Some Ways to Hang on to God during a Faith Crisis

winter christianBefore I begin, I want to first identify as a “Winter Christian.” In short, it means that I find high levels of complaint to be an important facet for faith development and growth. Richard Beck explains:

The Summer Christians are those who occupy the high communion/low complaint sector. That is, engagement with God is high and the experience is generally free of negativity. By contrast, the Winter Christian is equally engaged with God, yet complaint is a feature of the experience.

(I recommend reading his whole article for more.) If you do not resonate with the idea of a “faith crisis” or you do not feel the need to question, doubt, and complain to God, it’s likely you would be more of a “Summer Christian,” and this conversation may be less helpful for you.

With that being said, for me faith is constantly in flux and often a struggle. The beliefs I held as a child are different than they are for me today. The process of change can be hard and even painful. It can feel like you lose part of yourself, or like you’re stranded on a raft lost at sea. Below are some buoys that I have found helpful when it feels like your faith is drowning.

1. Mike McHargue his spells out his axiom for God:

God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases.

CosmosI find this to be a helpful starting point. The more I learn about nature, the universe, stars, black holes, flowers, birds – really all the physical, created stuff – the more I appreciate it. The world is amazing and the more deeply I’m able to experience it, the more I am filled with immense wonder that spills over into joy.

However, rather than equate “God” with anything created, nature is an icon or a window pointing us to God. When confusion prevails, God can be the wonder we experience when we look at the stars. Along these lines, I’d recommend Finding God in the Waves, by Mike McHargue.

transcental values quotes

2. Another way to think of God is the embodiment of the transcendental values of goodness/justice, truth, and beauty (and some add love and ‘being’). Since Plato and before, philosophers, scientists, politicians, and mystics have identified these as radiant spiritual realities, “windows on the divine,” that can provide a path toward understanding all values. Just as all colors come from blue, red, and yellow, so too can a million shades of quality be traced to these primary values.

Therefore, when I seek after beauty, justice or truth, I am seeking God, for God is the ultimate source of all that is worth pursing.

transcental-practices.jpg

These values must be practiced and lived out. We metabolize truth by the practice of learning and teaching, we metabolize beauty through appreciation and expression, and we can fully experience the spiritual nutrition of goodness through the practices of service and stillness.

transcental diagram

Numerous arguments for the existence of God have been made from these values, such as C.S. Lewis’ famous argument of the Natural Law in Mere Christianity, to many other appeals to beauty. For instance, Kurt Vonnegut has said, “Just because of music, I believe there is a God.”

“God” in this sense may be understood as: That Which is Good / Loving / True / Just / Beautiful.

For more on arguments for God, I’d recommend Tim Keller’s Reason for God or Making Sense of God.

3. Third, we can think of God as “that which we do not understand.” One of the great tragedies in Western Christianity is our loss in understanding God apophatically – as mysterious and unknowable. When attempting to speak of God, we must remember that we can only speak of God in images or metaphors. Words fall short. God is always shrouded in mystery, beyond any description or box. As the ancient prayer goes, “God, save us from our god.”

In Exodus 3, when Moses asks for his name, God answers, “YHWH” – “I am who I am.” God is the one who is. Divinity is the ground of being. Sometimes, if struggling with faith, it can be helpful to remember that God is mystery and beyond any description. “When we talk about God, we cannot stop talking about that which cannot be talked about.” For more, I would recommend Peter Rollins’ How (Not) to Speak of God.

Conclusion:

The three concepts for God listed above are not exclusively Christian; however, they are easily found in the Bible. The traditional Christian claim is that divinity was perfectly represented in the flesh and blood person, Jesus of Nazareth. As our creed claims, Jesus was “fully God and fully human.” Our mysterious, cosmic creator is best understood in the image revealed to us through his incarnate son, Jesus Christ. That Jesus touched the lepers, ate with outcasts, healed the demon possessed, and talked with the marginalized demonstrates a God I’m interested in knowing. To see “God” as embodied in the person of Jesus gives me hope.

