Where will I stand?

It seems to me that a new line was crossed last week. First, two public encounters with police were caught on video resulting in two dead African American men. Then in Dallas, five police officers were gunned down. If your social media feed is anything like mine, it blew up. Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter. For each hashtag there are leaders of faith who claim their perspective is the right perspective, the Christian perspective.

As a person of faith myself, I want to know where we go from here. Standing on the sidelines and just hoping this will blow over does not seem live a viable or moral option. People are dying, and this needs to stop.

I wanted to write something last week. All I could do was stare at a blank screen.

When I read John 3:16, I discover a God who cares about all people. Jesus was sent for the world. In Philippians 2 there is a song about Jesus emptying himself of all his divinity, taking on the very nature of a servant, and dying on the cross. When asked to describe pure religion, James said it had something to do with how we care for the powerless. When Jesus was spoke to his followers about violence he talked about turning the other cheek as a creative non-violent way of resisting the power structures. This was a cornerstone strategy of the civil rights movement as led by Martin Luther King, Jr. When Jesus stood before Pilate and the religious leaders facing and receiving violence, he never lost his cool, never returned violence for violence. On the cross Jesus offered forgiveness to his executioners and an invitation to a fellow cross-mate.

I look at Jesus and try to imagine how he would respond. I see a person who loved without exception. This same Jesus knew that the only way to measure our commitment to all lives had something to do with how we treated the powerless and disenfranchised among us. Quite simply this is the heart’s cry of Black Lives Matter and all the movements that proceeded it.

This I why I choose, as I believe all people of faith and good conscious should, to stand with Black Lives Matter. It not about valuing one person over the other. Rather standing with Black Lives Matter is the most radical and Christ-like way we can demonstrate a commitment to the intrinsic value of all lives.

Evangelism

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my job is entering into theological discussions with our summer staff.  I especially like these talks when I am the one doing the pushing.  It becomes less fun when I am pushed. This past week in Atlanta one of our worship leaders suggested that the secret to evangelism is becoming that which you wish to save.  My initial reaction was mostly dismissive.  It is a helpful way to avoid rethinking and it gives me time to come up with a strategy to regain the upper hand.

The farther away I get from the conversation the more I have become convinced that my negative reaction to his thoughts had to do with the nagging suspicion that he might be right.  The potential implications of this are seismic.

This means that evangelism is something other than sharing the four spiritual laws or getting the person to pray the sinner’s prayer.  Becoming that which we wish to save speaks to identification and relationship.  Isn’t this what Philippians 2 is talking about- a Savior who gave it all up to become like us, human.   Jesus entered into relationship with humanity and could identify with the human predicament.

What does this mean for us?

Does evangelism among the poor mean becoming poor?

Can we cry with those who are crying if we ourselves have never cried?

Can you do multi-cultural ministry and live in a mono-cultural neighborhood?

To be honest, I am still thinking through the implications.  I sort-of want him to be wrong.

Becoming is costly.  It may mean stepping out of a comfortable world.  Authentic evangelism is much more than a brief encounter and a short prayer.  It has the potential to impact where I live, how I spend my money, the church I attend and who I spend my free time with.

No multitasking

I hate it when my world view gets challenged. For example, I like to do lots of things at the same time.  It is not unusual for me to be on a staff call, responding to email, texting my wife, and eating lunch all at the same time.  For the most part I have never considered this to be a problem.  As a matter of fact I have viewed this “skill” as a demonstration of efficiency and good stewardship.

Earlier this week I was at a meeting sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education.  During the opening session we were presented with a Covenant of Presence.  This document listed 12 touchstones for healthy conversations:

  1. Be present as fully as possible
  2. Listen generously
  3. What is offered in the circle is by invitation, not demand
  4. We come as equals
  5. Author your story
  6. Hold each other’s stories with care
  7. Respond to others with open honest questions
  8. No fixing, no saving, no advising, no judging and no setting each other straight
  9. When the going gets rough, turn to wonder
  10. Be mindful and respectful of time
  11. Practice confidentiality care
  12. Know that it is possible to emerge from our time together refreshed, surprised and less burdened than when we came

After we were finished the group leader asked if anything was missing.

 I thought the list was complete.

 But every group has one person who feels they have something to say. This gathering was no different.

 A gentleman on the other side of the room raised his hand.  In my mind, this was the perfect opportunity to check my cell phone for new messages.  Before I was able to retrieve my phone out of my backpack, his words caught my attention.

 “No multitasking should be added to the list.  It is not possible to be fully present with other people when you are multitasking.”

 My initial reaction was completed disagreement.  This was the kind of statement that could change my way of getting things done.  The more I have thought about what this man had to say, the more I find myself recognizing the truth of his statement.

 Multitasking devalues what I am doing and when people are involved it devalues relationships.

 Philippians 2:7 talks about Jesus emptying himself. He chose not to multitask; he became focused.

 The next time you are visiting with a friend and the phone rings, try letting it go to voice mail.  When your spouse wants to talk, turn off the TV.  Learning to be fully present is a good skill to cultivate.

Control

One of my projects this year is to co-lead an Urban Ministry Tour for Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA). Our purpose and goal is to listen to urban church leaders and make recommendations that will help to shape the future of urban Mennonite Church. As we go around to various locations we are asking a common set of questions:

· Who are you? · How are you? · What are the things that you do well? · How can Mennonite Church USA be helpful? · What is of spiritual importance to you in your community? · What is important to know about ministry in the urban context?

These questions have sparked some vigorous discussions.

Last week in Minneapolis, in response to the question,”How can MCUSA be helpful?” Mark Van Steenwyk, a local church leader responded with his own question. “Is it possible for Mennonite Church USA to engage the space without trying to control the space?”

This question has been gnawing at me ever since. The need to control seems to be a universal desire.

I know that this craving impacts every area of my life. As a parent, I want to control my boys; who their friends are, what movies the watch, where they go to school and what they eat. As the National Director of DOOR, I want control over our image, the finances and the program.

Some control seems appropriate. Too often my (our) need to control becomes destructive and manipulative. I am reminded of Paul’s words in Philippians 2:7, “But (Jesus) emptied himself…”

If there ever was a person who had the right to control, it was Jesus. But Jesus, the son of God, emptied himself. Or to think of it another way, Jesus chose to engage humanity without trying to control humanity.

Why is it that we so willingly accept the freedom given to us while still hankering to control?

The temptation to control is something which must be resisted at every level, from the individual to the institution.