Dear American Church,

Dear Church Doors

“In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church. Be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love… But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the church, it will lose it’s authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I type the following in love (and disappointment) to the American Church:

In the last few months, more than ever before, I have questioned whether I still belong to you and whether you still belong to me. As I type these words, tears are streaming down my face.

Church, you have been such an integral part of my life. As a pastor’s kid and at times, a pastor’s wife, there have been moments when it seemed you were my whole life. You have been my community, my foundation, my habit, my compass, my caretaker, and my safe place. You have also been a source of wounding, pain, and confusion. I have wrestled with the fact that we, the church, have used theology to justify wars, slavery, oppression, and segregation. I have wrestled with how we have historically and presently excluded female and LGBTQ congregants and disenfranchised those inside and outside of our community of faith.  I have wrestled with continuing to wrestle with so much but justified the continual struggle with the knowledge that I am human, you are human, and we are imperfectly trying to follow a perfect God. (And I’m not foolish enough to think that I can follow Jesus without a community of people to teach and support me in how to do that.)

But the last few months have shaken me to the core. This election season has felt like one continual wrestling match within my soul and amongst people I love.

Church, we claim to pray to the same God, in the name of the same Jesus, and yet some of us felt convicted to vote for one candidate, and others, the other, and very few others, the other. And afterward, some of us mourned and others of us rejoiced; deeply mourned and deeply rejoiced. I know that part of this mess is that Jesus was not an American, a Democrat, or a Republican, and we tend to forget that every 4 years. But for me, the wrestling goes deeper than blue and red and donkeys and elephants. The convictions behind our votes represent some significant divides in how we believe we should live.

If we claim to follow the same Jesus, how is it that our interpretation of following is so starkly different? If we are reading the same Bible, how is our comprehension so vastly different? I don’t believe that this election season has divided our country or the American church. I believe this election season has highlighted the divide that has long been there. But I also believe this election season is causing a lot of us to question how we can continue to be the church together when there is such a vast divide in our theology, interpretation, and praxis.

I don’t have answers, but I do know that I am not ready to give up on us, church. And here I am crying again.

I want desperately for this relationship to work because even though it’s so complicated, I still believe that we are good for each other. I want to belong to you and for you belong to me.

But I also want us to throw our doors wide open because I believe that Jesus is for all of us, not an elite bunch of us. This struggle I’m having with our relationship is bigger than just you and me.

I want us to be a people who are focused on welcoming others in, not keeping others out. I don’t want to practice fancy invitation-only pressed linen tablecloth dinner party hospitality. I want us to host radical, messy hospitality that look like the dining room table and the card table, and the tv trays are all set with mismatched dishes and chairs (including the camping chairs) because we ran out of room at the dinner table hospitality.

I want us to be people who champion the cause of people and not the cause of causes.

I want us to stop pretending that theology, life, and following Jesus is clear cut, black and white, and figure-out-able. I want us to be humble, to embrace the gray, and to hope for God to continually change our hearts so that with each year, we look more like Jesus.

I want us to see the image of God in every single person. And I want us to fight for others because we see the image of God in them, not because we deem them innocent or not. I don’t want us to be a voice for the voiceless; I want us to give up privilege so that those without a voice have the opportunity to speak for themselves. And then I want us to listen. I want us to be part of the liberation movement, not the condemnation movement.

I want us to do less service projects and do more listening projects. I want us to get out of our bubbles and learn from people who don’t look like, worship like, speak like, and vote like we do. And then I want us to question whether our theology applies to the people we just listened to. If our theology can’t be applied outside of our little church community, it isn’t God’s theology.

I want us to listen to the uncomfortable words from today’s prophetesses and prophets who are calling out forgetfulness, greed, and fixation with current culture. I want us to stop crying for peace and unity when there is no peace, and instead, embrace the tension that might lead us to the repentance we need.

I want us to turn over tables, like our Jesus did, when we see our fellow Christians becoming insular, uptight, and judgmental.

I want us to be known for our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

I want us to be cities on a hill. We are not called to spread fear and scarcity, but to spread hope and light and generosity.

I want us to commit to the hard, complicated, long-term work of making peace rather than the easier, unholy work of keeping peace (or if we’re being honest, keeping privilege – because there’s too much conflict in our nation and world to claim there was peace to begin with).