In my very limited experience, we move toward faith or away from it mostly because of desire. Some want to leave their faith for a variety of reasons; others of us want to cling to it, sometimes rebuilding something new. In short, we become what we seek. If you want to know this mysterious creator of beauty and love, it’s what you choose.

Blessings in the journey!

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10 Ways to Live Better

The starting questions behind this list are:

  • How can we live well?
  • Or are there behaviors or activities we can change that will make life better?

So often I see in myself a drastic difference between my “professed beliefs” and my “practiced beliefs.” Or to put it another way, who I am today is a long ways from who I want to be. It is a battle of values, usually unnamed, that lie below the surface. As I’ve gained about 5 lbs for each of the two years I’ve been in Fresno, I realize that my “practiced” value of self indulgence is winning against the “professed” value of good health.

As we struggle to “stand against the powers,” and keep God’s kingdom first, we know that the gift and promise is abundant life. My hope is to strive for that “abundant life” in Jesus by living out the values of the kingdom, as best as I understand them. Below is an attempt at identifying some everyday habits that could be tweaked or eliminated to make life better and hopefully more abundant. Life is an experiment in living well. You may disagree with many listed. I will be the first to admit that the arguments are overly concise, perhaps to a fault. And I probably should have split it up into smaller lists. 10 is overwhelming. Nevertheless, I hope it’s thought provoking.

10 Ways To Live Better:

  1. Walk or bike instead of drive, whenever possible. It’s hard to overvalue the benefits of exercise. Here are a few: increased energy and memory, longer lives, better sex, reduced stress or likelihood for cancer and disease, better sleep, and all around just happier. Exercise is the miracle pill that most of us forget to take – it’s a keystone habit that can create a cascade of positive change in your life. On the other hand, driving as we all know is bad for your wallet and the planet. To me it seems driving is motivated by the values of convenience, efficiency and instant gratification. Take a moment and think: What’s one place you might be able to walk or bike to without having to drive?
  2. Library and garden quoteUtilize your public library. I love books. But how often have you bought a book that after reading, just sat on your shelf? Or worse yet, how many books have you bought and never read it (I know I have!)? If you use something just once, why would you want to own it? It becomes just one more thing to lug around and clean/dust. You might support a writer by buying her book, but for the big publishing companies, doesn’t it make more sense to simply borrow it instead? Share what books you have. Borrow the others. Buy one every now and then. Utilize perhaps the greatest public institution: the public library.
  3. Shower less. Believe it or not, showering everyday isn’t the best for us. (See here.) Showering less is better for your skin, helps preserve healthy bacteria, and can protect you from harmful chemicals. Plus, showering less saves time, energy and money.
  4. castle lawnIf possible, avoid having a lawn. Have you ever wondered why we have lawns? Well, in short, the practice started with European aristocracy as a status symbol and has been passed on around the globe. The funny thing is that lawns are expensive, high maintenance, and bad for the environment. Grass is the top “crop” in the U.S.,  consuming about 1/3 of our water! It makes sense to do something cheaper and lower maintenance, like a rock garden or some drought tolerant stuff. In California, the state will even pay you to make the shift away from from turf. (See here).
  5. Practice the sight and smell test. Often we wash clean clothes just out of habit. Rather than assume clothes are dirty after wearing them just once, it makes sense to first ask: Does it smell bad? Does it look bad? If both answers are no, wear it again and save some time, energy, and money! Woohoo!
  6. Drink tap water. Everyone knows tap water is cheaper than bottled water (usually about 300+ times cheaper). But did you also know there’s no guarantee bottled water is any safer either!? In fact bottled water is sometimes worse. Also – empty water bottles are a major contributor to pollution and plastic around the globe. Avoid those bottles whenever possible. It’s better for you, your wallet, and the planet.
  7. Amusing Ourselves to DeathConsume entertainment cautiously. Without a doubt, we are bombarded with entertainment. There are more choices than anyone even knows. TV and entertainment can be a source of relaxation – it’s nice to zone out after a long hard day. I get it. But, I’m convinced entertainment can be dangerous. Here are my reasons: A) Although I’ve never been in this situation, I’m fairly confident that when I’m laying on my death bed, I won’t think to myself, “Sheesh, I wish I had watched more TV….” In the long term, entertainment keeps us from accomplishing our goals and doing the things you really want to be doing. B) Harvard researcher Robert Putnum concluded that TVs were a major contributor to the breakdown of community in the US. In short, TVs and entertainment make us more lonely and isolated. C) TVs teach us that entertainment must be ubiquitous, and thereby are making us dumber. I feel the lack of quality in our public discourse today proves this point. (See here for more). Finally, if still unconvinced, you must read this book.
  8. Buy used items whenever possible. As the preeminent philosopher Tyler Durden once said, “The stuff you own ends up owning you.” Less is often more when it comes to possessions. However, we do need things. As anyone knows, there’s more than enough in the U.S. We can find almost anything used, if we’re willing to wait. And believe it or not, waiting helps build a secret super power – one of the single greatest determiners for success – delayed gratification! Buying used things makes us better people, saves money, and helps reduce waste.
  9. Homes in AmericaKeep your house small. They require less materials (and money) to build. They require less time to clean, less work to maintain and less money/energy to keep warm or cool. It just goes against the American way where bigger is better.
  10. For the parents, buy cloth diapers. Again, better for the wallet, the planet, and some would say the baby too. Sounds like a win. Ask me in a year how we’re doing…

