27 November 2004

Blessed are the Peacemakers?

I remember Jesus saying some things about "the last being first" and "the outcasts inheriting the kingdom (meek, peacemakers, and mourners)"...

This article was a gentle reminder of the strange places in which the Kingdom is breaking through in our particular culture.


I understand that defining "peacemaker" can go in drastically different directions...this particular strand needs to be rewoven into our ecclesiological fabric.

26 November 2004

Here is an interesting article from the Detroit Free Press--it is an editorial warning from an African-American writer to the lower class population of Detroit (and the metro area) concerning shopping for Christmas.

It is interesting to me because I cannot, for one second, relate to the audience the reporter is writing to. Another reminder to me that I need to be about the business of helping every member of our society--not just members of my immediate family.


22 November 2004

I've been a Pistons fan since the fourth grade. My heroes were Joe Dumars, Isaiah Thomas, John "Spider" Salley, and the microwave (Vinnie Johnson). I worked for the Detroit Pistons during undergrad as an instructor for their camps and clinics. I still have poster, t-shirts, and other things from the bad boy era.

I cheered them on the last few years (at times reverting back to my middle school days). In my office at home I have the towel, poster, newspaper clippings (which Kara stood in line to attain) and championship tee-shirt.

Having said that, I was utterly ashamed at what took place on Friday night at The Palace between the Pistons, Pacers, and spectators. First, I'm ashamed that I contribute to the religioisity of Pro Sports in our culture. One could make the argument that big sports has emerged as the new religion (stadiums as sanctuaries, athletes as deities)--I contribute to the grose reality that has become sports in America. I do not understand the chaos that ensued. I don't comprehend Artest, Wallace, O'Neal (who I was sure killed the fan who came on the court), Jackson.
I do not understand the fans. I do not understand the NBA commissioner who hugs the major beer companies in private for the money they pay to advertise, and then chastises the fans (and the results) of having the beer in the stadiums.

Everyone takes the blame in this one. No one is without guilt...except perhaps for the young boy shown on cable television holding his mother's leg, crying in horror.
I hope healing can come from this. But more than that, I hope we realize how insignificant sport really is in light of so much evil and brokenness in the world.

19 November 2004


Sometimes in our desire to be cutting edge we ignore the language of Scripture. Out of a sincere passion to be appealing we craft our language. From an hour long phone conversation last night with a dear friend whom I needed forgiveness--I experienced the words he so often reminded of, "The primary way to love God is to love people."

If there is another way to love God, I have not found it. Confession, sin, repentance...old words that, when dusted off, offer healing, powerful redemption. If our message is going to be heard amongst a chorus of competing stories, we have to be determined to begin to tell the truth--even when it doesn't bring us honor or more power.

A man lies when the truth will not accomplish what he deems most important for his own survival ("Twainism").

17 November 2004

get out of the boat...even if by accident

I was blessed in college to meet some incredible people. Mike, my roommate for three plus years, was the greatest gift of all. He was an inner city star from Detroit and I was a suburban kid (in some ways still am) who grew up in an extremely wealthy church.

Our first trip together that first year was a canoe trip on a relatively tame river--tame for me who loves white water rafting--frightening for him who doesn't even like to swim in a normal pool. I should point out that he was not alone in this fear, most of the my african american teammates were in the same proverbial boat.

About halfway down the river the water began to get rough. We were entering an area with sharp rocks and unseasonably low water, not a good combination. One of the assistant coaches at the time waved me over and encouraged me to "keep an eye on Mike. This is a first for him,and I'm not sure how comfortable he is." I agreed, proud that the coach had asked me to keep an eye on our small college's prize recruit.

A few moments later the water turned for the worse and it was all I could do to stay in my canoe. I navigated over to Mike's canoe which was now stuck between an overhang branch and a muddy bank. The water was moving surprisingly fast and he was beginning to get real anxious. "Grab on to my paddle," I said with over-confidence. As he did his momentum (and adrenaline) exceeded mine and he pulled me right out of the canoe and into freezing, rushing water.

I managed to avoid the real dangerous areas the next quarter or mile or so...going down the river on my rear end. Needless to say, I suffered a few impressive scrapes and bruises. Mike thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever seen. The white guy trying to be the hero (David Hasselhoff perhaps) and I ended up traveling up the creek without a paddle or a boat.

Something changed in our relationship after that event, as mundane as it might have been. I started to see the similarities between Mike and I, instead of the differences--and believe me there are obvious differences (Mike is a 6'7 attractive african-american phenom athlete). I guess both of us realized our humanity bonded us more than our skin color.

Many more obstacles came over the course of the next four years: questions about our faith, social injustice, manhood, etc. We learned to navigate the waters, rough or smooth, together. Mike taught me so much about the heart of Christ...a blog could never capture that experience.

I hope to spend some time next week during Thanksgiving with Mike. I love the prayer that concludes "Cold Mountain" (one of my top ten favorite movies): "For good friends, family...for all our blessings, we thank thee."

15 November 2004

An Unwanted Word

In my last blog, I discussed teaching in Metro Public Schools...I'm going to continue that discussion.

Today, I taught 6th-8th grade for young men who have severe learning or attention disorders. All of the students in the class, except one young person, were African-Americans.

During the afternoon, I was instructed to read from a Social Studies unit the students are going through. I noticed the subject was "Harriet Tubman" and I thought to myself, "wow, this will be great, I did my undergrad in history, I'll be able to really make this come alive for them."

About ten minutes into reading the simple biography of Tubman a young man rose up and said, "how could your people to do this to my people?" I'd just finished reading a section about six year old Harriet who'd been beaten severely for stealing food for her family because they were so malnourished some of them were nearly being worked to the point of literal death.

