Why Should I Care About Race? Aren’t We All Just Christians?

My good friend Hilary Davis wrote this blog for UniteBoston – I wanted to re-post it here too, as it is very well-written and offers a few practical ways to begin to embrace those whom God has called but we have failed to see:

 Photo credit: CS Monitor

This month, as we remember the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr., given up for reconciliation and racial justice, and as I read about Black Lives Matter protesters who tie themselves to concrete barrels and lay their bodies across I-93 rush hour traffic to wake the Boston area up to the fact that injustice is a greater problem than inconvenience, I’m struck again by Jesus’ unnerving call: “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Regardless of your politics and view on current protests, I think most of us can safely say that we have never put ourselves in the path of physical death in order to save the life of another–particularly someone who’s not “one of our own.” A professor recently reminded my New Testament classmates and me, “As you follow Jesus, your life will take on the shape of the Gospel narrative.” Martin Luther King’s death certainly reflects that.

I am also amazed, as I read through the New Testament this week, at just how radically committed the early church was to cross any racial and ethnic line, to preach the good news that Jesus is King of all. They did this against their own better, rabbinical judgment, against centuries of careful study of Torah, and against their own bloody history of protest to save Jewish identity from Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman colonization. And as they did so, they fought and squabbled about whose rules they would follow and which parts of whose culture to keep. Early Jewish Christians had a lot to lose, and they made very uncomfortable compromises to become “one in Christ” with Gentiles. (Note Acts 1:6: Even after Jesus’ resurrection, pre-sending of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were still imagining the Kingdom of God to be a Jewish political entity. The revelation of the true meaning of “Messiah” by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost opened up a theological can of worms. The New Testament attests to the apostles’ worm-wrestling over the next fifty years!). The insistence of Paul that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to be “children of Abraham” was a hard-won battle that didn’t stick easily. Conversely, Gentiles took on some dietary restrictions in order to enjoy table fellowship with Jewish Chrsitians. Thus, the very strange unity of “Jews and Greeks” would have caught the world’s attention. Saying, “It’s Jesus, the Messiah from Nazareth, who does this… for everybody” in that atmosphere, would have been electrifying. His love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit changes our ability to really see and hear one another.

As I read Jesus’ commands, and read through the Acts narrative and its accompanying epistles, I don’t feel I’ve come anywhere near being faithful to the Gospel’s call to let my privilege and its accompanying insularity be crucified with Christ. But I have to wonder: today, in a country where Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week, where we have a centuries-long history of white Christians committing acts of terror against Black and Native people (among others), how can the Church live out a startling “Jew and Greek” unity? How do we knock the foundation out from beneath our very real dividing walls?

I do know that destroying strongholds of disunity doesn’t happen through ignoring differences like culture, race and class. The famous statement in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ,” in its context communicated a spiritual equality, not the loss of “Jewishness” and “Greekness.” Nor does unity happen by mildly “agreeing to disagree”; it happens when we have the courage to do whatever it takes to get close and embrace those whom God has called but we have failed to see.

Here are a few thoughts on practical ways to begin, and I share them with you that we might journey together in these things that I am just beginning to learn.

1) Visit a church where you feel uncomfortable.
Speaking directly to the white folks reading this: we sometimes don’t even know what it feels like to be “in the minority,” racially speaking. Given the huge role race has played in the history of our nation, we can’t afford to ignore this fact. Practice displacing yourself by attending a church where “the outsiders” (to your theology, to your ethnicity, to…) hold the microphone.

2) Ask the questions you’re embarrassed to ask.
Many of us assume we understand what it might be like to be in another’s skin, or, even more often–we’re too embarrassed to ask. We don’t know the rules. We feel silly for not knowing how to refer to another’s ethnicity (“Is it Native American? Indian? First Nations?…. I don’t know what to call them”), or not really remembering where someone is from (“somewhere in Africa”). That’s okay. Sensitivity and learning “what not to say/ask” is important, but embarrassment and apology-making is a big part of Gospel training. Do take the time to ask someone in the know, admitting your stupidity, and humbly asking for the honor of hearing another’s story, remembering it’s a great privilege to listen. Particularly for white folks: “Color blindness,” which is often our de facto orientation, does not honor the way persons of color often experience the world. It’s better to ask what might feel like an awkward question, like, “How have you been processing Ferguson?”, than to fail to love by our silence.

