Tag Archives: Race

A Humble Suggestion on How to Not Shoot Our Neighbors

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gavel-courtIf I’d seen Frank on the street, I would have gotten a little nervous.

He’s a solid foot taller than me, if not more. His hands are huge. His expression mellow, if not a little suspicious.

That is, if you don’t know him.

I saw Frank while ministering in a prison, and we became fast friends. I watched Frank gently pray for his fellow inmates. He gravitated toward me, the short, white guy who grew up in the suburbs, often joining my prayer group at the end of each meeting.

When I prepared to move out of the area and the prison was slated to close, I should have been praying for Frank since he didn’t know where he’d end up, but he offered to pray for me first.

I’ll be the first person to tell you that my years of prison ministry didn’t correct all of my mistakes and misconceptions about people.

But that season of service taught me that simply getting to know someone is the fastest and most reliable way to kill the suspicions you may harbor of your neighbors. In fact, you may even grow quite fond of people who may have been the targets of your suspicion.

These days we serve meals at a community center a few blocks away from us. I’m still looking for more ways to get involved in my community, but this meal time has dramatically changed the way I interact with my neighbors.

When I would have averted my eyes at the sight of a man in beat up clothes and a scowl on his face, I’ll stop and say hi. He may keep walking. Sometimes we talk about the weather.

So much of the fear I’ve held onto over the years has been directed at people who were generally no threat to me.

That’s a horrible way to live.

Most importantly, it’s a horrible way to view other people.

Did I think they wanted to be perceived as threats?

I can’t speak to the racial injustices in our nation’s nation’s legal system with any kind of authority. I can’t speak to our terrible gun laws that prevent reasonable background checks from keeping guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous citizens.

I can only speak of learning about my neighbors and getting to know them a little and how that has moved me away from fear and suspicion.

If we start roving our neighborhoods with meals in our hands rather than guns, we’ll make the world a safer place not because we’ve neutralized a threat that’s out there. The greatest threat we need to neutralize is in our own hearts.

There are many battles that must be fought to give justice to all, but we can start today by treating our neighbors  as we would want to be treated.

That’s the least we should expect from followers of a Savior who refused to stand his ground but kneeled down and served.

Running to Win: How Running Together Changes Everything

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We’ve focused a lot this week on our personal struggles to run the race of discipleship—keeping our eyes on Jesus and giving everything we have to pursue him and his calling. However, there’s a lot more to this than our personal struggles.

Christians run their race in packs. Think of it like a cross-country race.

How we interact with our teammates says a lot about how we’re progressing as runners and whether we truly are becoming more like Christ, remaining on course, or straying into the pursuit of our own goals.

In fact, there’s a lot at stake when we interact with our fellow runners. We could play a crucial role in how fast they can progress, let alone whether they finish at all.

There’s a familiar phrase for doing something that prevents or inhibits others from running: stumbling block. It could be a careless word of judgment, a well-meaning but critical attempt at encouragement, or poor choices that lead others to imitate us.

The opposite of causing someone to stumble is helping someone run better.

When we meet someone with beliefs different than our own, whether Christian or not, are we helping this person move in the direction of God? Are we modeling what running a race toward God looks like?

Too many times I’ve been confrontational or given in to my desire to look smart or correct. Attacking a runner will not help him continue to race. An attack will only slow him down.

And so we have to think of ways we can both model good running for each other, while nudging our fellow runners toward God. When they ask us for help, we have an opportunity to share the good things God has done in us.

The more I think about encouraging fellow Christians to run toward God, the more I’m convinced that we must be gentle, encouraging, and redemptive to one another. This would rule out some of what passes for “Christian” content that’s online these days.

Attacks, challenges, arguments, open letters, angry comments, and the list goes on. These things don’t strike me as a good way to help someone run a better race toward God.

If I was running off the main trail and taking sloppy strides, I know that I’d prefer someone to run alongside me and to personally explain how to get back on track and to improve my form, rather than shouting from the road, in front of everyone around, that I’m a bad runner who is going to endanger other runners with my choices.

Are we worried about making ourselves look good and right and smart and holy sometimes?

Are we a little too jumpy about differences of theology rather than the practice of the basics?

I have plenty of my own issues to sort through, but don’t we all? We really don’t need anyone to dump on us as we try to follow Jesus today. The truth is that I need you, you need me, and we all need one another.

We’re running together in a pack toward Jesus.

When one of us stumbles, we pitch in and offer a shoulder.

When one of us strays from the trail, someone seeks that person out and guides her back to safety.

When one of us falters with discouragement or exhaustion, we trot by his side, hear him out, and share from our lows.

