racism and the church

Yesterday there was a most interesting discussion on Joshua Johnson’s show, 1A – Speak Freely, entitled, Big Tent Revival: Southern Baptists Challenge A Racist History. Racism is not an easy topic to broach for me as a white American Christian who has roots and fellowship in the evangelical movement. No one is free of the demon (literally, or I mean here, figuratively) of racism, it seems to me. We can’t just wash our hands in innocence and go on as if nothing has happened, or is happening. We need instead to listen to our African-American sisters and brothers, their story, and what they experience to this day. And that includes Christians right where I live in a conservative Christian belt.

I am grateful to be part of a ministry which is working on diversity and integration in the work force. To say the church hasn’t been involved in racism over the years, even within my lifetime, is to have a profound ignorance of history and culture. Whether or not we think all the complaints of racism today are just, we need to consider that many blacks, including Christians, believe that is the case. And we need to understand just how blind we are to what has been called “white privilege.” This is a sociological term, made political, as nearly everything is nowadays. But there’s no question that more is stacked against African-Americans in this nation, than any other ethnicity.

The gospel in Jesus brings together, and even unites those who otherwise would be enemies. It breaks down and destroys barriers. But it isn’t automatic. The faith requires faith which includes repentance and hard work over time to overcome the prejudices so deeply embedded and ingrained in our psyches. We naturally like to be around people who think, act, and like the same things we do. And who don’t shake up the status quo. But the gospel opens us up to something different. The salvation in Jesus is as big as creation, not only about the individual person, but about all of life. Ultimately to fill all things when Jesus returns, but now to be present and at work in the church. In and through Jesus.

hard topics (and the tongue)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

Politics and religion can be quite dicey topics fraught with potential fallout for relationships. The heat can be turned up pretty high when topics surrounding either are being discussed. Discussion and conversation is soon lost into heated argument, if we’re not careful. Perhaps it’s better to avoid such altogether. Probably one of the most helpful attitudes is to acknowledge how much we don’t know, rather than what we think we know.

In Paul’s small but great letter to the Philippians, we find an apt exhortation near its end which can help us in this. First of all, referring to values that were esteemed in the culture of that day, Paul directs the church and by extension us, to ponder what is true, good, beautiful, and praiseworthy. And then he reminds them to live as he did in following Christ. When you consider the letter of Philippians alone, that is indeed a tall order. But one within our grasp to grow into in Christ.

Back to difficult, controversial issues. It might be best to avoid them altogether when we know we might differ with a fellow believer on this or that. It can be good to discuss differences, provided there is a listening ear and openness to learn on both sides. And to those who are not believers, we should major on simply loving, and sharing the good news in Jesus.

Above all, we need to inculcate love between us, especially when what could divide us is simply a few words away. And we can’t take that for granted with anyone. If we do touch on the difficult issues, we need to be quick to draw back and make room for the other person, and their viewpoint. Out of love for them, and for the Lord. All of this in and through Jesus.

being with people

One of the best decisions I think I’ve ever made would seem to be on the surface, trivial, and probably counterintuitive to people like me. In the past during lunch at work I would sit with my Bible open, reading my daily portion from the psalms. That was good, and I probably did it for years. But I more or less am in scripture all day, insofar as that’s possible. And while I can well converse with others, the nature of my job, not to mention my own naure, is given to being more than less on the job, not having time to talk much, or listen to others.

I decided to change my routine, one of my realizations being that at least one friend I work with on the team was nearing retirement. This was a fun table, active in conversation, but I suppose not necessarily along the lines I would talk about, if there were a bunch of me-s, or people just like me there, which thankfully there are not. I tend to be rather quiet a lot of the time, anyhow. I won’t forget this table, two guys now recently retired, who I grew to love.

For me the take home lesson, even life changing, has been that we need to simply spend time with others. “Spend time,” a way we put it which makes you think. But God speaks to us through scripture, nature, experience, the gospel, the church, and through people. Scripture itself tells us that, and life will verify it.

And so I developed a bond in a way that I don’t think would have been possible, otherwise. The people came to realize that for me, being with them during lunch was a priority, a new habit, simply what I do. I didn’t just do it now and then, although my memory could possibly be a bit faulty here. But I think I plunged into the change completely.

Being with others is underrated. Good leaders will spend time with the people. The best pastors will pray, read, study, and prepare well for their next message. But they will also spend time with the people of the church. They will regularly hang out with them, and learn to simply be with them over time, not necessarily in any “ministry” context. To simply be with each other can amount to something of the ministry we are called to as Christ’s body, the church, in scripture.

I think too of leaders in other places, like at work. Some are not given to being with their team members. But a little bit of that regularly can go a long way. And with those one might not share much affinity with, and may even want to avoid. A good leader ought to touch base with such regularly, preferably daily, to see how they’re doing, just to make human contact. And simply be with them insofar as that’s possible given time constraints and other responsibilities.

