A real hope for racial equality

15 01 2017

In light of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I write out of my burden for our wounded nation. For my African-American friends who I believe when they tell me of their experiences with institutional racism, and for those in the privileged class who are prone to hear but not listen, look but not perceive the plight of so many of our fellow citizens.  So I write briefly to hopefully add light and a challenge:

1. “Racial equality” will never happen across the United States.

2. Cultural and economic interdependence is embedded in the true church.

Let me seek to prove these statements:

First, “Racial equality” will never happen across the United States.

Dr. King, who is a person in American history I deeply admire, invoked Biblical themes in his blend of Christian ministry and social action. One only need read the brilliant and beautiful “I have a dream” speech to hear the echoes of the prophet Isaiah (in chapter 40) who foresaw mountains being leveled and valleys lifted. Isaiah’s forecast referred to making a highway for a visiting king, the Lord.

That hints at the reason I say racial equality will never happen across the U.S., because America is not equivalent to the people of God. I wish it were different, but a secular state like America can never muster the selflessness and compassion needed to bring racial equality. As much as I believe that the sacred and the spiritual should not be separated, this is one case where the distinction is necessary. 

The greed, love of power, clinging to comfort and privilege are too embedded in our secular country to expect that which only a sacred people can effect. Government will not bring equality. A movement of citizens will not bring justice.  This leads to a word of hope.

Second, Cultural and economic interdependence is embedded in the true church.

I have sought to choose my words carefully. When I say that racial equality will never happen “across the United States,” I refer to the kind of broad scale transformation which some seem to demand when they speak of America changing completely. Evil forces which divide and destroy will not let this happen.

However, the true church of Jesus Christ offers hope of supplying enclaves of interdependence between people of all ethnicites, cultures, and social standings. Many scriptures support this truth, and I will here cite just one. The Apostle Paul writes about the “body of Christ,” i.e. all those, everywhere, who have placed their faith in the saving work of Christ alone (His sacrificial death, His burial, and His bodily resurrection). In calling this massive host of people a “body,” Paul says that we are inseparable from one another and cannot live out our purpose without each other. We are spiritually and practically interdependent.

The chapter containing this teaching (1 Corinthians 12) primarily refers to the interdependence of Christians with regard to “spiritual gifts” such as teaching, healing, and administration. But there is a reference to social issues embedded in this teaching that is easily overlooked and therefore ignored:

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13 New King James Version)

All genuine believers in Jesus Christ, no matter what their descent or language, whether they are privileged or trapped in cycles of obligatory service, are dependent on each other. The love of Christ, and our love for Christ, is expected by the sacred writings to so dominate our way of life that the divisiveness of society is eradicated by the oneness of our faith. Conformity to the character of Jesus is to create in His followers a “new man” that reflects Him (Col. 3:10-11).

I do not say that it is pointless to work for justice and equality in society at large.  My plea is that we who truly know Christ intentionally demonstrate that the only true way to bring hope to the hopeless and strength to the weak is by realizing our interdependence on each other in the body of Christ. We are incomplete without each other. The new community in Christ can only reflect Christ when we intentionally love those whom the world expects us to hate.

Photocredit: WPImageSmart





Abrahamic Peace Plan

29 12 2016

If we peel back centuries of bickering, revenge and blame, we might discover a way forward in the Israel-Palestinian feud. Consider Abraham as an example of how mutual respect could lead toward peaceful co-existence. Here is a concise rendition of Genesis 23:1-20.

Abraham’s wife Sarah has died and he needs a place to bury her. He is dwelling in the land of the Canaanites, land which has been promised to him by God. But he is there as a visitor, for the Canaanites have lived there for decades.

Abraham approaches the sons of Heth and asks that they allow him to bury his wife in a certain cave, stating that he desires to pay a full price for that property. They direct him to the owner of the cave, a man named Ephron.