We’re in this race together. It’s hard, fulfilling, dangerous, and beautiful. And perhaps the most beautiful thing in the world is when we can let God use us to encourage or heal another person. That is when we truly fulfill our reason for being here.

Running to Win: How God Sets Us Free

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I started to believe something about six to nine months ago. The results have been both surprising and tantalizing.

I’ve tried to begin each day by asking God what he wants me to do and offering my work to him.

Some days go better than others, but there have been some real breakthroughs. Whether working at a day job and writing on the side or cobbling together a bunch of freelance writing projects, I’ve struggled to serve God through my work.

I was wandering from project to project praying for a paycheck.

However, when I started to believe that God cared enough about my work to lead me, something began to happen. I sensed a nudge from God to change something. As I pursued that direction, the ideas came, ministry happened, and I was enjoying my work.

Stepping out in obedience helped me focus better. Though I have still struggled with distractions and have lost my focus more often than I care to admit, my good days are becoming better and more frequent.

In addition, I’d been pursuing several paths forward that were turning into dead ends. However, I kept pushing myself to work harder because I thought that I needed to just persevere and there would be a pay-off. As I began to listen for God’s leading, he steered me away from these pursuits until one day the light came on.

These paths were not working.

As I let go of them, he brought some new opportunities my way and freed me to do the kind of work I enjoy.

All is not perfect in my professional life. I still struggle some days to stick to my schedule and to meet my goals. But moving into God’s freedom isn’t necessarily an overnight process. Learning to listen to his voice takes practice.

The difference between my old path and the nudges forward that God gives is found in the fulfillment and joy that my work brings me today. In addition, as I obey his leading I’m finding untapped passions that I have not pursued. In a sense, today’s obedience gives me hope that God can bring some exciting possibilities tomorrow.

I still work hard. There are some very uncertain things about my work right now. However, investing in the areas that God brings to mind have brought new opportunities and insights that have dramatically changed my work life into one that is purposeful and even worshipful at times.

I feel like I can persevere in the race because God is leading me and setting me free from my dead-end plans and bad habits.

It all started with a simple prayer, “What do you want me to do today Lord?”

The results have convinced me to keep saying this prayer.

Want to read more stories about God setting people free? Drop by Faith Barista today for the Thursday Faith Jam.

Tomorrow’s Post: How Running God’s Race Together Changes Everything

Running to Win. Am I Taking Jesus Seriously?

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RunningWin

About a month ago I started swimming each week day at our local community center pool. I decided it was time to take my fitness seriously, and swimming has helped me both work and sleep better. I’m like a bullet in the water next to the senior citizens who drop by in the afternoon.

When you’re staring at the bottom of a pool for 30-60 minutes and gasping for air, you have a little time to think. It’s like this: “Think, think, think, gasp! Think, think, think, gasp!”

Looking back at myself over the years, I don’t think I would have said that I didn’t care about my health. In fact, I may have even said that I really wanted to be healthy and in better shape.

I just didn’t do very much. Not doing very much is quite different from doing nothing. You have something to assuage your guilt. Look, I told my conscience, I took a 15 minute walk… leaving out the part about ending my walk at the bakery where I put cream in my coffee and ate a cinnamon roll.

I was trying, but not giving it a serious effort. I was maintaining a kind of status quo and then acting surprised when nothing changed.

I hope that swimming can change that, but then a few weeks later I had another thought. Am I approaching Christianity in the same way as my health?

During that week I began asking myself some tough questions and began to take note of the areas in my life where sin still clings. I’ve taken swipes at these sin areas, but to be honest, I haven’t attacked them with the same attitude I bring to attacking the water for a sustained 30-60 minutes.

Paul spoke of Christianity as running a race in order to win it. Training to win a race involves pushing ourselves, making sacrifices, and enduring discomfort in order to perform better when we’re on the track, field, or wherever else.

This week I’d like to ask some tough questions about following Jesus and running the race to win it. My suspicion is that I tend to either try running in two races at once (running for me and for Jesus) or amble along just enough sometimes in order to not give up but not win either.

There are times when I’ve thrown everything I have into following Jesus, and it feels like I’m focused on Jesus and his will. Over the course of time worries and other priorities creep in. I lose sleep, fall behind in my work, and crave distraction.

I shift from running to win, to just keeping my feet moving.

How can we run the race of discipleship to win it? In fact, do we even know why it’s a race we’d want to win? I’ll continue this series tomorrow with a look at our priorities and how they factor into following Jesus, especially with some reasons why we should want to win the race.

How Diversity Changed My Beliefs: Beyond White Dude Theology

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“I like a lot of the emerging church stuff, but man, it’s just so… white.”