I want us to care for the widow, the fatherless, and the orphan. I want us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the prisoner. I want us to act justly and love mercy and walk humbly.

I want us to be kingdom people, church. I want to be in this with you. Is there hope for us?

Sowing Sunflowers

I’ve seen a lot of people adding the words #LoveWins to comments about the recent violent atrocities in the United States. But as I read the headlines every day about more violence, more injustice, and more oppression in this country and world, I’m unconvinced. It doesn’t seem that love is winning at all; it seems that hatred is winning.

This week, as I read the headlines from North Miami (and Munich and Kabul and Baghdad and the Ukraine), I couldn’t think of any words to write other than #HateWins. I tried to pray but I couldn’t find any words for that either, so I went to the only place where everything feels right in the world; my garden. And as I watered and weeded and breathed in the smells and sights of creation, I was reminded of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

The line, “where there is hatred, let me sow love” was on repeat in my spirit, and as I gave pause to that phrase, I looked over at our newly bloomed sunflowers spotlighted by the setting sun.

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This year, I planted a row of sunflowers behind our garden beds. I read the instructions on the back of the packet, before digging my little trowel into the hard, weedy, soil of our backyard and sowing 12 tiny seeds. I regularly watered the ground where I had sowed the seeds and I watched and waited. It took weeks to be able to distinguish the sunflower seedlings from the abundant weeds that grow in our backyard, and months for them to show any signs of flowers blooming. Now, the plants are 4 feet high and the flowers that have bloomed are gorgeous. But it took time and work for the seeds I had sown to bear any fruit.

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This week, as I gaped at the golden blooms, I thought about what it means to sow love in this world where hatred has such deep roots. I thought about how fast the weeds grow in my garden, and how long it takes for the good things to bloom. And I thought about how gardening requires regular tending, watering, weeding, fertilizing, and learning.

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I’ve been gardening for four years, but I still have so much to learn. Each year, I kill some plants, prune some too harshly, miss warning signs of mold and harmful insects until it’s too late, and sometimes, there are conditions outside of my control that make growing challenging. But I keep gardening, because it’s worthwhile work. I know the same is true about me planting love (and I’ll add hope and justice) amidst hate. This is a messy, complicated, nuanced conversation and I know still have so much to learn. I don’t always go about this work in the best way, I don’t always say the right words, I miss opportunities, and I still have so many biases to uncover. But I will keep planting these seeds and learning from my mistakes, because the world, my country, and my city are not as they should be.

I believe that sowing love amidst hate in our world is going to take work – not the flashy, wordsmithy, often publicly recognized kind of work – I think it’s going to take a lot of quiet, small, humble, routine work – well, a lot of quiet, humble work for those of us in dominant culture. And I think the work will look different for each of us. Every gardener I know has their own methods and practices and yet they help things grow.

For me, sowing seeds of love currently looks like:

  1. Tilling up the soil in my own heart: Doing a deep dive into unpacking the privilege that I have as a white, middle class, straight, cisgendered, Christian person. I’m slowly rooting out my white fragility and unearthing the ways that white dominant culture has benefitted me. I believe that this ongoing self-education piece is critical for those of us who want to be about the work of justice and equity, especially for white people.
  2. Consulting master gardeners: Listening to experts at sowing seeds of love and justice – being sure that I’m listening to people of color as the experts, not just white people who like to talk about this. There’s room for a lot of expertise in the libraries of my heart and home (I’ve linked to a few white authors in this post), but I’m being extra mindful of who I’m listening to and reading these days – being mindful of who is telling whose stories. (Some of my favorite writers: Ta-Nehisi Coats, Michelle Alexander, Bryan Stevenson, Christena Cleveland, and Austin Channing)
  3. Planting seeds of love in my everyday life: Because of the continued violence, there are plenty of opportunities to engage in marches and vigils and lectures. But in addition to joining in these large demonstrations, I want to be intentional to continue this work in my everyday life so that this work becomes as habitual as watering my garden everyday. Currently, this looks like calling out bias, discrimination, and privilege when I hear it among friends and family and inviting them to do the same when they hear it from me, convening a book club in which I can read and unpack some of the feels that come with understanding white privilege and white dominant culture, and incorporating these dialogues more deeply into my work with teachers.