The classroom was completely silent. Instead of offering a complex historical explanation of sociological influence, norms, customs, world-views...I simply said, "I don't know Rahkim (pronounced Rah-keem)."

Another young boy spoke up after a few more minutes of silence, "People sure can be evil can't they?"

It dawned on me that I did a degree in American History from a predominantly white evangelical college. As grateful as I am for that experience, the every day experiences I encounter with people are far more crucial to the ones I learn in the labratory that is the classroom.

A good reminder for those of us who like to hide in the tower.

13 November 2004

Out From the Safe Places

It struck me this week that Nashville is indeed a unique town. I don't mean that good or bad--it is what it is. And it's not the first time I've had this thought.

I've been substitute teaching (Metro Public Schools and Lipscomb Campus School) this fall to help pay the grad school bills as I finish the M.Div. later this year. At Lipscomb Campus, the majority of the students are upper middle class white kids from families who are members of Churches of Christ. There are some students who are members of other Evangelical churches ("money is money, all denominations are accepted"), but the overwhelming majority come from Churches of Christ.

In the Metro Public School System, my experience has been the complete opposite. Most of the students are from minority homes: African-american, Hispanic, Latino, Arabic, Kurdish, Asian, etc. These students come from mostly middle to low income homes and the religious views are as diverse as the ethnicity: Islam, Hindu, various eastern religions, and some branches of the Christian faith.

There are almost two worlds that exist in Nashville (albeit different from John Edwards notion)

I wonder what the Christian influence/mission will look like in Nashville over the next twenty years in the areas that are not conventional Christian institutions (Christian churches, schools, and universities)? I wonder if the division that separates the white suburban Christians from everyone else will continue to increase or if bridge builders will emerge in an urgency to realize the vision of the Gospel in which all are united as children of God.

As wealthy white Christians, we can continue to live our lives in an attempt to preserve what we deem most important (blood families, savings, homes, honor) or we can embrace death over preservation and be adamant about living out the life of Jesus in every nook and cranny of the culture we find ourselves in.

One is safe, the other is risky business. I think Jesus spent some time teaching the religious folks of his day which one his Kingdom is about (Mt. 25). As C.S. Lewis reminds me, "though God is good, he's never been safe."

11 November 2004

Christ Among Us

In my first ever blog I mentioned Mary Morris-one of Kara's best friends and someone I've grown to love and appreciate. Mary has cancer and is in the midst of battling the chemo/radiation treatments.

Last night was our last time to see Mary for almost two months for she is returning to Morgantown, WV (where Kara grew up) to be with her family and close friends. As we were saying good bye it dawned on me how important our weekly gatherings had become (sometimes every other week). There was no plan of action when we came over, usually a call from Mary saying, "Hey, I've got way too much food--can you and Kara come over and help mom and I eat it?"

You never have to ask me that question twice. Usually we talk about politics, our conservative religious views (ok their conservative religious views) and the latest movies.

I did not realize this until last night, but we sort of formed our own dysfunctional church over the last few months. People would come over all the time to see Mary, and when they left, they always felt a sense of renewal in their faith journey. The one we were supposed to bless ended up being a blessing. The Kingdom shows up in my life in the strangest ways: people I initially failed to notice, circumstances that seemed mundane or predictable--and then, wham! The traces of God in our midst shows up so obviously even if only for a few moments.

Kara and I will miss Mary and Lois (Mary's mother) while they're gone. Not only are we losing great neighbors (they live right across the street) but we're losing Christ among us. Pray for God to fully dwell in Mary's life as she continues to wrestle with the cancer in her body.

08 November 2004

Right On the Money

My wife is the queen of delivering the right punch line.

Last night, we were reflecting on a two hour discussion our small group engaged in concerning Brian McLaren's "A New Kind of Christian". Much of the talk centered around the differences between modern faith and postmodern faith as it plays out in our faith journeys in our respective fundamentalist climate.

After listening to me reflect on the night, she turned to me (at about 1245 am) and said, "Well, here's what I think about the whole modern vs. post-modern discussion. I'm either sliding back into the world of modernity or I'm a post-postmodern. Maybe I had too good an experience. Maybe my relationship with my father was so healthy I can't relate to many people's faith experience..."

If anyone knows Kara's father, they know that the two of them have the strongest of bonds.

Kara reminded that much of my religious experience (ok a somewhat pomo word) was Christ centered and fatih affirming. I can't hide behind some of the things I tend to. Though many have had traumatic experiences barely surviving church abuse, there are stories out there of people who were introduced to a dangerously loving Jesus.

04 November 2004

The Politics of Jesus

New Testament background studies and careful reading of the Gospels reveal “honor and shame” as a central pillar in many Ancient cultures (both Greco-Roman and Jewish). Much of the teachings and actions of Jesus upset the cultural norm embedded within the before mentioned context. One holds a place of honor by grasping wealth, education, prominence and power. One does everything one can to align oneself with those who have ignoring those who have not. Shame is placed upon the poor, the uneducated, the disenfranchised, those with physical deformity, disease, or handicap. Above all other virtues, honor is the most coveted reality in the ancient world.

Jesus walks into their world announcing forgiveness of both social and individual sin. Modern Christians spend most of their time exploring individual sin, never considering the notion that Jesus spent much of his time subverting the social practices and ideals that lifted up the privileged and held down the ones who were perceived to be less than human. When Jesus walks into a room or tells a parable, he often seeks to address sin and restore the humanity of those who’ve been “dehumanized” by the ones claiming to represent the divine law. Jesus heals a woman with a blood issue, a man who has never walked, and a man stricken with leprosy -and in doing so, he validates their humanity, their imago Dei.

The words of the Hebrews writer are prophetic and priestly:

"Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go outside the camp and bear the shame (abuse) he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of the lips that confess his name." (Hebrews 13:12-16)