Finding Reconciliation in Front of a Park Bench

ParkBenchAn elderly gentleman was walking in the park one afternoon. He grew tired from his daily journey and sat down on an old, green park bench. As he was sitting there he looked up and saw before himself a family. The two children in the family were creating quite a scene. The little girl was yelling at the top of her lungs: “That’s mine. Give it back.” The little boy who was next to her yelled back, “It’s not yours. I had it first!” The man thought, “Oh, I’ve seen this before…sibling rivalry.” But then it got a little worse. “I hate you,” she yelled. “Oh, yeah, well I wish you were never born!” he responded. Before long these two were really going at it, yelling insults back and forth. They were screaming and fighting. It made this man a bit uncomfortable. You know it can be quite unnerving to be in such close proximity to such tension. And do you know what this elderly man did next? I guess it shouldn’t surprise you. He got up from there and walked away. He decided he needed to get as far away from that “family” as he could get.

Let’s be honest about something. It’s not always easy to get along with our brothers and sisters, is it?  Adults may try to fool themselves into believing they can get along with anyone, but kids are more honest.  A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her class of five and six-year-olds. After explaining the commandment to honor thy father and thy mother, she asked her class this question: “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?” Without missing a beat, one little boy answered, “Thou shall not kill.” He gets it! Sometimes getting along with our family is difficult work, isn’t it?

Maybe that’s what led Paul to write these words to the Corinthians all those years ago…

When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters? If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that?

In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—and believers at that. Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6: 1-11

What do you suppose happened that caused Paul to write this? Have you ever wondered that? It seems a bit out of place, doesn’t it?  Just before this section, Paul talks about “church business”—expelling the sinner.  Just after this section, Paul discusses sexual immorality. But sandwiched right here between these “church issues” is this business about taking someone to court. Why this excursus about lawsuits? What do you suppose happened? Corinth was an urban city. Perhaps one of the church members owned a building there that he rented out to people. Maybe one of his Christian brothers was renting his apartment and was behind on rent. I can see how that might lead to a lawsuit. Or, maybe a certain sister was a dressmaker. Maybe one of her Christian sisters refused to pay for the dress she’d made. I can see how that might lead to a lawsuit, can’t you? I can see how any of these issues might have led to some conflict: sides formed, names called. Before long, the name calling stops and then, just silence! There’s nothing worse than coming into a family and hearing only silence—a sure sign that something has gone wrong! Maybe this wasn’t an excursus at all. Maybe this issue is really at the heart of Paul’s message to the Corinthians. Maybe this is really at the heart of God’s message to us.

I can see something like this happening in our world. Did you know that in the mid-19th century, there were many court cases which pitted Christians against Christians? As Christian denominations split before the Civil War, there were many property disputes. Who owns this building, the southern Baptists or the northern Baptists? Who owns this piece of land, the southern or northern Methodists? Churches of Christ never divided over the issue of slavery or the Civil War. At least, that is what some of our leaders claimed. They, in fact, pointed to our unity as a sign that we were really the true Church of God! I would argue, however, that we did in fact divide. Our division came a little more subtly and slowly—and may have been even more damaging. We saw the aftermath of that division in 1967.

In that year, African American members of Churches of Christ sued white members of Churches of Christ over their blatant racism. The entire story began a few years earlier, in the 1940s.  African American members of Churches of Christ raised money to build a school in Nashville. Their goal was to build a credible school on par with David Lipscomb College.  They raised money, they sacrificed, they purchased property, and they established the school. In its first few years, it ran into financial trouble, and white members of the church stepped in to help. But they also took control—changing the make-up of the Board of Directors from ten African American to six white and four African American.

In 1967, the white dominated board closed the school, sold the property, and put money into a scholarship fund for African American students at the only recently desegregated DLC (which desegregated a decade after the Supreme Court’s mandate to do so).  African American members of Churches of Christ responded immediately. One African American leader called this move the “grab of the century.” He wrote, “Whites came in under the guise of paternalism and grabbed our school.” African Americans wanted the money to, at the very least, go toward Southwestern Christian College—the only other African American school in Churches of Christ. A lawsuit was filed.  Interestingly (and regrettably), the federal record of the lawsuit lists as the plaintiffs: “Black Members of Churches of Christ.”  And the defendants are listed as: “White Members of Churches of Christ” This lawsuit did more than separate the few people involved; this lawsuit divided African American and white members of Churches of Christ for over 40 years.