Honorable mention:

  • Avoid dryers. Again, another experiment we’re going to try. It makes sense to me: cheaper, less energy, and more environmental. Just less convenient.

Conclusion:

Life is an experiment in living well, a continual pursuit of the abundant life Jesus spoke about and promised. These are some ideas.

We have countless habits and often don’t realize the values behind them. Here are three major influences for decisions and habits, which push up against how I actually want to live.

  • Social expectations – I want people to like me. I want to fit in. “We gotta keep up with the Joneses.” However, groupthink can warp our behavior and we don’t even realize it. It usually takes an outsider to diagnose our maladies.
  • Consumerist manipulation. Holy Smokes! This is everywhere…. The most successful businesses are those that figure out how to hack our brains in creating new habits. It’s the air we breath.
  • Worshiping the gods of convenience, efficiency and instant gratification. “I want it. And I want it now” is the new subconscious worship song we sing on repeat. Or another: “If it isn’t convenient, I’m not doing it!” Convenience and efficiency often trump good stewardship, caring for our health and our planet.

What do you think? What are ways these three things affect our lives and change how we live? Or what are some other ways to live better you might add to the list?

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Feeling Hope: A Mystical, Charismatic Approach, Part 3

Almost a year ago, I wrote part 1 on hope: 4 Reasons to hope, despite a world that is falling apart. My approach was to consider hope from a secular humanist perspective. Later in July, I wrote part 2 about hope from a Christian perspective. Ironically, it seems many secular humanists think of hope in a Christian sense, and Christians often fall back on secular assumptions. Today, I want to shift the question from how we think about hope to how we feel hope. For me, the head is easier. The heart remains mysterious and elusive. In other words, it is easier to think about hope and much harder to feel it. How do we move from the head to the heart? I would love others’ thoughts.

I think the mystics and charismatics have a pretty good answer to this. I’d like to briefly introduce the following diagram on Christian spirituality – it has been the most impactful concept I remember from formal education.

4SpiritualTypes

The top half of the circle focuses on the head/thinking part of Christianity; the bottom focuses on the heart/feeling. The right half emphasizes a kataphatic/revealed understanding of God. The left sees God as apophatic/unknown/mysterious. Evangelicals as a whole fall comfortably on the right side, while Orthodox believers and many Catholics lean more toward the left. So much more could be said of this paradigm, but of note it can be a helpful way to explore your own spiritual leanings. Which quadrant are you most comfortable in? Where would you situation your church? Which stretches you?

As a generalization, in part 2, I focused almost exclusively on understanding hope from the top right quadrant. In asking the question of how we feel hope, we move from the head to the heart and must turn to the mystics and charismatics.