Each season, I learn better, more effective methods to grow and sustain my garden plants. I hope the same is true about my learning to plant love amidst hate. I’m not a master gardener; I don’t think I will ever be, not with vegetables, and certainly not with fighting for equity.

But I’m going to keep gardening. I’m going to keep tilling up the soil in my heart, uprooting deep and unconscious, big and small biases, I’m going to keep listening to master gardeners about what this work is and how I can join, and I’m going to keep planting seeds in my everyday life. Because this isn’t a social justice hobby garden. This is urgent – it’s literally life and death. I have friends who are fearful for their own and for the children’s lives. If I’m honest, I’m afraid for them, too. Love won’t win on its own.There will be more #Hate Wins, more Orlandos, Altons and Philandos and Dallases and Baton Rouges and Charles if nothing changes. I want love to win and I know that won’t happen unless we all pick up our trowels and dig in.

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My Prayers Today

“Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy,” has been on repeat in my prayer life today. It’s my go-to prayer when I simply don’t have words for the indescribable ugly that occurs in our world. I’ve been praying that prayer more frequently, it seems. There is so much tragedy around us. What happened last night in South Carolina is devastating.

Today my prayers have sounded something like:

Lord have mercy on South Carolina.

Christ have mercy on our nation.

Lord have mercy on the black community.

And Christ have mercy on the white community, too.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m praying for a different kind of mercy for the black community than I am the white community. There are, after all, different kinds of mercy.

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For the black community, I am praying for the sort of mercy that is kindness or help given to people who are in a desperate situation. I cannot imagine the grief that the families of victims are experiencing today, and I cannot imagine the collective grief of the black community as they grieve yet another loss; another act of violence; another string of injustices from the justice system. I’m praying for my friends as they are having conversations with their kiddos tonight about why people with dark skin keep getting hurt in our country. I’m praying for a mercy I can’t comprehend for grief and anger that I will never feel. I’m thankful for a Holy Spirit who can intercede when we don’t have words, because I don’t have the right words. Christ have mercy on the hurting tonight.

For my white community, particularly my white Christian community, I am praying for the sort of mercy that is kind or forgiving treatment of someone who should be treated harshly. Lord have mercy for our ignorance, for our out-of-place opinions, for our lack of ability to grieve with others, for our lack of perspective. Christ have mercy on us that it takes a shooting in a church to get our attention when shooting in the streets should have awoken our cries for justice for our neighbors. Lord have mercy on those of us have called this “religious persecution” when we should be calling it what it is: Racism and hatred and terrorism. Christ have mercy on us for posts and comments that build up walls rather than tear down walls. Lord have mercy when we have been passive-ists and not peacemakers.

I long for a day when I don’t have to pray separate prayers for the black community and the white community – I don’t like segregated prayers but tonight, I don’t know how else to pray to our merciful God.

I Have A Dream, Too

I wrote this piece last Martin Luther King Day as I reflected on the significance of this man’s sacrifice, and the implications his work has for me as a white person decades later. My sentiments are similar to last year’s, but perhaps even more impassioned with the well-known tragedies of Michael Brown and Eric Garner and with not-so-publicized tragedies that continue in my own neighborhood. I’m still listening, still praying, still fighting because there’s still a dream to be realized.

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MLKI still get goosebumps every time I read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream Speech”. My heart starts racing as his conclusion approaches, and I feel the lump forming in my throat. Tears well in my eyes when I read the words:

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Even though I’m alone in my home re-reading these familiar words, I want to stand up and shout in agreement. I long for the day when our nation has justice, equality, and unity.

But we aren’t there yet.

As I read and re-read impassioned words of Dr. King, I am reminded that we are still so very far from the goals of justice, equality, and unity. I don’t need to read his speech to be reminded of that. I need only to drive around the streets of my city to see that the majority of renovated neighborhoods are owned by white people, and the projects inhabited primarily by black people. I need only to look at test scores in our local school system to see that white students are achieving higher test scores than their peers of color. I need only to look at the prison statistics and see that black Americans are 5 times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans and Hispanic Americans are 2 times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans.