The interchange between Abraham and Ephron is, I expect, a cultural dance over the purchase price in which Ephron offers to give the land free of charge, while Abraham insists on paying a full price. All this is done in public view. But it is done cordially, without greed or deception. Finally Abraham acquires the property, paying the full price asked by Ephron.

So the cave with its surrounding field were officially and publicly deeded to Abraham as a place for his family to be buried.

By that time, Abraham was a wealthy man (Gen. 24:35) yet he respected those who dwelt on the land which God had promised him. The residents of that land realized that people of different ethnicities could dwell together side by side. Abraham did not seize the land, but humbly asked to purchase property at a fair price.

Today, centuries of animosity have complicated the path to peace. But Abraham may show a way back to a simpler time with a tentative hope.

 

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Have our fears driven Jesus away? (pt 1)

19 11 2016

There is a curious story in the gospels about a group of people who witnessed a wonderful miracle and then begged Jesus to leave their region! You would think they would want Him to stay for awhile and help with more problems. But they begged Him to depart.

Then and now, why do people send Jesus away?

Jesus had traveled by boat to a region that was rife with demonic activity (the story is thrice recorded in Mark 5:1-20, Matthew 8:28-34, and Luke 8:26-39). Parenthetically, if you are a skeptic about things spiritual or demonic, bear in mind that this story is (a) inspired by the Holy Spirit, (b) told and believed by Jewish writers, Matthew and John Mark, (c) told and believed by the Gentile writer, Luke. I suggest to you that the worldview of the Bible may be more accurate than yours or mine!

demon delivered manSo, when Jesus crossed the lake and landed on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, the record says He was met by at least one man who desperately wanted to be delivered from the host of demons which possessed him. This cadre of demons was numerous, such that the man had so lost his identity that he had renamed himself “Legion.” The legion, realizing Jesus was able and ready to cast them into the “abyss,” asked Him to at least let them be embodied in a herd of pigs. Jesus granted this, and the herd ran wildly into the lake and drowned.

This brings us back to the curious response of the villagers. They have seen one of their tormented citizens (surely a relative of some of them) restored to his right mind, and their city cleansed of multiple demons. Why then did they beg Jesus to leave their region? Luke tells us the reason:

When the people gathered around the man who had been delivered, sitting at the feet of Jesus, “they were afraid” (Luke 8:35b).

Then the whole multitude asked Jesus to depart from them, “for they were seized with great fear” (Luke 8:37b).


Are we sending Jesus away?

An African-American woman emailed her white pastor on a Saturday following yet another police shooting of a black man: “Dear pastor, you know that I love our church, and I so appreciate you and your family. But this week has left me so hurt that I need to be in a church where I receive some comfort. So you won’t see me tomorrow because I know you won’t mention anything about the trouble my community is experiencing.”

A Muslim woman had been searching for spiritual reality in her life. She had expressed real openness in talking with some friends who are Christians. But recently she went out to her car and found, written in ketchup, “MOVE.”  Contrast that with a Facebook post by a friend of mine: “My dear Muslim friends, you are welcome in my home. You are welcome at my table. As for me and my family, as followers of Jesus, we love our all our neighbors and are thankful for you. We stand with you. Please don’t be afraid. Even though many evangelicals voted for Trump, we will remind them (and him) to read and obey the teachings of Jesus (in the Bible) that commands us to welcome strangers and to even love our enemies. So, we will pray for President-elect Trump and support him in good policies. We will also stand up and fight his bad policies. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…We love because He has first loved us.” 1 John 4:18-19.

A man stands at the back of a crowd that has gathered peacefully. He holds us a sign that reads, “God hates fags.”

A white pastor has worked and prayed for a long time to increase the diversity in the congregation. In one sermon recently he mentioned “white privilege” and several long-standing members stood up and walked out.


Is our fear sending Jesus away? In my next post, I suggest six observations from Jesus’ encounter that may offer some insight.

[photo credit: chongsoonkim.blogspot.com]





S.A.N.T.A. approach to cross-cultural friendship

9 08 2016

Here is a simple, easy-to-remember approach to making a friend with someone of another culture.