A Charismatic Approach to Hope:

To be honest, I feel least comfortable in the charismatic quadrant and would love others’ thoughts on this. Nevertheless, here are two ways we can engage our hearts (as charismatics):

  1. Singing / Music. My first thought is the power of singing in transforming our hearts. Music is the language of the soul and often moves us in ways words cannot. If we can sing powerfully, releasing our inhibitions, and perhaps dancing too, I believe we can connect to God and her promises of hope for the future.
  2. Gatherings. Creating emotion-filled experiences can move our hearts. I think of revivals or powerful speakers. The challenge is that we must be vulnerable, opening ourselves (aka our hearts) to be moved. Praying together in the spirit and embracing emotion can enliven hope in ways thoughts never will.

In general, like I mentioned, for me the heart is elusive and stubborn. I appreciate the charismatic approach for it has so much I lack, yet long for. It stretches me.

A Mystical Approach to Hope:

For the mystic, hope is less about progress or growth or even believing “everything will be okay.” Hope for the mystic is releasing our need to control and accepting what comes, whatever it may be, trusting God for the future. Thomas Keating says it best:

To hope for something better in the future is not the theological virtue of hope. Theological hope is based on God alone, who is both infinitely merciful and infinitely powerful right now. Here is a formula to deepen and further the theological virtue of hope with its unbounded confidence in God. Let whatever is happening happen and go on happening. Welcome whatever it is. Let go into the present moment by surrendering to its content…. The divine energies are rushing past us at every nanosecond of time. Why not reach out and catch them by continuing acts of self-surrender and trust in God?  – Reflections on the Unknowable

Repeat that paragraph 50 times and I believe it will change you, as it has me.

When we consider global warming, nuclear fallout, artificial intelligence, altering the human genome, or more personal future catastrophes, such as the loss of a loved one or even our own deaths, we grapple with the unknowable – something we can never control. The only logical response is release and surrender, but logic is a foreign language to the heart. The heart needs repetition and constant exposure and time. Lots of time. Meditation is a vital practice for the mystic’s approach to hope. It is the slow opening of the heart as we release our desire to control. Control is an illusion we must surrender and learn to trust mystery and the God of the future.


What do you think? What would you add? How do we not only believe in hope but also experience it? How do we move from our heads to our hearts?

Blessings to you on the journey! I hope these reflections have been as helpful for you as they have been for me.

Ps. Here’s part 1 and part 2, if you missed them.

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8 Lessons to Learn From Your Pet

imageIf you’re part of 68% of American households, you have a pet. My wife and I recently adopted a couple of puppies. They are pretty stinkin’ adorable, as you can see. And they try my patience on a daily basis.

However, before getting to the lessons of pet ownership, I have to admit I’m conflicted. Here are my reasons:

  • Pets demand your attention. Rather than spend time in meditation, reflection, reading or music, pets pull you from the quieter aspects of life into commotion, chaos, and noise. Rather that focus your attention on your friends, family, or neighbors, your focus is directed towards animals.
  • Pets consume valuable resources perhaps better given to other causes. The American Pet Products Association found that in 2016 U.S. pet owners were expected to spend $62.75 billion on their furry (or scaly) friends, up 4% from the $60.28 billion spent in 2015. When the APPA started collecting this info in 1994, the industry was worth $17 billion. It’s risen every year… a troubling trend.
  • Pets epitomize an unconscionable hypocrisy of our society: we spoil our pets and torture our food. Let’s be honest, the meat industry is sickening. Disagree with me only after watching the documentary Earthlings. Am I also a hypocrite on eating tortured animals? Yes. Does that make it okay? No. We live in a society where it is very difficult to know where our food comes from or how the animals were raised. We need a collective outcry in changing how animals are raised and be willing to pay more for meat.
  • Pets are easy intimacy. In our hyper-individualistic, fragmented, lonely culture, where people are often starved for intimacy and connection, pets offer us some of the connection and intimacy we need. And because of trauma, pets can sometimes love in ways people cannot. For dogs, that love is usually overflowing with grace and without conditions. This is often a good thing, but I think it can become a crutch, preventing intimacy between people.