In 1999, the administration of ACU saw the division that had existed for all of those years, and they set out to reconcile with their African American brothers and sisters. They hosted a closed-door meeting between African American and white leaders. I’ve talked to some who were present at that meeting, and they all described it as very tense!  At one point, they talked openly about that court case. The question was raised: “Why were African American’s so resistant to attend David Lipscomb College?” One man’s response:

“For all those years you refused to allow any of us to attend your school, then you took by force and against our will one of the only rallying points we had, let it be swallowed up in your multi-million dollar operation and then you say to us, “You can come over here and be like us now. We still don’t particularly value your culture and history and the way you live, and act, and worship, but you can come over here with us, as long as you just do like we do.” Can you understand the resentment expressed at this act?”

Brother against brother; sister against sister. Yes, this court case did more than divide a few white and African American Nashvillians in 1967. I think I know why Paul was so concerned about this issue. Such infighting can destroy lives and the church, and it can even do more than that!

Our divisions repel the world, but the opposite is also true. Our efforts toward unity stand out in a world like ours. I believe our efforts toward reconciliation have the power to help a fallen world stand up again. In case you haven’t noticed, racism causes a lot of division in our country. In recent weeks, this issue has dominated the headlines once again. How can the church help in times like these? I’ve thought a lot about that one question, not just in recent weeks, but over the last few years. Here is what I’ve come up with. It may sound a bit simplistic to you, but here you go: We could start simply by forming relationships—one at a time.

If you are white, do you have any meaningful relationships with African Americans? If you are African American, do you have any meaningful relationships with whites? What effect could that friendship have on you? What effect could that friendship have on your family? What effect could that single friendship have on your community? Physical distance breeds suspicion and fear, but real meaningful relationships based upon mutual respect and love have the power to cast out all fear.

An elderly gentleman was walking in the park one afternoon. He grew tired from his daily journey and sat down on an old, green park bench. As he was sitting there, he looked up and saw before himself a family. He was particularly taken in by a brother and a sister. They were playing together. They were laughing together. He could tell they loved one another. An interesting thing happened: others began to join this brother and sister there in front of the park bench. First, another little boy came over to play with them. Then, a small girl who had been playing all by herself joined them. Before long, the yard in front of the bench was filled with children laughing and playing together. Their joy, their love, was contagious. And do you know what this elderly man did next? I guess it shouldn’t surprise you. He got up from there and walked closer to this family—this family made up of adopted brothers and sisters, this family made up of young and old, this family some people call the church.

Why You Should Come to Streaming, Oct 8-10

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Jerry Taylor will be preaching from Ezekiel 37, the valley of dry bones, and if that doesn’t give you goose bumps of anticipation, then you don’t know either Jerry Taylor or Ezekiel 37 well enough. AND, we will have an African-American church choir lead in that period of worship. Can’t wait.

And while we’re talking preaching, I can’t wait to hear Mallory Wyckoff preach on the groaning of the Spirit and of all creation from Romans 8 in our closing worship. I’ve had Mallory as a student in the Lipscomb DMin program and she is top shelf.

And while we’re mentioning women from Nashville, Claire Frederick Davidson will be doing a “VH1 Storytellers” type presentation, featuring songs written by women in the Tennessee Women’s Prison. Claire’s an accomplished performer and budding theologian who has participated in a project with other Nashville songwriters to bring the words of these women to music. Can’t wait.

And we’ll have other storytelling as well. In Ted-talk format, presenters will be sharing stories of the Holy Spirit, both from their ministry context and from history. Stories from charismatic-Anglican, Disciples of Christ, Churches of Christ, inner city Chicago and Detroit will be told alongside Acts 2, the Montanists, Cane Ridge, Azusa St, the Civil Rights movement, etc. I can’t wait.

I can’t wait, and I haven’t even talked yet about our main presenters.

If you don’t know Amos Yong’s work, you should. He’s a serious theologian and a serious pentecostal, and those things haven’t always gone together. He’s doing so many important things by making pneumatology (teaching/experience related to the Holy Spirit) the centerpiece of contemporary theology. One by one, he finds a new way forward where theology has been at an impasse. And he takes current philosophical and historical perspectives seriously, avoiding the charge of anti-intellectualism so often associated with pentecostal life. Can’t wait.

And it will be so great to sit at Leonard Allen’s feet again. Here’s a Church of Christ guy who brings deep experiences of the Spirit together with searching theology. I find Leonard an enthralling presenter and know you will too. Can’t wait.

There are a few theological adjustments that are absolutely necessary if the word missional is going to mean anything more than churches doing more outreach. One adjustment is related to eschatology and the coming Kingdom of God. The other is the move toward a more participatory understanding of God as Triune. And for both, the Holy Spirit is front and center.

Put more directly, there is no participation in the mission of God apart from the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

If you’re planning to come, registration before September 1 gives you a discount.

If you’re planning to come, share this post with your friends.

If you’d like to come, share this post with your friends.

Holy Spirit, come.