3) In 1 & 2, be prepared for the work of the Holy Spirit to change your rules.
The anger, lament, and sense of foresakenness of our brothers and sisters is the sound of the Spirit’s prophetic voice, and hearing these things should change us. It was inconceivable to Peter, when he was given the vision of the “sheet of unclean animals” in Acts 10:9-16, that God’s rules were changing. It was only by seeing the work of the Holy Spirit among Cornelius’ household that Peter was able to defend an amendment of the “circumcision rule” at the contentious Jerusalem council (see Acts 15:6-11 and context). We can talk about our brothers and sisters in theory, but until we witness the Spirit’s work in them up close, well–we’re missing out on the glory of the Gospel!


Hilary Davis is working toward her MDiv at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and learning to listen in her part-time staff position with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Native Ministries.
Her very occasional bloggings can be found at: hilarykdavis.wordpress.com
If you take issue with, or would like to ask any questions about, any of the above, Hilary can be reached at hilarykd@gmail.com

“Life group carried me through” – Melanie’s Story

I met Melanie last semester and was so blessed to have her start attending the life group that I led! She has become one of my good friends in Boston – Here is her story of how the group impacted her life and her relationship with Christ:

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First of all, I come from a pretty conservative Christian family in the south and was raised in the church.  As kids, we were in church every time the doors were open.  My church became my family and my rock.  My relationship with Christ began to develop at a very early age and I began serving at church, singing in the youth band, and as I got older became heavily involved with missions and outreach.  Fast forward to summer of 2014… I flew home after living in Ethiopia for a 6 month mission project upon learning of my acceptance to graduate school here in Boston.  It was very emotional for me to leave Ethiopia in the first place, but I felt God was leading me in this direction.  With a heavy heart I began to make plans to move to Boston and start grad school….

Never in my life did I imagine transitioning to life in Boston would be so difficult.  I have lived in several other countries and none were as challenging as the familiar U.S. city of Boston.  I felt like I was slung into a very strange world and my emotions sort of spiraled out of control and I began to lash out at God and push Him away.  I still had a somewhat healthy prayer life, but I was angry and sad and didn’t want to talk to anyone about it.  As someone who is known as a leader in a pretty sizable church and outreach ministry, it feels shameful, embarrassing and confusing to open up about any spiritual warfare I was feeling.  So I tried to cover it up and just go on about my business.  That didn’t work so well.  I had visited a few churches here and there in Boston but wasn’t a fan of any of them and found myself feeling more and more uncomfortable than anything so I sorta gave up on that and decided I would just watch the sermons from my home church in Texas online.  That works out ok, but The Lord is very clear about community and I knew I needed that desperately.

So I had a huge breakdown one night and cried out to God in fear and desperation asking what to do… Suddenly I remembered a sign I saw on the T for Journey Church so I googled it and that’s when I emailed randomly asking if there was someone I could talk to.  That’s when God sent me Kelly who invited me into her life group.  Ironically enough it was the night before the first life group meeting of the semester.  I attended even though I normally don’t do those things…

I can truly say that my life group last semester carried me through for several weeks.  As I told my group before, it’s like I was floating around on this Jesus cloud!  I don’t really know how I ended up at Panera Bread that night at life group but it completely saved me in a way and I am so thankful.  I didn’t even attend the church until months later!  All I had was my life group.  They were wonderful to me and I never felt judged, pressured, or like I was an outsider.  They welcomed me and treated me as their own.  This experience really reinforced a lot of things for me.  It was yet another reminder of one of my favorite verses… 2 Timothy 2:13 “if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny himself”.