I need only to step outside my door and talk with my neighbor across the street who carries great hostility toward me because people the same color as me have oppressed, mistreated, and abused her for generations.

Where I grew up, in the Northern United States, racism existed in subtle statements and secrecy. I’m better at identifying it now. It is ugly and present. But here, in the Southern United States, where I now make my home, racism is glaring. There are confederate flags hanging in yards and decorating the bumpers of cars. People say things that are downright nauseating. The racial tensions in the south are palpable.

I’ve studied privilege and power, I’m cognizant of my stereotypes, and I’ve dedicated my life to pursuing justice.  Racism is a justice issue.

And I want to talk about it.

But to be honest, sometimes I’m scared to talk about it.  

Because I’m afraid to say the wrong thing, or perhaps the right thing but in the wrong way.

I’ve done that in the past, and it didn’t go so well.

And so I’ve stayed more quiet than I should out of slight paralysis, fear, and embarrassment. I’ve been fighting a quiet fight for justice in my work, my church, and my community. I’ve been quietly watching my Black and Hispanic friends and co-workers for signals, trying to learn about their stories, working to observe how I can join this fight effectively.

But I still feel powerless as to what to do about my power.

And then this week, I read a blog that convicted me about my voice and racism in America. The author petitions white bloggers to stop avoiding the topic of racism. She says, “Put the power of your privilege to work and speak up.  Don’t let the internet be void of your voice on this topic and don’t allow yourself to have distorted views of black people or racial reconciliation for fear of letting your ignorance show.”

I reread her blog several times with wide eyes. Here I am, a woman who claims to be addressing issues of justice and mercy through writing, and yet I’m avoiding this topic because I’m a little scared, because I don’t want things to get awkward, because I don’t want to say something wrong.

The truth is, I’m not sure where my voice fits in the chorus of racial reconciliation. But I know I want to be part of the chorus. I’m ok with not getting a solo, or even having a microphone, but I love this song, and I want to sing it.

I read these words from Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, and I wonder, what kind of white person am I?

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this. Maybe I was too optimistic. Maybe I expected too much. I guess I should have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too small in quantity, but they are big in quality.”

I pray I am the white person that has grasped the need for justice and who is committed to the cause.

To my friends whose skin is a different color than mine, I want you to know that I’m in this chorus with you. I know that my song isn’t anything like your song. I know that it’s different for me to join this fighting chorus, because it’s a choice for me, and it isn’t for you. I know that I don’t know much of anything, but I do know that I’m not ok with the way things are.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

(MLK, Letter From Birmingham Jail)

The Other Part of James 1: World Vision, Gay Marriage, and Fighting Christians

I watched on twitter yesterday as World Vision announced that they had changed an HR policy that will allow for hiring of employees who are in same-sex marriages.

And then I watched twitter erupt with reactions.

Some Christians were overjoyed at the announcement.

Some Christians were outraged at the announcement.

And then, as often happens on twitter, those two camps of Christians found each others’ responses and started throwing stones.

And then others joined in.

And soon enough, I watched a twitter war break out.

Conservative Christians vs. Liberal Christians against each other again in a very public forum hurling Scriptures and words at one another as weapons. It’s like a well-watched reality tv show that depicts a family fighting ugly with one another while the world watches.  My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

We all have convictions.  We all have opinions.  We have all read the Bible, and somehow, we have come out with differing interpretations.

But we agree on Jesus, don’t we?  We agree on the cross.  We agree that mercy triumphs over judgement.  And we believe in justice.  Thank God we believe in justice.  We fight because we know that the world is not as it should be.  But sometimes in our quest for justice we fight mean and wrong.  

And others take notice.

I’m not saying we don’t stand up for our convictions.  By all means, let’s fight for justice and truth.  But how we go about fighting matters.

I’ve seen a lot of James 1:27 quoted in the last 24 hours, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”  I love that verse.  It’s a verse that inspires and challenges me to my core.

But we seem to have forgotten the verse just before it: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” (James 1:26).

Social media has given us an outlet and a platform to speak and respond.  It’s a medium that allows us to engage in dialogue (albeit limited to 140 characters much of the time) in real-time.

And this is the danger of social media.