An Asian friend in seminary said that to me back in the fall of 2004, long before Sojourners ran an article in Spring 2010 about the overwhelming whiteness of the emerging church. At the time my friend made this observation, I had just completed the first draft of Coffeehouse Theology, an introduction to theology that included diverse/global Christian perspectives in its method.

I think his comment was pretty much right on, but not necessarily indicative of where Christianity, emerging or not, need stay. I think he would agree.

White Dudes Realize We’re Missing It

If there’s one good thing that’s come out of the emerging conversations, it’s a great deal of humility that is paired with charitable dialogue with fellow believers. What I saw developing throughout the 00’s in my seminary and online is basically a bunch of white theologians realizing they’d been marginalizing other perspectives, whether or not that has been intentional.

Now, think about this. Our seminaries, at least the conservative-ish ones, are filled with lots of white dudes and also some Koreans. So, the white dudes realized we’d been missing out on some important perspectives, and that is a wonderful and commendable thing. We should not minimize or overlook things.

However, the conversations at that point primarily consisted of white dudes talking about the need to be more diverse. That’s certainly where many of us were back in 2004. I know that’s where I was.

White Dudes Will Fix Things

Unfortunately, when those in the majority realize there’s a problem, they may try to solve it on their own and even dictate the terms of the solution without considering the contributions of the minorities involved.

My former professor John Franke gave a wonderfully humble account of this at an event a few years ago. He entered dialogue with an African American pastor and proposed a number of solutions to our white dude problem. In the process he realized that he’d been dictating the terms of the solution, confessed his error, and worked with this pastor on some great ideas that rose from their conversations.

White Dudes Will Give Up Control

The future of all this emerging, missional, and just plain Christian stuff does not rely on white dudes figuring out ways to be diverse, and I think a lot of white dudes know that. Some are more proactive than others to this end, but if we ask ourselves who’s leading and only come up with a list of white dudes, then we’ll know we’re not there yet.

The trouble with this conversation is that white dudes have been in control for so long, that I’m sure those in the non-white dude camp feel like enough is enough: “Just give up control already white dudes!” And then the white dudes who are trying to make things better feel like they’re doing the best they can and just need more time.

My hope is that we can move beyond white dude theology, and I think we are well on our way in many circles. We can start today be asking who we look to as guides for our theology and practice, and if our guides are only white dudes, then we have some searching to do.

Dealing with Racial Insensitivity: Becoming Catalysts for Reconciliation

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Yesterday’s post brought up a lot of great discussion in the comment section that serves God’s Kingdom and Christian unity. I’m about to wrap up a series of posts from the book of Romans, and it’s apparent in that book that in bringing salvation to all through Christ, God was also reconciling two races or people groups: Jews and Gentiles.

When we create divisions or cause offense along lines of racial or gender differences, we are in essence undoing part of Christ’s work. And if anything, this incident shows that white American male Christians are very capable of offending those of another race without it being intentional or obvious. I think the same goes for the way white American male Christians treat women sometimes.

The undetected, unintentional nature of this is enough to keep me up at night.

Let’s be honest, there will be offenses made in the future. There may be some women or ethnic minorities who are smarting right now who perhaps don’t feel comfortable bringing up their grievances because they fear they’ll be met with further insults to stop whining, criticism that they’ve chosen the wrong path to conflict resolution, or that they’re simply misrepresenting those who offended them.

We saw it in the Deadly Viper scenario, and it can and will happen again. From where I sit, I think our next step is to create dialogue channels, safe places for folks to go, and catalysts for reconciliation. We need folks in either the majority or in the minority who will commit to help others reach reconciliation with their offenders and to help offenders reach the point of repentance and forgiveness.

Catalyst is a flashy word, but I don’t believe this is flashy work. This is hard, costly work, but I think I myself and others need to commit to doing this. This means working hard toward justice in the body of Christ, while committing to listen, to hold back on judgment, and to approach others in love.

If you feel that a part of the body of Christ is offending you, I’ll do what I can to hear you out, to help you take steps forward, and to even confront someone in love with you or on your behalf. Even if our reaching out crashes and burns, at least we’re not failing alone. I have no idea where this will take us, but I encourage you today to think of how you can become a catalyst for reconciliation, how you can right your wrongs, or how you can approach those who have wronged you.

We can do this because Christ is working for this within us. We are moving in step with his Spirit in his Kingdom purpose.

How White Christians Can Deal with Racial Insensitivity

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I’ve been following a controversy over a racially insensitive video, poster, and book cover put together by two white Christian men. The gist of the controversy is that the book’s art work and video content both exploit Asian culture and promote demeaning stereotypes.