Originally published at Mark’s blog Dei-liberations, in this post. Mark has an outstanding blog and we hope you will take a few moments to head over there and read a few of his posts. His writing is always a blessing.

Racial Microaggression

FredPeatrossWhen I retired my world shrunk tremendously. No longer do I see the hundreds of daily interactions between people and groups of people. Now I dine with my wife daily and eat and talk with three male friends twice a week. My first thought is maybe I’m not the one to comment on racism. Yet, I’ve often written on subjects I didn’t know much about. When that happens I sprinkle my thoughts with questions as opposed to dogmatic absolutes.

I grew up in the turbulent 50s and 60s. As a child I remember watching George Wallace, then governor of Alabama, block African Americans from entering the University of Alabama. I remember John F Kennedy sending the National Guard to Alabama to open the University up to Afrian American students. Racism in the 1960s was huge and it producing a decade, or more, of battles between White and African Americas. There were laws, statutes and ordinances that separated white and black America.
• African Americans attended separate schools and churches
• African Americans could only used public bathrooms marked “for colored only”
• ate in a separate section of a restaurant
• sat in the rear of a bus
• prejudice commercials lit up early television
We’ve come a long way since those early years of racism. But that doesn’t mean I deny that racism exit today. Yet I believe it’s a different kind of racism? One that has morphed into ‘racial microagression,’ a type that is more of the daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities. And whether intentional or unintentional, they communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color. Personally I see a marked difference between the racism of today and the early racism I grew up with. I’m sure someone everyday faces racial microaggression but I’m wondering if these are pockets of problems as opposed to problems in mass?

I have a few questions

1) Is racism really nationwide and spreading as we’re led to believe?
2) Is it possible that there is a calculated divisiveness meant to split this nation?
3) African American Presidential candidate Ben Carson, who I highly respect, has said that racial issues are being stoked using the principles from Saul Alinsky’s playbook (Rules for Radicals)?
4) Is it going to take another 09/11 before we, once again, call policeman and fireman heroes?

Yes, there have been a number of young unarmed African Americans gunned down. But why disrespect authority? My mother always warned me, “Obey your authorities and you’ll be just fine. Disobey them and something bad could happen. Maybe unproportionately bad.”

Do the above mentioned shootings bring to life underlying racial issues in America? I’m not sure but I wonder? If you take race out of the issue altogether and you take a group of young men and you raise them with no respect for authority, not learning to take on personal responsibility, having easy access to drugs and alcohol, they are very likely to end up as victims of violence and incarceration no matter there color.

Maybe I’m wrong about all this. It certainly wouldn’t shock me if I was. But you know what? I’m here to make you think, so so-what if I’m wrong. Helping the reader to think in new ways is always my goal.

No matter what I think of today racism God’s people can always do better. I’m totally committed to treating everyone like I want to be treated, no matter the color of their skin

Here are five ways I want to be treated
1) I want others to encourage me
2) I want others to appreciate me – William James said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”
3) I want others to forgive me
4) I want others to listen to me
5) I want others to understand me

I have some good news! Your skin color and the culture you were born into were God’s idea in his infinite creativity. I also have some bad news. Given the human condition, we will never totally rid ourselves of racism in this age, anymore than we will totally rid ourselves of lust and pride. The last sentence you just read may seem to be cause for despair. But it actually precludes despair.

Race and Christianity

iStock_000001688703XSmallIt seems like race has always been an issue when it comes to faith. I don’t mean to start off on a bleak note because I think there is a lot of hope and I think it has been the voice of Christians at various times in history (including the present one) that have been a very positive force for change in the world when it comes to race. Even so, I think we can still do better and I believe it warrants an open and honest discussion among Christians today in order to erase the divisive lines the world (and even sometimes the church) has drawn.

Going all the way back to the first generation of Christians, one of the primary thing they fought about was race, particularly in regard to the differences between Jews and Gentiles and what it meant to be a Christian. The whole thing was bound up with racial issues…who was in and who was out based on your race. The more I read Acts and Paul’s letters the more I realize this was the situation much of the church of their day was struggling with. You find it in a few places in the Gospels but more so afterward. This is not a new issue and the good news is, the Bible has plenty to say about it to help guide us.

The Gospel didn’t come to eliminate race. The Gospel came to remove the idea that is an automatic divider and assigner of value…creating, instead, a new humanity through Christ. The sad thing is the church can also become very comfortable with these same walls…drawing the same lines the world is drawing rather than painting…painting the same picture Paul painted…a world where there was no longer any difference between slave, free, rich, poor, Jew, Gentile, male or female (Gal 3:28).

So let us lay our cards on the table this month and talk about race and Christianity. This is an area Christianity has much to offer if we are willing to open up our Bibles and practice our ideals…to be what we find there.