’s Gym” t-shirt!

  • Reforming Christianity

    churchWriter and lecturer Phyllis Tickle has pointed out that the church undergoes a major shift every 500 years. The Protestant Reformation happened about 500 years ago, so we’re due. And I think anyone who pays attention would agree that it’s time for a major change. We’re too fractious. The world and our understanding of it has changed in really radical ways. The church really hasn’t adjusted well and it’s created an unsustainable gap between the world we live in and the church.

    I’m hardly the first one to say this, but the state of the church is pretty similar to the state of Judaism during the time of Jesus. There were differing factions. Some wanted to accommodate or at least cooperate the Roman ruled world they lived in. Some wanted to fight it tooth and nail. Others just wanted to withdraw from the battles and set up their own pockets of faithful living. There were factions among the Pharisees who fixated on following the rules just so in order to curry God’s favor as a way to bring about change. Many were looking for the arrival of a Messiah who would just wipe the whole mess away and set things right. Over all of it were the various power structures of the religious establishment who argued among themselves while remaining largely oblivious to the needs of the people under them. Just like today, they weren’t all bad or wrong, but over all, it wasn’t working. And a real solution to the problems faced by the Jewish people seemed almost unimaginable. Continue reading

  • I Am So Excited About the Direction the Church Is Heading. Seriously. Stop Laughing.

    The_Bride_by_jubjadeSometimes I surprise people by telling them that I’m really excited about the direction the church is heading. That there’s something really amazing and beautiful happening in the body of Christ. And I can hardly wait to watch and see how it’s all going to unfold.

    Some of you know just what I’m talking about, but probably more of you are wondering if I forgot to take my pills today. We’ve all heard the news about people – especially young people – leaving the church. Fewer people show up on Sundays. Christians seem to be represented in public mostly by angry, hateful, oppressive apes in suits who specialize in teaching the faithful to hate everyone in the name of God. And they’re trying to infiltrate our schools, our governments and even our morning coffee to try make sure no one has any choice but to do it their way. Our supposedly Christian country has devolved into one where making money is our God, morality has become a punchline and the poor a punching bag. Surely we need to fix these problems before we can get excited about the direction the church is headed in. Right? Nope. Wrong. Completely wrong. Continue reading

  • black faces 1224_s31

    Stuff I Appreciate About Black Folks

    Hey – want to watch me stick a fork in an electric outlet? ‘Cuz that’s pretty much the same thing as being a white person who talks about black folks, right? Or at least some would have you think so. But I’m going to do it, because African Americans are forever getting dumped on in our society and are rarely called out for all the things that are great about them.

    Now, before I get started, allow me to provide proper cover for myself. For those not in the know, I’m married to a black man. I have 5 mixed race kids and two African American stepsons. So if nothing else, my “I have black friends” creds are actually solid. (I’ve written more about my experience with race here and you can learn more about my $.99 ebook on race in American here.) Of course, there is as much variety among black folks as among any other group of people. I’ve known sweet, shy, reserved black women and loud, sassy, confrontational black women. Macho black men and nerdy black men. And the things I’m going to list here aren’t universal. There are always people who go against the grain. But as a general rule, these are things which I have observed to be common among black folk I have known that are not nearly as prevalent among the white folks I have known.

    Of course, every positive trait has a dark side when pushed to far. My goal isn’t to idealize African Americans, but like I said, we continually dump on black folks and discuss problems in the black community. For this post, I’m just focusing on things which I personally appreciate about black folks I have known. So having properly covered my ass, here goes:

    1. They respond to your problems with grace and understanding.

    Probably because black folks have had to deal with so many really serious, awful problems for so long, they aren’t particularly phased by your problems. Usually they’ve heard or seen it all before – and worse. And if your life is going to hell because you did something wrong, well, the black folks I’ve known probably disapprove of your dumb choices as much as anyone else. But they also know that you’re the one who is going to have to live with the consequences of your dumb choices, so there’s really no point in piling on. Better to help you move forward than waste time berating you much less exacerbate the problem by turning you out. In my experience, if your life goes all to shit, you’re much better off going to your black friends or a black church for support than to your average middle class white person or church. Continue reading

  • “If Any Man Come to Me and Hates Not . . .”