 

Overcoming hatred with love: The power of forgiveness

We’re in the middle of the “Teach Us To Pray” series at Journey Church, where we’re diving into the model that Christ gives us for prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.

I was asked to prepare a sermon at Journey Church based around the verses “Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I had my six-page sermon all prepared, and then the morning I was to share I sensed that I was supposed focus exclusively on forgiveness – the priority for us to not only be in a right relationship with God, but also with one another.

I re-worked my sermon and trusted the Holy Spirit to speak through me – challenging us to forgive the people who have offended us, and giving examples of how we can overcome hatred with love. Many remarked afterwards how this was a message they needed to hear – Praise God!

You can listen to the sermon here: http://jcboston.org/power-forgiveness/

Also, in my sermon, I reference Martin Luther King’s quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” This is part of the text of Martin Luther King’s speech “Loving Your Enemies” which is viewable here: http://www.ipoet.com/ARCHIVE/BEYOND/King-Jr/Loving-Your-Enemies.html

Yes, in our efforts to obtain world peace, we must understand that this begins with you and me choosing to overcome hatred with love.

Hope for the Upcoming Leadership of the Commonwealth

If you know much about what I do in the city, you’ll know that I attend a lot of prayer gatherings. But I have to tell you that the gathering that I went to last Wednesday night was one of the most unique, inspiring prayer gatherings that I’ve attended in a long time. I came away filled with faith and hope for the upcoming leadership of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Here’s why:

1. It was a remarkable demonstration of the gifts and talents present within communities of faith in our city 

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 says “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

I find it significant that Massachusetts is a Commonwealth, which is a word meaning “political community founded for the common good.” At this gathering, various communities of faith all shared their gifts and talents, as a sign of offering and blessing for the upcoming term of the Governor-Elect Baker and Lieutenant Governor-Elect Polito. Each of the twelve leaders shared a reading that was meaningful to them, and then presented Mr. Baker and Mrs. Polito with a symbolic gift. The service also had musical selections from various churches ringing out with the passion and glory of God – each giving what they had to offer to bless the common good.

2. It symbolized the importance of prayer

One vision continues to resonate in my heart and mind, the image of various religious leaders coming together to pray for God’s anointing on Governor-Elect Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor-Elect Karyn Polito:

Photo credit: Jessica Rinaldi, Boston Globe

I was astounded to see the diversity of the religious leaders that were present, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston, Metropolitan Methodios, Imam Suhaib Webb of the Islamic Society of Boston, Reverent Matthew Thompson of Jubillee Christian Church, Rabbi Ronnie Friedman of Temple Israel, and Reverend Laura Everett of the Massachusetts Council of Churches.

We might not all be able to agree on doctrine, but we can agree that Baker and Lieutenant Governor-elect Karyn Polito need the blessing of God to lead effectively. Coming together in prayer is a sign and a symbol of our hopes and dreams together for the commonwealth!

3. It indicated a narrowing of the gap between the church and the city

It would be easy for Governor-Elect and Lieutenant Governor-Elect to begin their term of office without joining in this prayer service. However, their presence indicates that faith is a priority for them; that the church and religious communities are a meaningful part of how they view the city and commonwealth.

Lisa Wangsness of the Boston Globe wrote “The eagerness of politicians in this largely liberal, secular state to form alliances with clergy such as Miranda underscores the continued importance of the institutional church in the city’s communities of color, and in the life of the city.” This gives me hope for the city and the church working together in future endeavors.

4. It showed a desire for this term of office to be characterized by humility and servanthood

What blew me away most from this evening was the scripture passage that Governor-elect Baker chose to characterize his term of office: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5). Baker shared that it is his desire for each person in his administration to live by this notion.

I was so encouraged by this because I have felt that what God wants most for us as His people in Boston is humility. I had the sense that God was really going to honor this time that we took to come together and pray a blessing on their upcoming term. May we as a commonwealth be known by our willingness to humble ourselves and lift others up!