With that said, here are some lessons I hope to learn from our puppies because they either embody a goal I have or pull me in a direction I hope to go. Puppies:

  1. are infectiously joyful. To start with the obvious, puppies are incredibly fun. As I type this, one is sleeping on my feet.
  2. are quick to forgive. As noted above, a dog’s love is usually unconditional, and abounding in forgiveness even for our worst sins.
  3. are always in the present moment. I could be wrong but I don’t think puppies fret over the past or worry about the future.
  4. never wear masks and are vulnerable with anyone. Puppies love on everyone. And they are continuously vulnerable, showing unrestrained excitement to most people they meet. I’ve also found I’m able to connect with people I couldn’t beforehand because of the puppies. In other words, puppies break down walls we often put up.
  5. love those who are dirty without hesitation. (Definitely connected to above.) I am often hesitant to love on and touch dirty people. My fear of contamination often results in keeping others at arms reach. Love and disgust run in different directions.
  6. teach us patience. On the daily, I am frustrated by them – a reminder of my immaturity when things don’t go my way. They’re often teaching me to “let go” and release my need to control.
  7. teach us to love in the midst of disgust. I hate poop. I hate having to pick it up and smell it. Yet, there’s a lesson here. If disgust repels us from certain people, learning to live with disgust allows us to love more deeply. In other words, you can’t wipe someone’s butt (aka love well) unless you’re willing to be dirty. For more, read Unclean.
  8. teach us a detachment to earthly possessions. As they chew on walls, destroy shoes, and eat the plants we have labored over, they teach us the hard lesson that possessions are a mere distraction from what’s important.

CONCLUSION:

So – what’s the verdict? Some days I love these little rascals. Other days I’m ready to give them away. My hope is to remember these lessons in the process.

My personal conclusion is this: avoid getting pets when possible. And, in the famous words of Bob Barker, “Have your pets spayed or neutered.” But when those you love convince you to get a furry friend (or two), make the most of it. 🙂

And yes, similar lessons and arguments can be made for babies… yep.

Blessings!

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What Keeps Us from “Actual Community?” – Three Misplaced Values of U.S. Culture

“We have an abundance of the word ‘community’ and a deficit of actual community.” – Dan Pallotta

I think Pallotta is right. And my feeling is that most people in the US would generally agree.

communitySomething has happened to community and we tend to agree that we need better community, but we either don’t know how to get there or we aren’t willing to make the sacrifices needed for “actual community.”

David Janzen distinguishes between thick and thin communities. He writes:

There are communities thick and thin depending on how much is shared. I belong to a thin community… playing basketball twice a week at the local senior center. I also belong to a thicker community in Reba Place Fellowship, where we share the love of Jesus, possessions, proximity, some common work and ministry, and many informal ways of serving one another. (The Intentional Christian Community Handbook, p.13)

I think thick community is important, difficult to live out, but vital. I believe that in order to follow the long list of “one another” passages in the New Testament, Christians are called to a depth of thick community, rarely found in the US today. Today I want to try and identify some of the things that prevent and keep us from “actual community.” It seems to me that the American narrative – the stories we tell ourselves of what it means to be “American” – have shifted toward (or were founded upon) values that tear down community. Here are a few of those value I see (with possible antidotes):

Misplaced Value #1: Rely only on yourself.

davy crockettTo me, it is the “self-made man” that is most stereotypically “American” – the person who has pulled themselves up, preferably out of poverty, who we exalt and even worship. It is the rugged frontiersman journeying alone into the sunset. This self-reliance directs us to focus on never asking for help. Google perpetuates this notion. We share our deepest fears, questions and concerns often with a website before we do the same with our friends. Or rather than stop, look someone in the face and say, “I’m lost and need help,” we have google maps. Rather than rely on each other, we turn to technology, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it breaks down community and our perceived need for others.

Antidote ideas: Rely on others. Don’t always strive to be the one who helps, but humble yourself in receiving help from others. Money insulates us from needing others. In truth nothing great is ever accomplished alone. It is pride that says otherwise, a fool’s dream for the admiration of strangers. Make excuses to interact and share with your neighbors and churches – start co-ops, sharing networks or a monthly baby-sitting rotation; borrow things instead always buying your own.