Because we post things in the heat of a moment. And sometimes we do good. And sometimes we mend fences. And sometimes we cause others to think differently. And sometimes we damage someone’s reputation. And sometimes we bully others. And sometimes we wage wars.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t get angry.  We’re humans, so we get angry.  And we are followers of Jesus, so we get angry.  We should get angry at injustice, at oppressive systems, at man-made religious rules, at hypocrisy, at judgmentalism, at sin, and at hate.

But maybe we need to get better at getting angry slower.  Especially when we find ourselves angry at another person and not a systemic ill.

James puts it this way (still in chapter 1), “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 1:19-20)”

This isn’t about conflict-avoidance.  This isn’t about sweeping critical disagreements under a rug and pretending that our family is happy and healthy and unified.  This isn’t about never getting angry. But it is about pausing. It’s about listening (out of respect, not a cue for a comeback).  It’s about being slow to speak.  And slow to become angry.

I’ve been learning a lot about this lately and doing a whole lot of repenting.

Our immediate reactions aren’t always our realest reactions.  And when we take a moment or a day or a week, we can come the table with dialogue not debate.  Debates rarely change minds and even rarer, make friends.  Dialogue, however, can enlighten us, and can even forge unlikely friendships.

We can challenge in love.  We can disagree without slandering. We can speak out on issues, without calling out individuals.

At the end of the day, whether we like it or not, we’re family. We’re in this for eternity. We need to call each other out from time to time.  We need to have it out on occasion.  But let’s not make individual fights so public. And let’s shame each other less. And most of all, let’s keep doing God’s work of redemption, reconciliation, healing, and welcoming in the world.

This particular issue is very personal to me because we love our sponsored child through World Vision, and because we love our friends who are gay. Fighting hurts bystanders. Fighting hurts the Kingdom. And fighting hurts the Peacemaking Jesus that we follow.

As I hit publish, I’m finding myself humming that old 1960’s song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love.”  May that be true one day.

I Have a Dream, Too

MLKI still get goosebumps every time I read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream Speech”. My heart starts racing as his conclusion approaches, and I feel the lump forming in my throat. Tears well in my eyes when I read the words:

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Even though I’m alone in my home re-reading these familiar words, I want to stand up and shout in agreement. I long for the day when our nation has justice, equality, and unity.

But we aren’t there yet.

As I read and re-read impassioned words of Dr. King, I am reminded that we are still so very far from the goals of justice, equality, and unity. I don’t need to read his speech to be reminded of that. I need only to drive around the streets of my city to see that the majority of renovated neighborhoods are owned by white people, and the projects inhabited primarily by black people. I need only to look at test scores in our local school system to see that white students are achieving higher test scores than their peers of color. I need only to look at the prison statistics and see that black Americans are 5 times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans and Hispanic Americans are 2 times more likely to be imprisoned than white Americans.

I need only to step outside my door and talk with my neighbor across the street who carries great hostility toward me because people the same color as me have oppressed, mistreated, and abused her for generations.

Where I grew up, in the Northern United States, racism existed in subtle statements and secrecy. I’m better at identifying it now. It is ugly and present. But here, in the Southern United States, where I now make my home, racism is glaring. There are confederate flags hanging in yards and decorating the bumpers of cars. People say things that are downright nauseating. The racial tensions in the south are palpable.

I’ve studied privilege and power, I’m cognizant of my stereotypes, and I’ve dedicated my life to pursuing justice.  Racism is a justice issue.

And I want to talk about it.

But to be honest, sometimes I’m scared to talk about it.  

Because I’m afraid to say the wrong thing, or perhaps the right thing but in the wrong way.

I’ve done that in the past, and it didn’t go so well.

And so I’ve stayed more quiet than I should out of slight paralysis, fear, and embarrassment. I’ve been fighting a quiet fight for justice in my work, my church, and my community. I’ve been quietly watching my Black and Hispanic friends and co-workers for signals, trying to learn about their stories, working to observe how I can join this fight effectively.

But I still feel powerless as to what to do about my power.

And then this week, I read a blog that convicted me about my voice and racism in America. The author petitions white bloggers to stop avoiding the topic of racism. She says, “Put the power of your privilege to work and speak up.  Don’t let the internet be void of your voice on this topic and don’t allow yourself to have distorted views of black people or racial reconciliation for fear of letting your ignorance show.”