To learn more, check out the Boston Globe article here:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/01/08/growing-hispanic-church-hosts-inaugural-prayer-service/m5GcCbW0gJjMeK6gKLu0jJ/story.html

What is God’s Name for You?

In many ways, names define us.

God gave a few significant names to Jesus, the baby lying in the manger. He called Him Emmanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). He called him Jesus, which means “The Lord saves” (Matthew 1:21). He even said that the baby was the prince of peace and that the government rested on His shoulders (Isaiah 9:6).

The amazing thing is, in the same way that God spoke His identity over Jesus, a babe lying in the manger, He gives a name to us. What is God’s name for you? What is God speaking over your life?

In this sermon, I share about the significance of the name that he gave the babe in the manger, Jesus Christ. I also challenge each person to hear who we are to God, so that God can define our identity through Christ. In the end, the more we know who God is, the more we know who we are. Enjoy!

http://jcboston.org/child-part-2-gods/

 

God is Changing Lives at Journey Church! Here is Leah’s Story

Our vision at Journey Church is to help OTHERS experience the TRANSFORMING love of Jesus Christ. This is Leah’s story of finding that LOVE.

Leah BugdenFinding a home at Journey Church

I first came to Journey Church to reconnect with a friend. That Sunday, Kelly was preaching about the gift of being single. It was no coincidence that I was there. God wanted me to hear this message. Before coming to Christ, I felt imbalanced, incomplete. I suffered from the feeling of not being enough. That’s the worst feeling in the world.   I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I was trapped in a world of indecision out of fear of change and making the wrong choice. I was afraid to let others in. What I craved for most though was a deep, intimate relationship with someone, someone who would love me for I am but I honestly was trying to figure out who I was. Although I didn’t fully understand yet, God was trying to start a relationship with me.

I immediately felt at home at the Journey Church. I felt like I had walked into an incredible loving family that welcomed me with open arms. I felt celebrated. I felt apart of something bigger than myself. I joined Kelly’s life group at Journey and built relationships with both community members and members of my church pushing myself out of my comfort zone to reach people through loving acts of kindness. Being a part of the life group helped me to start to become more vulnerable with people. I began to feel my relationship with God start to grow and my heart began to change.

Experiencing God’s Transforming Love

It took me a long time to truly let God in. Over the summer I was in a low place, overwhelmed with anxiety and self- doubt. I didn’t know what to do. As I stood in the ocean with open arms I cried out to God asking him to save me. God revealed himself and met me right where I was and pulled me out of darkness. That moment changed everything for me. God knocked down the walls that I had built up around me and invited me to embrace the vulnerability. I didn’t need the walls anymore.

God is transforming my heart. These past few months God has brought out the leader in me; where there was doubt there is now this new sense of confidence roaring out like a lion. I now really see that my voice has value. I feel more grounded. I don’t feel alone. I have the confidence to speak up for myself and shake up the status quo a little bit.

In these past few months, God has painted a very clear picture for me of my purpose in life. He has taught me through meeting me where I am at in the work that I am doing that my purpose in life is to be a playmaker. I am someone who leads a life full of love and joy and meets people, especially kids where they are at, creating environments that encourage them to explore, take risks and embrace vulnerability. This is something that I continue to challenge myself to do every day. I came to church deeply craving connection, deeply craving this desire to feel apart of something bigger than myself, to feel known. Through our blossoming relationship, God has helped me let others truly get to know me and I feel so blessed to continue to grow more deeply in his love. He has taught me that life is all about relationships; the rest is just details.

If you are out there today and are wondering if God is real, He is. He is real and loves you and wants to be in relationship with you. I encourage you to get involved. Get involved with a church that feels like home. Take a leap of faith; jump right in. You may be surprised by the grace you will receive.

God is the greatest friend you can have. He accepts you just as you are. You are enough.