Misplaced value #2: Busyness is a virtue.

work ethicLife is hard, no doubt. And it is often harder the poorer you are. Single mothers, for instance, are incredibly busy, and not out of choice. However, for many of us, in our striving for success – the insatiable desire of bigger, better, and faster – we have lost the virtue of slowing down. Or we work continuously, sometimes at break-neck speed, to help others and fix problems – good things, no doubt, but sometimes in our pursuit of good things we miss out on needed depth and connection that is unproductive. When everything has an agenda, you are doing and not being. “Actual community” requires both. This virtue may have come out of the Puritan work-ethic, which tells the story that hard work, discipline and frugality are pleasing to God.

Antidote ideas: Take sabbath. Do less. Say “no” more often. Go sit on your front porch. Buck the system that preaches efficiency as a god. Slaughter the sacred cow of “success.” Real success (e.j. loving well, being a good neighbor, overcoming trauma and brokenness) is often unmeasurable. Recognize that God has saved the world through Jesus already. You can’t, regardless of how hard you work. You aren’t the savior. Allow yourself to be bored. Go camping more often. Savor.

Misplaced value #3: Do what feels good. Or easy intimacy is normal.

this is us.jpg

I’m sure that the average American feels more emotional connection to the characters on TV than to their physical neighbors. Why? Because it’s easy. People on TV are (almost) always good looking, interesting, and open. They will tell you the secrets of their hearts, reveal their darkest desires, and live extraordinary lives (which we are able to live vicariously). Having your neighbors over for dinner will almost certainly be less exciting and could possibly be downright unenjoyable. Why take that risk?

Pornography (and maybe Las Vegas) epitomize the draw toward easy intimacy or just doing what feels good. This person on my screen will enact my sexual fantasies, and there’s no chance for rejection. To simply follow your desires is a direct route to emptiness, shallowness, and fake intimacy.

Antidote ideas: for the time you spend looking at a screen, spend at least that much time face to face with others, or just go ahead and cancel Netflix (or Hulu). Take small risks of greeting strangers, starting conversations with your neighbors and co-workers. Share meals. Read Brene Brown. Limit your screen time. Share feelings, instead of merely ideas or gossip.

Conclusion:

It seems to me that the ultimate antidote for loneliness and lack of community in the US is to lean in toward community itself. Imagine if you had a community where everyone made a commitment to rely on each other, to share possessions and space. Imagine a community that recognizes the importance of anti-busyness and anti-efficiency – committing to regular, unproductive time together, maybe playing games or sharing meals.

Some friends and I are hoping to start a Christian community doing life more intentionally. If interested in learning more, reach out to me or leave a comment. 😊

Key Questions to chew on:

  • Why does community in American often feel fragmented – that we struggle to find “thick” community?
  • How do we get to “actual community?” Is “thick” community a prerequisite for church?
  • How “thick” is your community?
  • How do we retell the story of what it means to be “American,” or better yet, how does the story of the church in the New Testament inform our values and reorient us toward community?

Blessings in the journey!

Ps. I’ll be the first to admit, I often feel an inherent hypocrisy in what I write. So much is ideals I’m striving for instead of practices I embody… so, take it all with a grain of salt, I guess.

Pss. It isn’t hard to tear down these arguments. TV shows are not inherently bad. Following your desires (or your heart) is often important. Hard work is a usually a really good thing. And no doubt, relying only on others is called laziness. As we live in a hyper-individualistic culture, we lend toward one side of the spectrum. I’m trying to identify some of that other side. The truth is more complicated and often paradoxical.

For more thoughts on why community in the US is failing or why the church is dying, check out this series my good friend Todd wrote up: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

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4 Reasons I love public libraries and you should too.

George-peabody-library.jpgFor a long time, I’ve had a pretty serious crush on libraries. Just about every time I see a bookshelf, I tend to stand there a bit and gawk. I distinctly remember visiting a library for the first time after being abroad for a couple of years. It was both overwhelming and exhilarating – to be surrounded by multiple lifetime’s worth of experiences, wisdom and information. We usually take them for granted.