I reread her blog several times with wide eyes. Here I am, a woman who claims to be addressing issues of justice and mercy through writing, and yet I’m avoiding this topic because I’m a little scared, because I don’t want things to get awkward, because I don’t want to say something wrong.

The truth is, I’m not sure where my voice fits in the chorus of racial reconciliation. But I know I want to be part of the chorus. I’m ok with not getting a solo, or even having a microphone, but I love this song, and I want to sing it.

I read these words from Dr. King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, and I wonder, what kind of white person am I?

“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice… Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this. Maybe I was too optimistic. Maybe I expected too much. I guess I should have realized that few members of a race that has oppressed another race can understand or appreciate the deep groans and passionate yearnings of those that have been oppressed, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent, and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too small in quantity, but they are big in quality.”

I pray I am the white person that has grasped the need for justice and who is committed to the cause.

To my friends whose skin is a different color than mine, I want you to know that I’m in this chorus with you. I know that my song isn’t anything like your song. I know that it’s different for me to join this fighting chorus, because it’s a choice for me, and it isn’t for you. I know that I don’t know much of anything, but I do know that I’m not ok with the way things are.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

(MLK, Letter From Birmingham Jail)

Don’t Volunteer this Holiday Season

Please don’t volunteer at a homeless shelter or retirement facility or children’s hospital [*just*] this Thanksgiving or Christmas. 

Far too often, especially during this time of year, our focus is set on ourselves.  Somehow we’ve turned a season dedicated to giving and sharing into what we can give, what we can do, what we are up to, what works best for us, what traditions are important to me and my family, etc..  Because we are selfish in nature, I would bet that a lot of November and December community volunteerism is more about ourselves than the people we are serving.

Before you completely discount me, think about things you’ve heard yourself or others say after a day of serving:

“I love that I got to make someone’s day.”

“Did you see how I cheered them up?”

“It feels so good to serve on a day like today and remember how blessed I am.”

Sadly, in the frenzy of the holidays, the selfish motivation for service can get worse.  Out of guilt for our excess, we go and serve – perhaps to appease our self-centeredness or maybe justify our over-spending.  In an effort to teach our children to be grateful for all that they have we take them to observe those that have not – but don’t remedy the have-not part.  And if that is the motivation for our service, we actually use the poor, the powerless, and the disenfranchised.

If you’re not convinced, think about your social media feed. I see a lot of posts and pictures of community-serving around the holidays.  We post about serving because we want people to know we care about the deeper meaning behind the holiday – but in the process, we are broadcasting our good deeds, and even violating the same poor and powerless that we are there to serve. Taking pictures of someone without their permission to show how we’re serving them is downright exploitative. Even when have their permission, why do we feel the need to broadcast what good we have done? Whatever happened to “treasuring things in our hearts” (Luke 2:19)?  Whatever happened to “not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing and serving in the secret” (Matthew 6)?  

I’m not proposing a ban on “doing good” this holiday season.  In fact, I’m really pro-generosity, especially during an easily selfish season. What I’m really proposing is a motivation-check this holiday season. Before we load up the cars and roll out into the community, let’s ask ourselves some really good questions:

 1.  Why am I doing this?

 2.  Who am I serving today?

 3.  What will I tell my friends and family about what I did today?

 4.  How can I make this a regular habit?

 The fourth question is a really significant one, because if we’re not serving regularly, we’re totally missing out. Regular service with a consistent organization/ministry/group helps us form relationships, shifts our perceptions, teaches us sacrifice, and changes our hearts.

Maybe the homeless woman receiving our scoop of mashed potatoes this Thanksgiving knows that we need her smile more than she needs ours.  After all, she sees a new starch scooper every week, and rarely the same face.  She knows that it makes us feel good to serve so she returns our smile.  But what if this holiday, we made it about her and not about us?  What if we committed to coming back on a regular basis and learning her name and her dreams?  What if we committed to serving because we are honoring a Lord and Savior who took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist and served his disciples? What if we didn’t declare our good deeds through social media, but served quietly and humbly? What if we committed to helping things change for the long-term, not just the moment?

 What if this holiday, instead of serving once for the year, we made a new year’s resolution to serve regularly, consistently, and faithfully all year long?