S = smile

A smile is the international way to show friendliness. It is your best first smilestep. Best to keep your smiling man to man, woman to woman, so you don’t miscommunicate.

A = appreciate

Say something appreciative about the person, such as:

  • I’m glad we are neighbors.
  • It is great to see your family getting together
  • That shirt/dress is beautiful. Is it from your culture?
N = name

Everyone loves to be known by their name. When appropriate, ask and remember the name of your new friend. If it is difficult, resist the urge to shorten it. Say, “I love your name and want to remember it. Could you say it again (or spell it)?” Don’t be afraid to write it down; that shows you really mean what you say. Remember the name for the next times you meet.

T = tea

Sitting and chatting over a simple cup of tea or coffee, with a biscuit, is an important step in deepening a friendship. Do this often, preferably in your home or apartment, although a neutral cafe is okay. Home hospitality invites your friend into your space, which helps build trust. If a visitor of another culture comes to you door, invite them in without question (not applicable to sales people necessarily).

A = ask

What do you talk about over tea? Ask your new friend to tell you about him/her self. There is an interesting story to hear. Do this more than once, for there is much to learn. You might ask:

  • Where is home for you, and how are things there?
  • What was your experience in coming to this country?
  • What are your favorite traditions in your culture?
  • How has this country been different than you expected?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in coming years?

I encourage you to repeat the S.A.N.T.A. approach many times with your new friend. Each time you will deepen your friendship. In time you will be able to share your story. Showing interest in this way is so rare that you will be invited into your friend’s life and network. You will be amazed at how fulfilling this can be.

Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org





Vision on a clear night

18 07 2016

night caveJohn the apostle, now an aging man, is alone on the isle of Patmos, looking out at night from a hilltop, in front of the cave he now calls home. He looks into the distance and sees fires on the mainland where the seven churches of Asia lie. As night falls the  afternoon winds calm down, the way they did suddenly at the command of the Master. Oh what a day that had been. How their anxiety turned to awe at the authority of His voice, “Peace be still.”

The apostle ponders the seven churches that burden his heart, the sheep given to his charge. The Ephesians, so strong in doctrine but lagging in love. Those in Smyrna, the flock in Pergamum. What is their future, these tender congregations? Will they huddle to themselves in self-preservation, unaware of the power given to them in the Spirit? Will they cling to each other around common likes and dislikes, rather than throwing open their arms to rich and poor, Jew and gentile, high class and low?

Suddenly a breeze blows across John’s face, as if the Spirit of God is visiting him afresh. The apostle’s heart surges with the joy of a hopeful vision of things to come. He sees a heavenly multitude gathering around the throne of the Ancient of Days, for a time has come to right the wrongs on the earth. The evil that has twisted humanity must be driven out by righteous judgment. The 24 elders stand in worshipful consternation. The dilemma is this: The scrolls of judgment are sealed, and none has the authority to open them. Heaven waits for the answer.

In time the vision becomes clear. It is not by military might that righteousness reigns. No, heaven has a different scale. Into the throne room walks the one who embodies righteousness. Like a lamb, slain in sacrifice, the Savior enters and in an instant all know that the scrolls will now be opened, not by force, but in voluntary subjection to the power of humility.

The followers of the Lamb are then revealed and the sight gives John new hope, for the throng of worshipers are from every tribe, tongue and nation. They are one, a new community, fashioned after the humble character of their Lord. “Worthy!” they cry. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to open the scroll!”

While the vision became clear, so had the night sky. He looks over in the direction of the churches and ponders their future. He knows they will struggle, even suffer. But He now has confidence that the gospel will spread to every people. He knows that God will choose for Himself a new community whose love will overcome all divisions. He knows that the sacrifice of the Lamb will not be forgotten, but will be victorious in the end.

(Based on Revelation 7:9)
Photo credit: Eric Nathan photography

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