Today I want to outline 4 reasons public libraries in particular are worthy of your patronage and adoration:

  1. einstein and librariesPublic libraries are a respite for the poor. Jesus was unabashedly concerned with those at the margins of society, continually showing unique attention to lepers, prostitutes, and tax collectors. Public libraries often provide a resting place for those most marginalized in our society – a free space to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, surf the internet, and enjoy air conditioning, not to mention limitless information. For someone with mental illness or unable to hold a job, such public spaces are an oasis of relief and an invaluable resource for information and needed connection.
  2. Public libraries (can) facilitate interaction between socio-economic classes. It is rare for the rich and poor to meet. More and more, real estate (and prejudice) push these groups apart. If Christians are serious about being like Jesus, it seems logical to assume we would have at least some interaction with the most marginalized, and the library is a great place to meet folks you normally wouldn’t. There are fears that accompany mental illness and homelessness – the truth is most are friendly, caring, and lonely. Everyone would be blessed by more interaction between these groups, for children and adults. Although their presence can reinforce stigma and fear, police officers are also often around, so it’s probably one of the safest ways to interact. Go regularly and with a little luck, you could build a relationship not centered on giving and receiving.
  3. spring-in-the-desertPublic libraries teach delayed gratification (aka patience). Learning delayed gratification is an important step in the maturity process and yet, we are bombarded with the belief that your desires ought to be satisfied immediately. Think of popular slogans, such as Nike’s “Just do it” or Burger King’s “Have it your way.” Or consider how we usually consume books, movies, and music – instantly streaming, downloading, or two-day shipping them.  You can find almost any book, movie, and even a lot of music through your library and it’s free! It just takes time, a little planning, and some patience. (For the obscure books, try inter-library loan.)
  4. Public libraries epitomize the power of sharing. Think about that bookshelf or collection of movies at home. How often are they being used? If you’re like me, most just sit on the shelf 99% of the time. They often just collect dust and become a monument to your pride. As a general principle, I try to buy books only after I can’t find them somewhere else or I’m sure to read or share them more than twice. Imagine if you and all your friends had an online catalog where you could share your books together, and there was someone to organize, help out, and keep people accountable — you’d have a library! 🙂 Personal property is often idolized. Sharing your things creates community, reduces waste, and can be fun.

Welp – there you have it. Random plug for one of the best institutions I know of.

happy-national-library-week-library-quotes-14-638There are downsides to public libraries, of course. To briefly address a few: 1) They are expensive to run. However, I do feel that for the reasons listed above, the benefits outweigh the financial costs. 2) Libraries are sometimes underutilized, which is a shame. Better marketing might help. And 3) despite the countless ways the internet has affected society, I do believe there is still an important place for books and therefore libraries. How can we undervalue limitless learning possibilities?!

Blessings!

 

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Can we proclaim the gospel today without racial reconciliation?

Today I want to argue that without racial reconciliation we do not have the gospel. 

THE ARGUMENT FROM SCRIPTURE

Ephesians 2 gives a loud and clear proclamation that through Jesus, the racial walls that divide us are torn down, and we are unified through Jesus Christ.

14 For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (NIV)

In this passage Paul is specifically describing the relationship between Jews and Gentiles (aka, anyone who isn’t Jewish). Paul was a Jew. Jesus was a Jew. And for many, many centuries before this, the divide between Jews and everybody else was undeniable and even important.

However, everything changed after Jesus died. This division was reconciled. Elsewhere, Paul proclaims, “There is neither Gentile nor Jew, neither slave or free, nor is there male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:27)” In other words, we can never let race, or socio-economics, or gender separate us. Jesus reconciles our divisions. (For more, see here or here.)

racial recIf racial reconciliation is a core element of the gospel, why is 10am on Sunday morning the most racially divided hour in the United States?! 

Why is it fairly accurate to describe a “white church” or a “black church?!” Do racially divided churches contradict the gospel we proclaim? I think so.