For myself this thought has changed me forever. Both in terms of its impact on me during the last maybe couple years since I made the change and how I want to practice life from now on. Instead of reading with classical music on, which I still love, I would just as soon be with a friend over coffee, or better yet with the grandchildren anywhere, like on a nice warm day out on the playground. I have my little Psalms/Proverbs/New Testament in hand to glance at the next verse with metal clip as a marker. But I want to be fully attentive to them, to be there to watch over them, and help them have fun. Particularly a daring little toddler who makes her way up challenging steps or bars, and needs her grandpa’s help.

To be with others, to simply be there to listen. To not think one has to speak at all for that to be valuable. In fact as a rule it might be better to remain silent, especially on controversial issues like politics. Simply being present. That is underrated, but much needed both for others, and for ourselves. In and through Jesus.

a simple word

I appreciate people who listen well, and try to say something encouraging and helpful in a given situation. The listening well part comes first, after which they might say nothing, except perhaps pray, or say they will pray. After that, some informative, constructive word can be uplifting, at least checking what might be a bit of a downward descent, giving us hope to not give up, perhaps find the silver lining, or move on and let it go, as well as seek to learn from it.

We need each other, certainly an ecomony in place within Christ’s body the church. We’re very much interdependent; we’re not meant to go it alone. And of course, we are completely dependent on God.

All of this is true, whether we recognize it or not. But it is to our loss when we fail to either recognize and acknowledge that. We need to put it into practice.

Above all, for me, I need to hear a word from God. And what I mean by that is something from scripture, from my daily, even hourly perusal or time spent in meditating on scripture.

Sadly, we oftentimes deny by our actions God’s word, and by that, fail to help anyone else. We need both God’s word to us, and we need to reinforce that word to each other. The book of Hebrews tells us that we’re to regularly, even daily encourage each other. Of course to do that, we must be encouraged ourselves with the encouragement that comes from God through his word to us found in scripture and through Christ.

A faith giving us a hope that enables us to carry on in love, in God’s will in Jesus.

listening well, speaking less

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1

If there’s one problem which I think affects us all, it’s the tendency for us to speak more and listen less, to speak without listening, and to go on and on. This seems endemic in our culture, and I think both conservatives and progressives share in the guilt.

A big part of listening is to simply listen well, which sometimes will require questions, and then after that, silence and time, so that we can process what has been said. At the same time this vital need to listen does not mean that there’s never a time to speak. We can’t be held hostage because we lack the certainty of God on a given subject. We have to make the best judgments we can, then proceed. But part of doing so is to learn to listen well.

Part of good listening in our culture is the gathering of information. Reading books can be especially good, but reading online might benefit us on a number of matters just as much. And while we’re doing so, we need to stay in scripture and keep reading and praying. And do so in fellowship with other believers. This can help us to hear better and discern what is best. We certainly need to be open to changing our views. Good listening involves gathering knowledge which may help us better put the pieces together in understanding life, and specifically certain matters in life.

While we’re to be slow to speak, that doesn’t mean that we don’t speak at all. And when we do speak, less is often more. If we always have a word to say on everything, chances are we’re not listening well, if at all. But a word from careful listening which is well thought out can be a help to us and to each other. Something we need much more of today.

listening well

We do our best to help others when we listen well and talk less, or at least are slow to say very much. Though I can be quiet, I tend to speak plenty, and too much, though I’ve learned to listen much better over the years. The ones who seem to be the most helpful are those who seem to have the big ears and small mouth, figuratively speaking. Does that cancel out people who speak quite a few words during the course of a day? I don’t think so at all. Otherwise most teachers would be written off automatically.

I have found it odd that in gatherings in which I was determined to not say a word, quite often words come to me, seemingly fitting for the occasion. And during times when I am back to normal and prone to speak, the words seem to come up much more empty. Maybe it’s in part the posture assumed. Do we enter such times with a heart set to listen to God and others? Or is our heart set on sharing what we think we know?

The key here, if we speak at all is to do so only with a listening heart. Only after we have listened. Perhaps all we are to do after that is to pray and nothing more. Perhaps we’ll be given a word in season to share. We can only help as we are helped, from God and often through each other.

the case for silence

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

I have never been very good at this one. When I think something needs to be said for whatever reason, I am willing to say it and more often than not I do.

But what would it look like if one would simply remain silent? Not in a grudging kind of way, but in love, listening well to the other, or others. Carefully considering what they say. And then if asked, offering something in response while highlighting the point of agreement in the conversation.

For myself I think there is a good case when I disagree or see things differently to simply remain silent. When I do, I think if I do speak, the words might carry more weight and at least would be respected more. I also think it’s a point of humility to let others have their say and let the weight of their words have their effect. Perhaps they will and should win the day.

Silence is to be desired according to scripture (you can see that in more ways than one), but we often desire to speak our piece with the desire that that would end the conversation. But it won’t.

What we do need to avoid is to be quiet, but to fail to do so in love. We should give our full attention to others, to the other when we don’t see eye to eye with them. If we speak at all we do well to be slow to do so. Measuring our words, so that in and through God’s grace, his love and peace in Jesus might rule in our hearts in the midst of and even in spite of our differences. A tall order indeed. But part of our calling together in Jesus by the Spirit for the world.