Two Asian American leaders (Cho and Rah) asked for apologies. Edward Gilbreath also offers clarity and empathy. At first one of the makers of the book and video didn’t seem all that willing to hear out Professor Rah. Thankfully they later wrote an apology note and apparently a phone conversation took place at some point on November 4th between the concerned parties.

Things seem under control, but I wanted to share a few thoughts based on how we can use this situation to clarify our beliefs, correct misconceptions, and to make our communities stronger when dealing with racial insensitivity (not necessarily “racism” in every case).

It’s never comfortable to find out that you’ve offended someone, especially when it has to do with race, and ESPECIALLY when that offense is created by something as permanent as a book in print. I can see how one may initially become defensive. However, the only position for white Christians on this issue is to open ourselves up to critique, to admit we’ve been wrong when necessary, and to confess that even in our attempts to make things right we may make things worse. In fact, I fear that even in writing this post I may have some large elephants in my own room…

Case in point: I initially wrote at the start of this post that Asian Americans found the video and book cover offensive. That was partially true, but I missed the point right off the bat that all Christians should be offended when one part of the body of Christ feels wounded. So even in dealing with these matters, I can see I have a long way to go.

As I examine my own heart and what I’ve seen online over the past few days, here are a few of my observations about white Christians and matters of racial sensitivity:

  • We don’t want to think of ourselves as racists.
  • We generally aren’t openly or overtly racist. It’s far more subtle than we expect, taking the form of jokes, etc.
  • When we mean well, it’s hard to admit we hurt feelings.
  • Those in the majority should never ask victims of injustice to turn the other cheek.
  • We don’t realize that racial insensitivity demeans the offender while also demeaning the offended.
  • It’s embarrassing to be wrong and to admit failure publicly.
  • It’s difficult and painful to right wrongs.
  • Those in the ethnic majority have a non-binding vote on what’s offensive. The minority gets the binding vote.

If I was one of the guys who designed that book and video, I’d be feeling crushed right now. So crushed, that I probably would have a hard time understanding how it feels to be a mocked ethnic minority. If I learned that a book I’d invested significant time and resources into offended a significant part of the population with its central motif, I’d probably have a hard time entering into a dialogue about it at first. However, if I was an ethnic minority, I’d probably have a hard time sleeping until the matter was resolved.

I’m more concerned about the way we resolve future matters of racial insensitivity than in examining the minutiae of this current case. This convinces me that white Christian leaders, writers, and whoever else can start by doing a few things:

  • Seek the counsel of diverse perspectives that will surprise, challenge, and even unsettle us. In writing Coffeehouse Theology I sought out readers from a variety of backgrounds, regions, and denominations who made it a better book. I am continually surprised by my own limitations and need for Christians who see the world differently.
  • Ask those in the minority to identify the problem and to suggest a solution. That’s something one of the men involved in this did that I think is worth emulating: he asked Professor Rah to outline a way to make things right.
  • Make “listening” our first response to critiques of racial insensitivity. Some white Christians whined about the way Asian Christians handled this is, and it borders on Pharisaic legalism that strains a gnat and swallows a camel. Saying that a critique of racial insensitivity fails to follow proper confrontational protocol and is therefore somehow invalid borders on the absurd. I think our critiques of one another have mixed results at times, but when someone says, “You’ve hurt me!” We need to listen, rather than picking apart exactly how they did it. We can discuss the details of “critique protocol” down the line, but in the grand scheme of things, racial injustice and insensitivity are far more destructive for Christian community than a blog post that strikes some as angry or critical. Of course he sounds angry and critical! He’s been deeply wounded! Failure to listen only creates a frustrating spiral of accusation and counter accusation that does no good for the body. The least those in the majority can do is listen.
  • Insensitivity Can Crop up Elsewhere. The other elephant in the room here is the way Christians treat women, to say nothing of Asian women (which is something I’m only mentioning in passing because I don’t have the chops to address that one). If you now have some insight into the ways we can be offensive and patronizing toward Asians, then I don’t think it’s too far a  stretch to apply these lessons to the ways that women are stereotyped, patronized, and mistreated in the Christian camp, especially by white males in leadership. The conversations we’re having here with our Asian brothers and sisters in Christ also need to happen with our sisters in Christ.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ve already written more than I ever intended. I hope we can prayerfully move forward in our dialogue with one another. If I’ve made some glaring errors in this post, I’ll begin my apology now and end it after you e-mail me at edcyzewski (a) gmail (dot) com.

However, whatever this post’s inadequacies, I hope it’s a useful stone in the road toward reconciliation.