I once heard a preacher describe woundedness like this: When someone hurts you, it’s as if they have shot an arrow into your chest. As it stays there the skin and flesh heal around them. They become a part of us and seemingly aren’t a bother, unless someone bumps your arrow. For deep healing to take place, you must first rip the arrow from your chest.

Racism is an arrow, deeply wounding the people of America, and in particular the church. We have failed to name it, to pull out the arrow of racism because such removal hurts. Terribly so. Yet, we cannot heal from that which remains unacknowledged.

For instance, consider an abusive husband in marriage. How does a couple survive such hurt? What does it mean for the one who has abused to acknowledge their fault? Or for the innocent person to truly forgive? I do not know, but I’m sure it is a difficult, painful, time-consuming process. To heal from such hurt requires leaning into the discomfort.

When white people say “just get over it” or “why are we still talking about this?” it is similar to an abusive husband telling his wife the same thing. 

Which no doubt plays a role in why churches – aka families – remain segregated.

MY STORY

For those who don’t know me, I am a white man, born and raised in Arkansas. I studied ministry at Oklahoma Christian, later spent seven years on the northside of Chicago before moving to downtown Fresno, California, about two years ago. Moving here has been a profound and humbling lesson in learning about race and power.

Downtown Fresno is on the far southern half of the city, and like most large cities in the US, Fresno is divided pretty evenly between rich white folks in the north and poor people of color in the south. (See here.) Obviously there are plenty of examples that contradict this generalization, but the trend holds true.

I say all that to give a little background. Before living here, I had little real exposure to non-white American spaces. Sure, I knew plenty of people of color, many who are immigrants, but every space I experienced was dominated by white majority culture. In other words, white people held power over how the space operated. This is important.

Because we (white people) don’t have to live or be in spaces where we are not in power, we do not understand how race affects us. We are unwittingly (or not) the recipients of power. We are blind to our blindness, yet often remain arrogant. We have a plank in our eye and don’t even realize it.

Consider, for example, if I asked you to describe how it feels to be Tibetan, living under the oppression of the Han Chinese. You might say, “Sheesh, Nate, I got no idea – I’m not Tibetan – never been there.” Your knowledge is relative to your exposure.

Two conclusions:

  1. If we are to truly live out the gospel and find racial reconciliation, we must begin with humility. And as we stumble around in the dark, we must ask for grace and forgiveness when we are insensitive and hurtful.
  2. We cannot deny racism exists – individually and systemically. For many white people, our greatest fear is to be labeled “a racist.” The truth is, however, racism is a spectrum, not a binary. People are not either racist or woke. Racism affects us all in different ways and differing degrees. For those like myself, who were raised in an environment of pervasive whiteness, we have unrealized, latent racist tendencies that we are blind to.

IMPLICATIONS:

How do white and black churches integrate? Or how do we achieve some level of racial reconciliation? I don’t have the answers, but here are some ideas (mostly for white people):

  • Make racial reconciliation a priority. Think about it. Engage in the conversation. Every church planter ought to pursue it.
  • Start a study at church using the book United by Faith. Or Disunity in Christ.
  • Take a break from reading from white authors. How many books by people of color do you read?
  • Visit or join a non-white church and embrace the cultural differences.
  • Listen to Seeing White Podcast.
  • Talk to people of color. Invite someone out for coffee. Have folks over for dinner. Ask them how they have experienced racism, without getting defensive. Or what steps might be taken for racial reconciliation. And don’t be offended if they decline. They do not owe it to us.

I’d love to hear other ideas on how to move toward racial reconciliation?

Ps. We are reading Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy in our bookclub. It is excellent! Meeting at our place at 7:00 on August 6th. We would love to have more folks join us!

Finally, as I’ve said before, I think as I write, or I write so I will know what I am thinking. Do I have this all figured out? Not at all. Does talking about racism make me uncomfortable? Yes. I think that’s common for white people. Am I living out what I describe? Not like I’d like to. No doubt I’m a hypocrite more than I realize.

Your grace and feedback is appreciated.

 

 

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