    Yup. I'm about as intimidating as this guy here.

    Yup. I’m about as intimidating as this guy here.

    Back when I was 18, I had two different guys I dated break up with me and give me the exact same reason: I was intimidating. That’s the word they both used. Which is really weird. I’m about as intimidating as a tree sloth. Which is to say not in the least. Now if they had said I was sloppy or spent too much time sleeping or wasn’t ambitious enough, that I could have understood. (See – like a tree sloth!) But intimidating? Hardly.

    Interestingly enough, it turned out that both of these young men felt intimidated by me for the same reasons. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t view making money as the most important goal I could have for my life. And they did. Now, I had never criticized either of them for these things. Not even obliquely. They drank. I didn’t. No big deal. I never asked them to stop, never said I didn’t want to be around them when they did, never spoke poorly about people who drank. Nothing. The same with smoking for the one who smoked. The same with money. But both of them were intimidated by me because of this.

    What was really going on was that by not sharing in their behaviors and priorities, I wasn’t affirming them. If I had been critical, they could have just blown me off as a stick-in-the-mud. If I had tried to get them to change their behavior or priorities, they could have told me to mind my own business and leave if I didn’t like it. So when I also didn’t criticize or judge them for the ways they were different than me, they didn’t have anything to react against in order to self-affirm. But I didn’t do those things. Instead I was content to let them be them and me be me and just enjoy each other’s company. Which meant all they had was themselves. And there was something in both of them that wasn’t entirely comfortable with their own choices and priorities. Being around me made that discomfort harder to ignore. It made them feel less confident and sure about themselves which was why they experienced me as intimidating. Continue reading

  • churchstate

    “High Priests of Caesar’s Court”

    I came across a post by Greg Boyd today which I think makes a great follow-up to my post earlier this week – Our Faithless Culture Wars - that I hope you will go read. The choice excerpts for me:

    We sadly assume our highest calling is to be the high priests of Caesar’s court, telling it how God allegedly wants it to spend its money.

    Of course, being the high priests of Caesar’s court means you’ve got to get into the messy complexity of this court. How do we know that fighting for money to go to recreational facilities is the right thing to do? Maybe fighting for more funding for schools, or housing for the poor, or for more and better public transportation is a better fight. And what about the unlivable low minimum wage, or the lack of adequate shelters for the homeless, or the increasing number of people who lack basic health coverage, or the inadequate presence of police in dangerous neighborhoods? As the high priests of Caesar’s court, we have to make these tough decisions — and there’s only so much money to go around.

    Not only this, but every action creates a reaction, and as Caesar’s wiser and more caring counselors we have to be experts about all of these things. For example, it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist on higher wages for workers. But are we sure this won’t force many small business owners to fire workers, thereby harming the poor more than helping them? And it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist U.S. troops pull out of Iraq right now. But are we sure this won’t result in a greater bloodbath than there already is over there? And it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist on preserving a pool for inner city kids, but what if the money for this has to be taken from classrooms, requiring that some teachers be let go, resulting in a poorer education for these kids? Is a pool more important than education?

    It’s all very complex and ambiguous, but once we position ourselves as Caesar’s high priests, we have no choice but to wade through it all. Continue reading

  • bad church

    The Feel Good Church vs The Church of Blessed Suffering

    Do you realize that we are supposed to feel good about ourselves? God declared creation good and upped it to “very good” once man and woman were in place. After all that got messed up at the fall, he then sent his Son to live, die and rise again so that we could be redeemed – be very good – again. Our desire to feel good about ourselves comes from a deep, God-created place and should not be mocked or belittled.

    The problem is that it’s not easy to get to a place of feeling good about ourselves. There are all sorts of counterfeits available out in the world. There always are. But like all counterfeits, they wear out, break, chafe, leave a nasty rash behind. For example, it’s pretty well known that many criminals have much higher self-esteem than the rest of us. And we all know someone who loves themselves to pieces even though their own mother doesn’t want to be around them. It’s just not as simple as telling yourself how wonderful you are over and over until you believe it. Any decent person doesn’t just want to think that they are wonderful – they want to BE wonderful. What the world does get right and the church too often gets wrong is that it’s hard to get to that place while thinking of yourself as a worthless piece of filth.

    Continue reading